Say NO to Gold plating and YES to Innovation

GoldplatingnoinnovationyesOur friend, Alex – the project manager got some stern looks from senior manager Martha for proposing a new feature beyond the agreed scope in a customer meeting. The new feature is going to take some time and effort to implement if the customer will decide to go for it. What Alex just did was requirement gold plating and she is opposed to any kind of gold plating in her projects. Let us take a look at this in a bit more detail.

Gold plating as per the definition is committing or continuing to work on a project or task well past the point where the extra effort is worth the value it adds.

There are two types of gold plating – Requirement gold plating and developer gold plating.
Developer gold plating refers to a situation where after having met the requirements, the developer works on further enhancing the product, thinking the customer would be delighted to see additional or more polished features, and not what was asked for or expected.

Requirement gold plating however, is mainly done by the project manager or those involved in scope related discussions. The scope is enhanced by suggesting to the client more than was requested / required and committing to it without added cost / effort.

Gold plating is considered by many as a bad project management practice. The goal of a project is to deliver primarily on the aspects of scope, time, cost and quality. Addition of scope introduces more level of risk in the project because it is a deviation from the original plan and might need additional time and effort to complete the project. In the context of gold plating, since it is “given” to the customer and not “demanded”, it’s unlikely that the customer is going to pay more for these “added benefits”.

This works perfectly in a world where we want a satisfied customer – give the customer what he asked for. Many argue though that this does not hold true in the world of today – there are so many players in each industry and the barrier to entry of new players is so low – that customer satisfaction is not enough. For them to place those repeat orders in our books or to recommend us to future prospects, customers need to feel delighted. Exceeding customer expectations is a norm for winners today and project managers must keep this in mind when delivering projects.

In this context – delivering more – is a desirable trait and would be welcome. Then why is gold plating considered evil? The proponents of these arguments are missing an important point in the definition of gold plating. Good project management practices are not against customer delight or innovation. Customer delight would only happen if there is real benefit to the business by value addition. Enhancements to scope done just for the sake of giving some freebies or for other reasons are not welcome when they don’t add value. Customers are not going to be pleased at getting something they did not ask for and is not in line with their vision of outcome for the product or service they ordered. But innovation/enhancements done keeping all stakeholders in the loop and which complement and enhance the fundamental product or service that is being delivered out of the project cannot be termed as gold plating. It is innovation, value addition or whatever else someone wants to call it – but that is not gold plating.

So the definition of gold plating still holds – additional work done unilaterally by the seller which does not equal to the worth of value it adds is gold plating and it makes perfect sense.Going back to our example, let us hope that Alex’s suggestion would bring real value to the customer and will get considered as innovation and not gold plating.

To conclude, project management practices which resist gold plating represent a philosophy which says that we need to focus on things that add value to customer, be in-line with all stakeholder expectations and do not risk the project in an adverse way. It is in no way a barrier to innovation or for doing more with less.

It simply means – Be disciplined, do controlled innovation but don’t let those horses run wild.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..