What Is Gold-Plating in Project Management?

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:

  1. Some team members thinking that a certain functionality would be “cool” to have in the end product, and so they add it.
  2. 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).
  3. Team members wanting to prove their abilities to the Project Manager and/or their direct managers.
  4. Team members with a lot of slack trying fill in their time by adding “bells and whistles” to the end product.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.

© 2010 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.


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Comments

  1. Quote
    Paul V. Sheridan said April 24, 2010, 6:59 pm:

    Hello PLM Admin:

    I am taking a PM course, and was requested (a few weks ago) to post the pros & cons of “gold plating.” I ran into your post today and have cut-n-pasted my exact post below. Note that the YouTube link contains my work in safety. Take care! Paul

    ———

    Posted by Paul Sheridan Wed Apr 7 13:44:59 2010.
    Reply: Before we can discuss these questions with any degree of competence or integrity we need to review the blatant duplicity and confusion that already exists in the literature regarding this “gold plating” vernacular.

    Slide 6 says:

    “Gold Plating: Gold plating refers to giving the customer extras. For example giving extra functionality, higher-quality components, and extra scope or better performance.”

    So here the literature describes a situation (better performance”) where the customer IS receiving value that will be of benefit and will be realized/used. But then that slide references a link (www.snyders.us/contractor-consultant.htm that says:

    “The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) describes gold-platting as ‘giving the customer extras (extra functionality, higher-quality components, extra scope of work or better performance).’ The PMBOK position is that ‘gold-plating adds no value to the project.’ “
    Note the second sentence blatantly contradicts the first.
    The Sharyn Brotz paper entitled, “The Positive Side of Gold Plating- Introducing the Concept of Scope Interpretation Bandwidth” says (edited):

    “ ‘Gold plating: PMI does not recommend giving the customer extras (e.g. extra functionality, higher-quality components, extra scope of work or better performance). Gold-plating adds no value to the project. Often such additions are included based on the project team’s impression of what the customer would like. This impression may not be accurate. Considering that only 26% of all projects succeed, project managers would be better off spending their time conforming to requirements (PMP Exam Prep Guide, 2nd Edition, Beaver’s Pond Press, 2000). ’

    There are so many objectionable and arguable phrases within this paragraph . . . What makes REQUIREMENTS indicators of project success? Who wrote the requirements? . . . requirements typically portray a functional need, addressing WHAT is desired and not HOW these needs will be provided.”

    So, if it is clear that the so-called PM experts cannot agree on what the vernacular “gold plating” refers to, how are we to answer the DQ questions?

    Obviously the current definitional status (i.e. Tower of Babble confusion) forces an answer of ‘It depends,’ and in response to BOTH DQ questions. With that answer, let me offer an example where so-called “gold plating” is not merely “a good management practice,” but an ethical requirement that has been upheld repeatedly as-such in the courts.

    When someone buys an automobile, the essential scope statement constrains the manufacturer to many “customer requirements” including “Compliance with all applicable government regulations” (That is an industry quote.). However, if we adhere to the PMI recommendation of not giving the auto customer “extra scope,” will we have fulfilled our duty to “a good management practice, and/or can we hide behind the PMI notion that we were justified to renege based on an anticipation of an inaccurate “impression of what the customer would like”? Not a chance.

    The US government, to this day, still does not require installation of a simple, inexpensive device called brake-transmission shift interlock (BTSI). Therefore, BTSI is not implicit in any auto manufacturer’s product scope statement. As such, under the PMI definition, BTSI is an “extra.” Try telling that to Mr. Todd Golden, or Ms. Amy Dawson, or Ms. Donna Saderfield :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=corrR7Wx8Bo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oppQrqf54-E&feature=related

    Outside the US, BTSI is almost universally a government requirement so the issue of “gold plating” cannot apply to BTSI or its management. But the question arises:

    Are project managers constrained by customer requirements that the customer may or may not have the expertise to request/demand? And if the answer is yes, does this denigrate the “extra” to that of “gold plating”?

    In this context, product safety, the answer to the first DQ question is clear: We maintain the well-being of our customers and users of our products; an obvious advantage. If the context is a few extra lines of software code, that may or may not delay the project or may not provide “extra performance,” then there are distinct disadvantages and it may amount to poor management practice.

    Quite frankly the term “gold plating” is offensive (at any level), meant to be biased/biasing, amounts to street talk, and as-such has no place in diligent/conscientious discussions about or within project management. Certainly we can derive a more suitable term for the broad contexts and issues involved.

  2. Quote

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for sharing your research on the subject.

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