Why changing your MVP costs extra and takes longer (and how to avoid it)

Difficulties in handling app development expenses

If you don't clearly define every desired feature for the development team, they may fail to build your desired product. While developers may know which basic features to include in most apps, it is risky to assume their understanding of your specific needs.

For example, if the team assumes you want certain features you never mentioned, they may add unnecessary features that increase costs. On the other hand, they may include too few features and deliver a product that you consider inadequate.

Every feature in your MVP affects the cost and timeline required to build the application. This is why development teams and clients agree on MVP in advance: it ensures that the correct product is built and the correct price is paid.

More features, more cost and time


Imagine you've hired a construction crew to build a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house with a total area of 2,000 square feet. After a few months, when the crew has already completed the foundation, walls, insulation, and siding, you decide to add an extra bedroom and bathroom, increasing the home's size by 400 square feet.

As expected, the construction crew would charge you more for the added labor required to build this new section. They would also delay your move-in date because the additional work takes longer. Additionally, they may charge a higher hourly rate to account for the added complexity and planning required to reconfigure the existing plumbing and wiring.

Building a software application is no different. When you change your MVP, you change the features agreed upon at purchase. Essentially, you are changing the product being built while it is in progress.

The development team will need additional labor costs to add or change features, and they will require extra time to write new code that was not originally planned. Depending on the build's progress, retrofitting the existing codebase with your requested features may involve significant labor and testing.

This is why it is common to revise the overall cost and delivery date of an application in response to scope changes – typically resulting in a more expensive app delivered at a later date.

Scope changes are common, despite the challenges


This does not mean that once development has started, you are locked into the features listed in the PRD. Scope changes are a natural part of software development, and experienced engineering teams are accustomed to adjusting their plans to accommodate unforeseen changes.

To formally request a PRD change, you should communicate with the project manager overseeing your app's development. Clearly explain which new features are not included in the current plan. Confirm that the current PRD does not already cover the desired feature (or a similar one), and seek the PM's guidance on the best way to incorporate the missing functionality.

Once you and the PM have a clear understanding of the changes, they will consult with the developers to estimate the cost and timeline impact. The PM will then present you with the revised scope for your approval.

Your PM is responsible for providing a clear and detailed explanation of how your requested changes will affect the timeline and cost. If you have any questions or need clarification about your revised scope, do not hesitate to ask your PM.

Although scope changes can introduce additional work for development teams, most PMs prefer formal scope changes over "scope creep." Scope creep refers to the informal product scope expansion due to repeated customer requests. Like official scope changes, scope creep can significantly increase costs and timelines, but it lacks the benefit of a formal agreement to keep everyone informed.

How to prevent scope changes


If you have a limited budget or a tight timeline, you may not be able to accommodate numerous changes to your PRD. Unfortunately, it is common for first-time app buyers to temporarily pause the development of their app because the revised price exceeds their budget after a scope change.

As a client, there are three steps you can take to reduce the risk of escalating costs and delays:


1. Plan your entire app in advance

Before approaching a development agency to build your app, thoroughly consider all aspects of your application, including visual design, workflows, data requirements, launch platforms, third-party integrations, and your strategy for selling or using the finished product. The more planning you do beforehand, the better the team can capture all the necessary features in the PRD.

Planning a custom application without a technical background may seem daunting. If you are unsure where to start, here is a useful resource that explains how to prepare for your scoping call.

2. Prioritize features based on importance

Before and during development, take the time to prioritize the features within your app from most important to least important. Typically, the most important features are those required for the app to function in its most basic form.

Be honest about what is necessary versus what excites you the most – you can always add cool features to a simple application, but an application that doesn't function properly will be unsuccessful.

As development progresses, evaluate any new feature ideas and determine how essential they truly are. If they are not crucial, consider storing them in a backlog for a future release. Alternatively, you may re-prioritize less important features and replace them with new ones.

3. Review your entire PRD

The following dialogue is all too common in the software development industry:

Client: "Why doesn't my app have Feature X?"

PM: "Feature X was not included in your product scope."

Client: "Why wasn't it included? Every product has Feature X."

PM: "Feature X is not necessary for your app to function. You approved the PRD without including Feature X."

Client: "But I didn't know Feature X wasn't included!"

Understanding a PRD can be challenging at first. They often break down your application into a series of "user stories," which may be unfamiliar to you. Additionally, PRDs often consist of long lists, tables, and descriptions – not the most exciting read.

However, carefully reviewing your PRD is the only way to know in advance what your app will include. Your PM relies on you to identify any missing features and ask questions before starting the build to avoid unexpected additions later on.

Take your time to go through your build plan thoroughly. Ask questions about anything missing or inaccurate – you and your PM will appreciate it.

Measure twice, cut once

Product scope is a mutual agreement between agencies and clients regarding what will be built. PMs are accustomed to minor scope adjustments during development, but significant changes can strain the agency-client relationship by introducing unexpected costs and delays.

By planning your app diligently and reviewing your PRD from the start, you can set your application up for success. However, if changes are necessary during the process, your PM is there to provide guidance and ensure you understand what to expect.