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How the Benefits of APIs and Smart Planning Help Offset Scope Creep

Like “agile” and many other buzzwords, “scope creep” is a concept that originated in technology and migrated to a larger business context. The term, used to describe problems that occur when too many additions or changes are made to a task that is already in progress, can be found in any project management situation: an office remodel might fall victim to scope creep, as could a construction project or crucial presentation.

Make no mistake about it, though: the issue is still serious in its original software-development context, and the benefits of APIs can help reduce its effects.

“Development problem” doesn’t necessarily mean “problem that impacts only developers,” though. In fact, the effects can be particularly bad for those in business who pay to get a project off the ground; whether an organization is developing in-house or paying a third-party developer, the last thing they want is for their latest app to go over schedule or over budget.

Considering this, business decision-makers and other non-technical stakeholders in software products would be well-advised to acquaint themselves with both the phenomenon and the strategies the organization can deploy to hold it back, including smart API selection.

Contrasting the Benefits of APIs with Downsides of Scope Creep

Part of understanding the business benefits of APIs for negating scope creep means understanding how unplanned changes can affect a project. Take the classic example of someone in upper-management bringing a new feature idea to a project that’s already underway. Because she doesn’t understand the complexities involved in building a product, and because the developers may have a hard time saying no to somebody of such organizational stature, there isn’t much to do but pass the deadline, inflate the budget, and work to include her late-arriving vision.

Of course, this example is just one way scope creep may arise. A misunderstanding of end-user wants and needs is another common cause. Failing to appreciate the complexity of an undertaking can also sink a project under the weight of its own bloated scope, as can a simple lack of adequate planning.

The business effects here are plentiful, obvious, and, to the organization suffering the problem, painful. An important project stuck in scope-creep limbo can hemorrhage money and keep important personnel tied up in a project that should’ve been completed long ago. It can divide the organization’s attention and resources to the point where the project becomes a burden. When deadlines aren’t met and projects aren’t pushed out the door, it can ding the organization’s reputation with employees, customers, or clients.

As such, it would be disingenuous to position the benefits of APIs as a perfect solution to scope creep, since nothing involving the problem is that simple. What a good collection of APIs—and, more importantly, smart selection of APIs as early in the process as possible—can do, however, is mitigate the chance of encountering the problem, sometimes by reducing the work required to implement an unplanned change.

Simplifying Complex Needs with APIs

Turning back to the previous example, envision our decision-maker strolling into the dev team’s office and requesting that the product in development should allow customers to call or message support directly from the app. Obviously, this would be a far easier request to field in the design phase, but there it sits: the app now needs communication capability.

In this example, the right communication API helps the team skip over several money- and time-consuming steps. There’s no need to tinker with the app for each possible social chat platform, since the API includes it automatically. Similarly, the developer doesn’t need to finagle with multiple possible SMS carriers to get the app working over their networks, since the product handles all that legwork for them.

In turn, this directly equates to money saved and effort preserved for the business, which pays for the implementation of an API instead of a ground-up build of the requested feature or features. While it’s not perfect, compared to missing a deadline or exceeding the budget, it’s far better than the alternative.

Looking at other creep-causing problems, strategizing with the right APIs from the onset offers even more attractive outcomes. The organization that anticipates a need for strong identity access management and plans for a two-factor authentication (2FA) API from the onset, for instance, saves because they don’t have to build a 2FA solution from scratch, nor do they have to redo work to make it fit in place; similarly, a company that understands it may need to include some manner of calling functionality in the near future and builds to accommodate an appropriate API is more likely to hit initial product goals.

Plan Better with APIs

The benefits of APIs lower the complexity and initial cost of software development—two factors that directly involve the business’s primary financial concerns—because that’s what they’re built to do. By turning complex operations into manageable packages, APIs make it easier to implement last-minute requests and long-planned features alike.

That doesn’t mean that a project in the midst of a scope problem will magically wrap up with the addition of an API or that the phenomenon can be completely avoided with a cursory plan. But using the tools in tandem with a well-developed sense of what one wants to accomplish (for a project in the design phases) or a smart outlook (for one in progress) can certainly enhance the planning and procedures that make the problem go away. For non-technical decision-makers, seeing a project hit its time and financial targets is a great proposition in and of itself.

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