Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hizzoner! Feature Creep....

Hizzoner the Mayor speaks, on feature creep.

The context is an actual newsletter, in an actual town, where the Mayor is an actual Mayor.

Online video games have something to teach us about the flesh and blood world. Actually, they have many things to teach us but I want to focus on just one, the notion of “feature creep.” Feature creep is a tendency for programmers to add more and more features to the game than were originally planned. More features are good, right? They mean the game can do more things. They also increase complexity, increasing the probability that the game will be so overburdened with features it cannot do its original purpose very well and crashes easily.

The same thing happens in government as people try to add more things for government to do. I often hear people say, “Wouldn’t it be great if the city …” fill in your favorite phrase here—gave scholarships, showed free movies, paid the utilities bill for those below a certain income level, stepped into disputes between neighbors, built trails, and on and on. Each new feature is a good idea. Everyone has the best of intentions.

The problem with feature creep in government is that the new features get in the way of doing the things that actually need to be done. Plowing snow, fixing and maintaining roads, running effective water and sewer systems, fire protection, and providing a police and court system are things that need and ought to be done. When we start adding other features beyond those, we stretch tax dollars and staff ever thinner. Like a feature-laden video game, we become slower and consume more resources. We start asking government to do more than it can, making it difficult to do what it should.

In a recent meeting with city staff where a new feature concerning fences was being considered, I responded that city government has enough to do without adding new features. Doing our core mission well is my purpose as mayor. Please let us know how well you think we are doing.


MD said...

That may be the most intelligent thing said by a US politician in the last 20 years.

Tom said...

It's a beautiful thought. I intend to plagiarize the hell out of it.

Anonymous said...

I guess this is what happens when a PoliSci dept head gets elected.


Is that why you posted it?