Avoiding unnecessary bells & whistles in projects with gold plating

By Amber Felton on Apr 29
What is Gold Plating in Projects

When you're planning your project, it's easy to lose focus and get distracted by new and exciting ideas. This phenomenon is often referred to as shiny object syndrome. Much like birds and squirrels who may become distracted from their day-to-day tasks, we humans can become easily distracted, too. And unfortunately, that distraction can lead to things like delays and what's known as gold plating in project management - where you'll end up with unnecessary features that provide no additional value and that don't fit in with the project requirements set forth by the stakeholders.

What is gold plating in project management?

So, you likely have a basic understanding of what gold plating in project management is. To refresh, it's where you add extra features or designs that go beyond the original scope of requirements. But what causes gold plating and why would you want to add more to your project than what is required? Well, there are two common reasons why. First, you may not realize you're doing it. It can happen, right? You're working on your task and an idea pops into your head that you think will improve the project. Then, without checking the project scope, you unintentionally veer off course. Second, humans are overachievers. We want to exceed expectations and to deliver more than what's asked. Why? Because we want to impress our bosses.

Gold Plating outcome in Projects

However, as well-intentioned as you might be, gold plating has its consequences.

The dangers of gold plating

Gold plating in project management can cause several dangers that can affect your project's success. The most common and significant danger is called scope creep.

Now, gold plating should not be confused with scope creep. While they certainly have their similarities, such as straying from the project's original scope, their causes and outcomes are different. For example, gold plating happens quickly and is usually set in motion by an individual or a few team members. It involves adding extra features that don't fit the project requirements. Scope creep is different in that it usually occurs due to the whole team or even the stakeholders and happens over time as project requirements change. Scope creep typically involves poor communication and poor project governance.

Gold Plating and Scope Creep in Projects

Despite these two concepts being different, gold plating can and does cause scope creep to occur. When you add extra features to your project, you're usually doing so unauthorized and without proper planning. The result? Delays, increased costs, and poor resource allocation. Plus, it adds stress to your team as they try to accommodate these additional features.

But that's not all. You also risk confusion between your team and the stakeholders and clients. When you add extra features without clear communication or an agreement between yourself and the stakeholders, then you run the risk of your stakeholders misunderstanding your project deliverables, timelines, and expectations. Think about it - you and your stakeholders agreed to a certain project scope and timeline. Adding extra features means you'll likely miss that timeline and need an extension. This can harm stakeholder satisfaction and cause you to lose trust and loyalty.

You also risk:

  • Reduced focus on important tasks

  • Complicated project management

  • Increased project risks and technical challenges

Examples of gold plating in project management

If you're still confused about gold plating, that's okay. Sometimes it's easier to understand something when you can visualize or imagine it. Let's look over some examples here.

For starters, let's say you're working on a software development project. You've already talked to your stakeholders and have come up with a good project scope to follow. But wait, someone on your team has an idea for a new feature that the stakeholders or clients didn't request or approve. An example here would be adding a chatbot feature to the software. It sounds cool and useful, right? It'd improve the user experience by letting your users ask common questions and get answers when no one else is around to ask. As useful as this might seem, this new feature would require additional resources, such as development time and testing. Implementing such a feature would lead to delays, increased costs, and potential scope creep.

Another example would be if you were working on a documentation-heavy project - think along the lines of regulatory compliance or system implementation. Your team may be compelled to go above and beyond by creating extensive documentation. They may think it important to include detailed specifications, diagrams, and explanations that weren't requested by stakeholders. It gets tricky here because thorough documentation is pretty necessary in the technical world. But when it becomes excessive, it becomes too time-consuming to create, review, and maintain, and can divert resources from other important project tasks.

5 steps to prevent gold plating in project management

Now that you understand what gold plating is and the risks involved, it's time to work on preventing gold plating from occurring. These five steps will help.

