Scope Creep – The Enemy of Shipping

April 28, 2021

Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors, has a very strong and consistent message in his books and lectures:- get good at shipping.

To ship simply means to release that software, publish that book, open up that company for business, finish that video course...It means releasing whatever you're working on into the wild.

The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.

Seth Godin - Linchpin

Our work is worth nothing unless it ships and we must train ourselves to think not in terms of how hard we've worked, but how well we've shipped, if we're going to make any kind of difference.

Of course, shipping is hard.  

Not hard in terms of effort; sometimes shipping is merely as incidental as hitting "Publish".  But it's hard in terms of emotional labor...We often have to deal with fear of failure, success, judgment, criticism and even just fear of nothing happening at all.  You might have spent 6 months creating a new product, but this seemingly insignificant final hurdle of shipping can be by far the hardest and most torturous part of your project.  

One of the most common ways this tendency to avoid shipping can surface its ugly head is called scope creep.

Scope creep is where you continually just do a little bit more in an attempt to delay the moment of truth.

  • You agree on an minimum viable product for our software, but at the last minute you've decided to add one final feature before you release it
  • You spend 6 months creating a video series but a week before you were planning to release you decide need to re-record the first module before publishing
  • You've spent months building your startup but won't commit to a launch date even though it's ready

Before long you're caught in the trap of ever increasing the scope of your project while confabulating to yourself and others that the additional work is necessary for the success of the project.

What's really happening, though, is you're just so uncomfortable taking that leap of faith that you're delaying the inevitable as long as possible.  And in extreme cases, you delay it so long that either the opportunity is lost or... you never get around to shipping at all.

Practical Techniques to avoid Scope Creep

I haven't found any way of preventing that feeling in your stomach that arises whenever you're about to do something significant.  

Even today, 10 years after starting my software company, and having launched 13 or so pieces of software, I still get that feeling of anxiety and fear whenever we launch something new.

Instead, I've noticed that it's not that "shippers" don't feel fear, it's just they feel the fear and do it anyway.  They place less importance on their feelings and more importance on executing.

Your work is too important to be left to how you feel today.

Seth Godin

I have personally managed to combat the fear of shipping with a few mindset tricks.  These are ways of thinking that get me into shipping mode, even when I'm afraid. 

1. Have Scope Creep Awareness

Just the very fact that you're already aware that scope creep is the demise of many creators is an important first step.  It means you're already aware of the tendency to delay projects to avoid facing fear and can catch it early and course correct as it happens.  Without this awareness, scope creep can perpetuate without you even realizing what's really happening.

2. Realize that you're not alone

All creators suffer from the fear of shipping.  It's a rite of passage that we all have to go through.  Realize that you're not the only one facing this problem and take solace from the fact that every successful author, artist, entrepreneur, producer...anyone that's elevating themselves above the crowd in one way shape or form...has had to deal with this fear. 

3. Understand that you'll be Just Fine when you Ship

Fears have a tendency to run away with themselves.  The more you ruminate about what could go wrong, the more drastic and real those feelings become. Instead, look for instances in your past where you felt afraid and paralyzed to act but now, in retrospect, you realize that those fears were completely unjustified.  And, what's more, pay attention to all the benefits you would have missed out on if you had let those fears control you.  You'll start to realize that fear is likely your biggest risk of not achieving what you want to in life.

4. Ask yourself two very important questions

When we are afraid to ship, we're placing our energy on worrying about external things that might happen: how people will react, whether the software will be a success, whether anyone will buy the book, what kind of reviews you'll receive... and so on.  We don't have any control over these unknowns and this kind of thinking can make us even more anxious.

Instead of focusing externally on things outside of your control, try to focus your attention more on your reasons for shipping.  Ask yourself two very important questions:- 

  1. What kind of person are you?
  2. Are you happy with your justifications for shipping?

Are you the kind of person that shys away from doing something because you're afraid?  Are you at the whim of every emotion that you feel?  Or are you the type of person that feels the fear but does it anyway?

Are you happy with your reasons for publishing?  Are you trying to help people? Can you justify to yourself why you're shipping?

Turning inwards instead of facing outwards is a very powerful way of dealing with shipping insecurities.   As long as you're happy with justifications, shipping is always the right to do, regardless of the outcome.  Thinking in this manner can really change your perspective and help get over your fear of what others might think. 

I've written more about this concept here.

5. Shipping gets you there Faster

You might fail, in which case you'll have learned valuable lessons quickly and cheaply or you have varying degrees of success in which you get valuable feedback in order to improve your work.  Either way, you're in a better position having shipped.

Key Takeaways from this post

  • Creators need to get good at shipping.  Often this means dealing with the emotional labor that surfaces towards the end of a project
  • All of us feel anxious when shipping.  You're not alone.
  • Successful creators feel the fear and do it anyway
  • Face inwards instead of outwards.  Justify to yourself why you're doing what you're doing instead of looking to judgment from others.
  • Just ship, dammit.

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