Gold-Plating in Project Management is the act of giving the customer more than what he originally asked for. Gold plating is common in software projects, and is usually done by team members either on an individual or a collaborative basis, most of the times without the knowledge of the Project Manager.
Why Gold Plate?
Gold plating is giving the customer something that he did not ask for, something that wasn’t scoped, and often something that the he may not want. So why do it?
There are several reasons for gold plating:
- Some team members thinking that a certain functionality would be “cool” to have in the end product, and so they add it.
- Some team members falsely determining that a certain functionality is a pre-requisite to another one (but is absent in the scope), or a necessity in the end product. Note that in some cases, this might be true, but the process is wrong. Team members should follow formal procedures by reporting this to the Project Manager, who makes the ultimate decision (after consulting with key stakeholders, in the case of a big functionality).
- Team members wanting to prove their abilities to the Project Manager and/or their direct managers.
- Team members with a lot of slack trying fill in their time by adding “bells and whistles” to the end product.
- The Project Manager wanting to shine in front of the customer (there might be a hidden agenda behind this, such as the Project Manager is seeking to be ultimately employed for the customer).
- The Project Manager and/or the team members wanting to divert attention from (sometimes serious) defects in the final product.
By examining the above reasons, we notice that gold plating is mostly done with good intentions, but then again, even the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Note that the first 4 reasons above imply that the Project Manager is not properly managing and controlling his resources.
Consequences of Gold Plating
There are many potential (mostly negative) consequences of gold plating, including:
- Increasing the cost of the project. Gold plating takes precious time, and is usually done by top resources. Of course, the customer will not be paying for those extra hours.
- Scope Inflation. Sometimes gold plating may result in changing some of the underlying infrastructure that was originally defined and agreed upon just to accommodate the features that the client did not ask for. Again, such changes are usually done by top resources.
- Increasing risks. On average there are 20 errors for every 1000 lines of codes. Gold plating is mostly about adding code, and consequently, bugs.
- Raising the expectations of the over-satisfied customer. Customers with a gold plated product will grow accustomed to getting more than what they originally bargained for, for free. The next time the same company delivers a project to this customer, there’d better be gold plating…
- Customer backlash. As stated above, gold plating is giving the customer something that he may not want. Sometimes the customer will be ungrateful (as viewed from the team’s perspective) and will request to remove all the bells and the whistles that were added without his approval. This will cost the company time and money.
Who Benefits from Gold Plating?
On the short run, (almost) everybody. On the long run, nobody. On the short run (and ideally), team members will shine in front of their managers (while doing something they like), the Project Manager and the company will have a satisfied customer, and the customer will be getting more than what he paid for. On the long run, team members will be stressed to add extra (unpaid) features (no longer fun), the Project Manager will not be able to manage the customer’s expectations properly, the project will cost the company more time and money, and the customer will certainly be not as happy as the first time.
How to Avoid Gold Plating?
Avoiding gold plating is easier than what some might think, all the Project Manager has to do is to enforce a policy not to add any functionality (no matter how small or big it is) that is outside the original scope of the project without consulting with him first (and then formalizing the request). The Project Manager should be firm and he should punish gold-platers instead of rewarding them. Setting a harsh example with one of the team members might be a bit overkill, but will deter other team members from doing the same. Finally, the Project Manager should never give his team members complete autonomy, while not falling into the trap of micro-management.
Of course, if the Project Manager is the person who’s behind the gold plating, then all of the recommendations above are practically worthless. In this case, the stakeholders should interfere if this practice is jeopardizing the project.
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