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Scope Creep Kills Meaning

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Don't let creep kill meaning. Keep your mission clear. RIP Doug.

We have all seen it. You have something that starts with a very clear meaning. A singular goal that everyone can rally around and push to achieve. But then over time that meaning starts to blur a bit. Like a game of telephone, certain aspects are modified as the goal is passed from person to person. You may even have individuals add new goals to the original.

Before you know it the original meaning is completely lost. You are left with a non-descript, bloated thing that has no clear goal or vision. Instead of meaning, you have meaningless. And to top it all off, people are still throwing time and resources at this meaningless goal because they do not know any better.

Mission Creep

In the military this process is known as mission creep, a term first coined during operations in Somalia in 1993. In project management it is often referred to as scope creep. Feature creep is a similar phenomenon in software engineering. In all cases you start with a clear defined goal with meaning and end up with a bloated, vague, messy thing – often with disastrous results.

The impetus for this piece is a new kind of creep that I am seeing that really frustrates me: holiday creep.

Holiday Creep

Today is Memorial Day. Originally known as Decoration Day, it is a holiday that was first meant to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War and eventually became a day to honor all military members who died serving our country. That is a pretty simple yet powerful goal, as are most good mission statements.

But people are beginning to let creep into this important day. I do not know how many times in the past week I have heard, “let’s remember all our veterans and those serving today,” or “make sure you thank a veteran for their service.” These are noble statements, right? They are, which is one of the most insidious things about creep. Creep is born of good intentions. People think they are doing a good thing by adding a goal or modifying it to include more. But all they end up doing is obscuring the original goal or diverting resources away from the original mission.

Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country. We already have a day to honor those who served in the military – it’s called Veterans’ Day and it’s in November. By adding veterans to Memorial Day we are taking away from the meaning of this holiday and soon it will lose the original meaning all together. And what a disservice we will have done to those who have died for this country.

You must be vigilant against creep in your business as well. It threatens every day. It might be a new product feature. It might be a new market you are considering entering. It might even be something as seemingly harmless as getting involved in local startup events.

If, at the end of the day, it takes away from your mission, your goal, your meaning, then it is creep and it must be eliminated.

But What About Change?

I am not saying that your mission cannot change over time. A failure to adapt to real changes in the macro-environment can be just as dangerous as creep. As long as your mission remains clear and points towards the goal you want to achieve then you are headed in the right direction. The extension of Memorial Day from just Union soldiers who died in the Civil War to all military members who died in the service of this country is a great example. I strongly believe that the next step is to include anyone who died in the service of this country, military or government. The original meaning is maintained.

So on this Memorial Day enjoy your BBQs, parades, races, and downtime. But also remember the true meaning of this day; honor those who died for this country. You can thank the veterans in November.

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