Prevent Gold Plating in Projects

1. Define your project requirements clearly

The first and foremost step to prevent gold plating in project management is to establish clear and well-defined project requirements from the start. Collaborate with your stakeholders and clients. Create user personas to envision what your end-user wants and needs. Think about the needs, expectations, and objectives for your project. Document these requirements. Be as detailed and specific as you can be. Use the SMART method to keep your project goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

When you have a clear scope to follow, you'll have a solid foundation that helps prevent unnecessary features or enhancements throughout your project's lifecycle. You'll be able to align your project with what your end-user truly needs and what your stakeholders expect. You and your team can stay focused better and stay within the set timeline and budget.

2. Create a change management processes

Okay, changes are sometimes unavoidable. It's always good to expect the unexpected. Part of doing that is to create and implement a change management process so that when change happens, you can manage it effectively and prevent gold plating from happening. Having a strong change management process will help you get any changes to the project scope, requirements, and objectives approved before implementation. When you get these changes approved, you'll prevent confusion and keep everyone involved with your project informed about any new directions or adjustments, which will help you build trust and loyalty.

Start by defining clear procedures for requesting, reviewing, and implementing changes. Request that your team members submit formal change requests directly to you so that you can take them to the stakeholders and higher-ups. Change requests should include proposed changes, their justification, and how they will impact the project's timeline, budget, and resources. Make sure everyone is on board with your change management protocols - your team and stakeholders alike.

3. Encourage and maintain open communication

The next step in preventing gold plating is to encourage and maintain open communication among all stakeholders and team members. Open communication keeps everyone informed and aligned with the project goals, requirements, and expectations. Communication also provides everyone with a platform to share ideas, raise concerns, and clarify any ambiguities, thus reducing the risk of misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Encourage your team to express their ideas and suggestions, but also emphasize the importance of aligning these ideas with the project's objectives and stakeholder requirements. Create a culture where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns without fear of retribution. Schedule meetings, updates, or check-ins with your team and the stakeholders. Discuss project progress, changes, and challenges.

You can use popular communication tools and platforms to encourage collaboration and communication. Think about project management software like Breeze, popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, or shared documents through platforms like Google Docs.

4. Follow project priorities to a T

You've defined your project requirements and have a scope to adhere to, and that's all well and good, but following your project's priorities is another story. It might be tempting to stray, but straying even a little can cause significant problems and lead to scope creep and gold plating. Prioritization allows your team to focus on delivering the most valuable features and tasks first. When you prioritize, you'll be able to allocate your resources and minimize distractions from non-essential activities.

You'll need to confer with your stakeholders and team members. Define what matters the most to your project. Identify key deliverables, milestones, and tasks. These should all align closely with the project's objectives and provide the most value to your stakeholders. Use prioritization techniques such as the MoSCoW method which is dividing things based on Must have, Should have, Could have, Won't have. The Eisenhower Matrix is another great option to use when categorizing your tasks.

5. Regularly review project deliverables

The fifth and final step to prevent gold plating in project management is to regularly review your project deliverables with your team members and stakeholders. When you review your project deliverables regularly, you ensure that the project remains aligned with its goals and objectives and that the deliverables meet the defined requirements and expectations. It provides an opportunity to identify any discrepancies, address issues, and make necessary and approved adjustments.

Schedule periodic review meetings or checkpoints throughout your project's lifecycle. Assess the progress of deliverables against the project plan and priorities. Make sure you're involving key stakeholders and team members in these reviews so that everyone is on the same page. Then use your reviews to validate that the deliverables are on track, meet the defined requirements, and align with stakeholder expectations.

Avoid gold plating and supercharge your project's success

Gold plating, while often well-intentioned, can cause significant risks to a project's success by leading to scope creep, increased costs, and strained stakeholder relationships. When you understand the difference between adding value and adding unnecessary features, you'll be better prepared to navigate your project's lifecycle and steer it toward the success you've envisioned for it. Defining your project requirements and prioritizing them and keeping communication open will help you avoid gold plating in your project management. But changes are inevitable, which is why it's also important to review your project deliverables and implement a change process strategy.

Stay focused. You got this.