Mission creep is a real risk with many medium to long-term contracts. In this article, Alan Field explains what the facilities management (FM) professional needs to look out for to manage the risk of this arising.

Mission creep, in the built environment, refers to a situation where a client believes the contract gives them the right to certain services or service levels without additional fees. Usually, these additional services were not costed for in the original agreement and the expectation may gradually have arisen over a period of time. Sometimes this occurs because there was insufficient focus on detail in the original agreement (ie both parties thought they were agreeing to different things) or where the organisations involved have experienced change. Sometimes different priorities or service needs will simply evolve for the parties over time.

These might, for example, include the expectations about response times to building repairs, cleaning standards or the way contractual penalties are calculated. These changes can, perhaps, develop because the client changes their advisors. Sometimes middle management changes and they simply see things differently from their predecessors. This article explains how to manage the risks involved in these scenarios and to turn them to a business advantage.

Sherpas

Sherpas can help you climb Everest but in business, the term — when it is used — refers to a situation where a board level agreement has been made with a client or a supplier and then advisors and senior middle management go in to work out the fine detail of the strategic agreement. In other words, sherpas — on both sides of the table — turn the strategic will into a tactical or operational agreement.

If a contract is taken over, an FM professional should always exercise a degree of caution if the contract has been the subject of the sherpa activity. Never assume the lawyers, and procurement experts have considered everything, because they are unlikely to fully understand the day to day operational delivery of an FM contract. Sometimes, senior management's desire to agree a contract can lead to a strategic blind eye being turned to thorny issues; in some organisations, what senior management and middle management actually want to achieve from a contract can sometimes be very different. As far as possible, always find out if there were any outstanding issues or areas where it was difficult to agree on the detail. These can often give an indication of what might actually lead to mission creep issues later on.

Future proofing

Future proofing is one of those buzz terms often used in business but, in the context of mission creep, this can be a simple checklist of “what ifs”.

With a new contract, for example, very simple things, such as potential changes of ownership, need to be considered. With a complex service delivery, perhaps involving many contractors, a change of ownership or senior management could involve any one of these parties and lead to different expectations. If there are advisors in the chain, it is worth checking to see if they were involved in the original contract negotiations or if they are trying to understand its terms as well. Where possible, these matters should be discussed with all parties. This can provide a fairly neutral focal point from which to broach any issues in the contract which are unclear.

Future proofing can relate to the estate. The portfolio may change or the use of these buildings may evolve, impacting on the FM services, eg travelling time for mobile teams or different monitoring and evaluation (M&E) issues with older buildings that have been substituted for new ones. For "managed services" contracts, which may involve the delivery of non-FM type offers, eg information technology (IT) help desks, accounting and office management functions, then understanding how these offers will evolve over a two to three year period can be even more important in terms of maintaining budgets and margins. For example, changes of technology in certain areas may make delivery more expensive as well as potentially more straightforward. IT is one obvious area but core FM services, eg some M&E areas, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems may also be affected. The question to answer is this: Were such potential changes considered at a strategic level and the cost or performance implications considered?

Performance standards and related penalties are another consideration. Clients rarely operate in a bubble and their expectations of performance will often align to delivery expectations within their own sectors. In other words, it is their ultimate customers who are really driving the FM professional. Therefore, performance standards or targets, especially if there are penalties connected with them, need to be clear within the contract and not fudged in any way. It is often easier to clarify moot points before they become mission creep issues at a later date, especially if good relationships exist with the client and sub-contractor middle management. They could change at any time.

Keeping an eye on the ball

One way to minimise mission creep is by just not focusing on performance and targets. Of course, these are important, but look beyond them. This is especially true in the early days of a contract — be it involving internal or external clients. Are delivery issues arising due to, say, unexpected logistical issues, eg a higher level of reactive maintenance than anticipated, or is it due to client expectations being different from those anticipated? If there was a previous contractor involved, did they allow mission creep into the contract delivery and then not carry it forward into the terms of reference for the new contract — senior management in any of the contracting parties simply may not have been made aware of this.

This could suggest mission creep is just around the corner. Again, early discussions with all parties could clarify issues. If not, the FM professional needs a clear reporting line to senior management to ensure that matters can be escalated to strategic level if needs be. Looking beyond performance and targets should continue throughout a contract. Where a client advisor is involved, they should be encouraged to do the same, even if their inclination is otherwise. Remember, the advisor has a contract to fulfil as well. In the worst case scenario, the client may even be trying to use their advisor's influence to manage in an element of mission creep. While this is the exception rather than the rule, the possibility should be considered by the FM professional and proactively managed accordingly.

Potential mission creep is not necessarily a bad thing. First, looking at the different scenarios that could arise in a contract can lead to a greater understanding of the need for resilience and backup processes generally. In other words, resiliencc should be based on the services actually provided, rather than the service levels recognised in the contract.

It can also sometimes lead to these further services being agreed at additional fees. Discussions about fees are much easier to agree if the matter is discussed at the outset, rather than if the service in question has already been creeping along for some time.

Conclusion

Mission creep is always a risk in any contract, even where a complex tendering process has been developed. Be mindful of these key factors: it can arise at initial agreement stage or can develop later on in the contract

Last reviewed 20 April 2016