Fear Of Mission Creep

When I was getting my start as an Air Force Acquisitions Officer, mission creep was a concept heavily drilled in training sessions. The dictionary definition of mission creep is, “a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.” As I was dealing with products and their life cycle, my job was to ensure that the products as presented from the finalized prototype did not become and over-budgeted, out of hand, final product.

How hard is it to keep a simple product from becoming a complicated mess? When I was the manager of a software platform, I sat in negotiations between the government engineer that had to sign off on the finished product and the contracted company that would do the work. A typical software release had 35–50 points to negotiate separately, and only on rare occasions, could both sides quickly agree with the workload necessary and skip to a new point. Many points took hours to negotiate.

Why? The government, trying to be a good steward of your money, doesn’t want to waste resources (at least since the late 80’s, and that was still debatable when it comes to large, flashy weapons systems). The contractor wants to get paid and is trying to put as much work for their people as possible without putting themselves on the line to many freebies.

Mission creep, just like all the good military terms and metaphors, has found its way into business speak as well. And it’s the same problem that befuddles many in the tech industry, especially for those building and maintaining apps. Look to Evernote as a prime example. Evernote is an app I love, but the builders and maintainers lost sight of what its core users loved, and began to focus on add-ons and related products that sort-of fit into the mission, and turned a simple application into a complicated mess. Once Evernote started shedding some of the dead weight and not-so-stellar other products, the company saw an instant upswing in use and popularity.

Don’t let mission creep become a problem that slows down your life. It is just as easy for that simple party you begin to plan to become an event worthy of a fairy-tale princess, with a budget that could bankrupt a minor fairy-tale kingdom. Your life is complicated enough without letting too many ‘good sounding ideas’ get in the mix and turn into nightmares.