What is Gold Plating in Project Management? Definition&Examples

Updated Feb 16, 2023.
Gold Plating in Project Management

Do you or your team tend to add those extra bells and whistles clients never asked for?

If that’s how your typical day goes, then knowing about the vice & virtues of a term called “Gold Plating” would be crucial for amping your project management skills and productivity.

What is Gold Plating in Project Management?

Gold Plating can be defined as adding unnecessary, frivolous features or requirements to the project that the client did not request.

Like every pickle life throws at you daily, there’s a perfect solution, and then there’s a good enough solution.

In a service business or working as a project manager, providing a specific solution to a client's specific problem can very well be how your business operates and turns a profit.

Gold plating refers to when you pursue that perfect and faultless solution for a client who has never asked about the project scope.

That inner feeling pushes you to add more minute features to the initial project plan. Just to conform to the false mantra of “Exceed the client's expectations.”

Well, probably not wholly false, but sometimes clients don’t give a flying flounder about that fancy little feature on their NEWS app flickering the phone's flashlight when you exit. 

Example of Gold Plating in Project Management

Let's dig deep into how gold plating affects a project scope when there are ‘people pleasers’ in the project team.

Picture this: Let's say a small project of developing an app for an e-commerce brand is assigned to a ‘pretty enthusiastic’ project team of developers. (mind the italics, I’m dropping clues here…)

The project scope includes adding shopping carts, customer support, etc.

But of course, one team member decides to be a hero biscuit and, without the client’s approval or informing the project manager, proceeds to add an extra feature totally out of the project's scope that allows a user to Buy-Now-Pay-Later.

You wouldn’t need me to spell out how this minute and harmless feature, which the project team member thought was an added function, would go down with a client that DID NOT ASK FOR IT!

Customer Expectation and requirements vs Deliverable with gold plating
Source: Jmset

This not only expands the scope of the project and the associated budget but comes with an extra undesired bonus of totally overruling the only rule that shouldn’t ever be over-ruled: Communicate and approve with the client before making changes.

Communicate and approve with the client before making changes
Image source: Emthepm

I know it's not a super realistic example. Still, it does paint the picture a good project management plan can be ruined by a team member with his enthusiastic spirit to deliver extra work and additional features.

What Causes Gold Plating in Project Management?

Companies or individuals plagued by Gold Plating tend to have some flawed similarities in managing and delivering projects.

Let’s lay out some of the obvious ones to avoid gold plating.

Loosely Defined Scope Statement 

A well-defined and thoroughly chalked-out project scope statement is considered a cornerstone of an effective project management process.

Ensuring all stakeholders are on board with accurate project requirements and deliverables.

Definition of Scope Statement
Source: slideteam

A detailed project scope statement warrants that the entire team acts in concert with the client's requirements.

This prevents everyone on the team from having their made-up understanding of the original scope and client requirements, delivering work and an additional feature that was not asked for.

The Self-Imposed Need To Over Deliver

Exceeding clients' expectations and the zest to overdo it is the primary cause of Gold Plating.

The false notion of trying too hard and gold plating to please a client often ends up in vain, with schedule delays, cost overruns, and altering scope baseline.

Cover-up for Failures

Failure to deliver in any sub-aspect of the project as per requirements due to lack of expertise often results in over-delivery in another aspect as a cover-up.

For instance, a project to design a CRM platform to manage leads, engage with clients, and close deals can quickly turn into a CRM platform focused on managing internal team tasks, assignments, and collaboration.

Just because the assigned team had no expertise to design a CRM built around the sales operation of a company, the team ended up covering up with gold plating. The solution that was not required in the first place.

That is precisely where the name ‘Gold Plating’ in project management sprang from.

The actual metallurgical process of gold plating conceals a cheaper metal with a costlier coating of gold.

The same goes for project management, deception of some failure by gold plating a feature never asked for.

Lack of Communication

Effective and open communication can be regarded as one of the essential pillars of a successful project.

In contrast, the lack of a solid communication system often results in a project with misunderstood scope and requirements and thus gold plating. 

Gold plating vs. Scope Creep. What is the Difference Between Them?

Scope Creep - and Gold Plating
Image source: Projectcubicle

‘Scope creep’ is like a similar but more annoying sister of Gold Plating.

In Gold plating, the scope baseline expands, but the offender is generally from the service provider side, not the client side.

But scope creep refers to clients asking for additions and changes not agreed to in the initial scope statement without adjusting the project budget or delivery time.

Generally, scope creep occurs when project clients or other stakeholders add new or extra features in the later stages after project execution has started.

When Scope Creep and Gold Plating Cross in the Project

So, scope creep and gold plating are bad, but there’s even a bigger baddie out there and arguably the project manager’s worst nightmare.

Imagine a cross between gold plating and scope creep (Gosh! You most def. wouldn’t want that)

It happens when the client asks for edits and additions on the gold-plated features, which is scope creeping on gold-plated components.

That’s why scope creep coupled with gold plating is a double edge sword, and you need to steer clear of it.

How to Prevent Gold Plating in Project Management

The project manager's prime job is to avoid Gold plating and the associated scope creep from happening in his projects. Here are some practical pointers that will help you effectively avoid gold plating as a project manager.

Quit Over-performing

The business practice of over-delivering and going above and beyond comes from well-intentioned project managers and entrepreneurs aiming to improve product efficiency, reliability, performance, etc.

And I do get it! Customers have a lot of expectations.

And it's not that I want you to become a project manager with an attitude, saying no to any change requests and new features clients ask for to avoid gold plating and scope creep.

But you need to quit this notion that over-delivering will somehow make your client so delighted that you can squeeze 19 new referrals out of him.

With this trying-too-hard approach and adding extra features, you are not only going to essentially gold plate. Still, you will also virtually build yourself a lot of needless budgeting and time constraints issues.

Strict Scope Management

Once you have a well-mapped scope statement and tasks are assigned to the subsequent teams, you need to keep tabs on your team to monitor and prevent your crew from stepping over to off-scope-of-the-project limits.

Clarify Project Goals

One of the prime jobs of a good project manager is to pass on the client's needs, requirements, and project goals to his team in a perfectly clear and elucidative way.

This ensures no ambiguity left that can act as a breeding ground for any gold plating later.

Let the Client Decide on ‘Quality’

A journal by the university of Bridgeport argues that relying too much on your definition and perception of quality often results in unneeded quality, aka gold plating.

The project team has to try to achieve what was required
Source: Jmset.org

So it wouldn’t be the worst idea to take the client's perception of quality and any required extra features, not your own, to avoid gold plating in later stages of the project and to prevent scope creep.

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.