I first ran across the term Noble Obstacle in the book “Finish: Giving yourself the gift of done” – Read the review of the book here.
A noble obstacle (noun) is an attempt to make your goal harder than it has to be, so you don’t have to finish, but can still look respectable. It can even seem wholly legitimate, but it’s just a distraction. A noble obstacle is built to push you farther away from the intended goal.
Often, during implementation, a noble obstacle takes the form of scope creep. For example, during the middle of the project, someone may point to an integration that should be done as part of the main project. And although it may be a good idea, it was never part of the intended scope.
Not all scope creep, however, can be considered noble obstacles. Consider whether the noble obstacle honestly does need to be included or whether it can be started upon completion of the first goal. Measure the drawbacks of delaying launch against the value of adding anything mid-stream. Only then will you be able to truly determine whether you are dealing with a Showstopper or a Noble Obstacle.
The challenge with a Noble Obstacle is that it feels like a missed requirement. It’s not.