Instruction creep

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Instruction creep, informally referred to as "bloat," occurs when instructions increase in size over time until they are unmanageable. It is an insidious disease, originating from ignorance of the KISS principle and resulting in overly complex procedures that are often misunderstood, followed with great irritation or ignored.

Kudzu was invented to supply similes for process.

Instruction creep is common in complex organizations where rules and guidelines are created by changing groups of people over extended periods of time. When rules and guidelines are not explicit, ever-increasing bureaucracy (even for seemingly useful reasons) tends to achieve the same result.

Instruction creep begins when someone thinks "This page would be better if everyone was supposed to do this" and adds more requirements.

Procedures are popular to suggest but not so popular to follow, due to the effort to find, read, learn and actually follow the complex procedures.

Page instructions must be pruned regularly. Gratuitous requirements must be removed as soon as they are added. All new policies should be regarded as instruction creep until firmly proven otherwise.

Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. When I was CTO of a web design firm, I noticed in staff meetings that we only ever talked about process when we were avoiding talking about people. "We need a process to ensure that the client does not get half-finished design sketches" is code for "Greg fucked up." The problem, of course, is that much of this process nevertheless gets put in place, meaning that an organization slowly forms around avoiding the dumbest behaviors of its mediocre employees, resulting in layers of gunk that keep its best employees from doing interesting work, because they too have to sign "The Form Designed to Keep You From Doing The Stupid Thing That One Guy Did Three Years Ago".
Wikis, Graffiti, and Process, Clay Shirky, 2003-08-26

You can't cure stupidity or malice with instructions.

See also[edit]

  • Creeping featurism — when a computer program ends up doing more and more.
  • Functionality creep — when a physical document or procedure ends up serving unexpected or unplanned purposes.