Six Tips for Managing Design or Specification "Creep"

One of the issues that Industrial Designers, working in strategic roles, often face is the dreaded “Design Creep” or some call “Specification Creep”. Year after year it’s the same old unproductive story, and if I hazard a guess, it is probably the same for you as well. When a project starts out everyone is happy, loves your design and are rearing to go. But as time goes by, things change and people start to waver.
This often happens when you have been developing a program for many months already, that certain changes in the external environment starts to influence the scope of the product. They may loose confidence in your design, or like a hot new market leader or trend setter, or just want to get their money’s worth and pull out the shopping list. At the end of the day its all the same, “Design Creep” is when someone wants a change as he feels that your work may not good enough (for various reasons), or just wants it to do more that is currently does. This could result in either he/she just wanting to add new things or worst change your design!
Such changes in external environments that can influence your designs could also include changing market forces, technology advancements, government and certification changes, or something as simple as a change in the ownership by stake holders and the new guy has his own ideas. Going forward the trick is to ask are such environmental changes severe enough to make the changes in your product specification, particularly if its very late into the development process? Occasionally “Yes” but most of the time “No”. So how would we ensure that this is well managed?
1) Ensure you have as a detailed product brief as possible, that explains the entire process and the reasons for why a product exists within the overall strategic objective and framework. If necessary update it as you develop the product, and especially when your product gets more real in the detailed refinement phase. This is your life line with clients both of an internal or external nature.
2) Ensure that all stake holders have signed off on the document and its updates. This ensures unwavering commitment especially late in the process when all hell breaks loose.
3) Manage the expectations of all stake holders and keep discussions open. Get the buy-in early and ensure everyone has their say. Deal with new “Creep” issues quickly and decisively.
4) Know the design process like the back of your hand, and that milestones are really for finalizing issues and agreeing for things to be set in “stone”. When a design is “frozen” it is “frozen”.
5) The old adage is true, never give an inch, as you will have to take a yard. If necessary, I like to tell them instead, “Let us combined all these changes and make a version 2.0 as soon as possible”?
6) But be realistic, if it will mean the end of your product due to a failure in the market place, lets cut losses and make the change.
I like to conclude and say that most product development cycles can last 1-2 years or more. Thus such “Creep” can be a real unproductive problem if not well managed. Worst still you could have happily gotten the work done and then get slammed for not being “good” enough for considering it in the beginning. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I always remind people that the design decisions that were made were to the best of our knowledge at that time. We have to live with it and it is nobody’s fault. You can avoid and minimised this possibility with lots of experience in project management and by ensuring you plan and push your design concepts as far as possible in the first place. So how do we do this? That my friends is another story for another time.

1 Comment
  • javad mahyari

    July 27, 2009 at 8:40 pm Reply

    My student in industrial design and cartography in the fields of design, if I am to help me to use my experience you can receive

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