Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Coders and Accountants have a thing in common. They hate mission creeps. It blows up their projections, plans and work performed. It most often means they must repeat, redo and change up what was already done. Even assessing the change, takes you away from getting things done, let alone replanning and adjusting, setting you days or weeks and sometimes months back on progress and evolution. Mission creep gives everyone a reason to hate it.
Like many other descriptives, mission creep is a phrase borrowed from military experience, and is described by the dictionary as “a gradual unplanned change, expansion or shift of scope or objectives and/or cost of a project.” It is very disruptive to the entire team’s ability to execute and succeed.
A change of direction, however, is a deliberate act. It is very often the result of new knowledge, outside pressure or other change of circumstance, including money, more or less of it doesn't matter. Changing direction is natural to both startups and established businesses. I would even go as far as stating that changing direction is essential to staying ahead, and succeed in an ever changing business landscape. But it must be controlled, and it must be deliberate.
I remember reading the writing on the wall in 1998, a year before Napster popped up on the radar, that digital delivery of media content was the wave of the future. As a media content rights management executive, my first act was to rewrite all contracts to include rights language describing “electronic and digital delivery, whether wireless or by wire, using currently existing technology or invented during term, for private use…” There was no language to describe the thing, so verbalizing this emerging technology in broadest terms provided widest protection of rights. As a result, a change in direction was established and declared; we were no longer a home video company, but a digital rights management company. It guided every decision made from that point forward.
The difference between meaningful change and mission creep needs to be understood. Meaningful change is a deliberate and planned act. Mission creep is the compounding of multiple unplanned acts that are permitted to change everyone’s behavior and actions. Mission creep is winging it, and nobody wings their way to success.
Deliberate change describes decisive management
Mission creep describes absence of management
The decision to scrap existing projects is always as difficult as it is necessary. Making the tough decisions; which projects survive the change and which get cancelled describes a decisive management. Allowing constant and continual alterations of plans, not only appears to team but describes the absence of management. Change should never be an afterthought, but a planned, deliberate and carefully thought out action, to ensure clarity of direction for the company. A team well prepared for change will deliver a coordinated peak performance at the pivotal moment, sailing the ship successfully right through it.