What is gold plating, and how to avoid it

gold plating in project management

Beware of the allure of gold plating

When it comes to project management, the pursuit of excellence can sometimes lead to a common pitfall known as "gold plating."

Whether you're a seasoned project manager, team member, or stakeholder involved in project execution, understanding gold plating, most likely causes and consequences will set the tone of how you navigate around it to avoid falling into this productivity-draining trap.

Let's dive in and learn how to sidestep the pitfalls of gold plating in project management.

What is gold plating? Definition, causes, examples

Gold plating in project management refers to the unnecessary addition of extra features, functionality or any type of enhancements to a project that are beyond its agreed-upon requirements.

Project team members may go beyond and above the original project scope with the desire to exceed expectations, impress stakeholders or showcase expertise.

While gold plating usually comes from good intentions, it can ultimately undermine the project timeline, inflate costs, and dilute the core objectives.

Causes of gold plating

  • Perfectionism: Project team members, driven by a desire for perfection, may feel compelled to continuously add enhancements, believing that more is always better. This mindset can lead to a never-ending cycle of adding unnecessary features.

  • Pressure from stakeholders: Project stakeholders, such as clients or managers, might explicitly or implicitly request additional features or improvements beyond what was initially agreed upon. This can stem from a lack of clarity in project scope or a desire to gain a competitive edge.

  • Desire to showcase ability: Team members may engage in gold plating to demonstrate their skills or knowledge, wanting to go above and beyond what is expected of them. While this motivation is often well-intentioned, it can sidetrack the project and divert resources away from the core objectives.

Examples of gold plating

To illustrate the concept of gold plating further, let’s look at a few examples in the context of software development:

1. Feature creep: During software development, the project team decides to add extra features that were not initially part of the requirements or user stories. These additions may include complex functionality, unnecessary integrations with third-party apps, or fancy design elements. While these features may seem impressive, they can significantly extend development and make the app more complex and difficult to maintain.

2. Over-engineering: In an effort to showcase technical expertise, developers may over-engineer certain components or modules of a software system. This can involve implementing sophisticated solutions that surpass the actual needs of the project. Over-engineering can lead to bloated codebases, increased maintenance efforts, and potential performance issues, without providing any tangible benefits to the end user or project objectives.

3. UI/UX enhancements: While a well-designed and user-friendly interface is essential for any digital product, gold plating can occur when excessive time and effort are spent on visual enhancements that don’t significantly improve user experience. Examples include incorporating complex animations, fancy transitions and visual effects that don’t contribute to the core functionality or usability of the app.

4. Unrequested customisations: In projects that involve off-the-shelf solutions, gold plating can occur when developers make modifications that were not explicitly requested by the client or end user. These customisations may go beyond the scope of the project, introducing complexities and potential compatibility issues with future updates or integrations.

5. Optimising prematurely: Gold plating can also manifest as premature optimisation, where developers invest significant time and effort in optimising code performance or system efficiency before it becomes necessary. While optimisation is important, prioritising it too early in the development process can divert resources from delivering the core functionalities, leading to delays and increased costs.

Gold plating vs Scope creep

Scope creep and gold plating are common issues in project management resulting from adding extra features outside the original project scope. These can easily throw your project off-track resulting in major headaches and delays. But while the two terms are very similar, they have distinct differences and implications.

The main distinction is that gold plating involves adding extra features that are outside the project scope, while scope creep involves expanding the original project scope with new requirements without proper evaluation, risk assessment and change procedures.

Scope creep usually begins with a request from the client or stakeholder either due to changing requirements, evolving user needs, inadequate project planning or unclear deliverables. On the other hand, gold plating is driven by the project team or team member's initiative to exceed expectations and impress the client or stakeholders.

Gold plating can deviate the project from its core objectives, introduce unnecessary complexities, and hinder progress. While additional elements in scope creep may seem in-line with the overarching objectives, this can still negatively impact the project timeline, cost and quality if not managed effectively.

The negative consequences of gold plating

Gold plating can cause major project setbacks. Understanding some of the key drawbacks can help you recognise the signs of gold plating and put in place proper procedures in your project management approach.

Probably the number one drawback would be increased costs and project delays. Additional features require additional resources, time, and effort to implement. This will inevitably put a strain on finances and may even impact the profitability of the project. Not only that, but the diversion of resources can cause delays in the schedule, leading to missed deadlines and dissatisfied stakeholders.

Speaking of which, gold plating can create a mismatch between stakeholders' expectations and project deliverables. Stakeholders may view the extra features as unnecessary or as a distraction from the main objectives. This misalignment can lead to dissatisfaction, strained relationships, and a loss of trust.

With each addition of unnecessary features, the complexity of the project also increases. Complex systems are often harder to understand, maintain, and troubleshoot. Gold plating can introduce unnecessary complexities, making the project more challenging to manage and prone to errors or defects. This can hinder the project’s stability, scalability, and reliability.

How to avoid gold plating

1. Create a well-defined scope: Clearly outline boundaries and deliverables of the project, document what is included and what is excluded from the scope. This provides a reference point against which any proposed changes can be evaluated and prevents unnecessary deviations.

2. Develop a robust change management process: Establish clear procedures for assessing and approving any changes to the project scope. This way any additions can be thoroughly reviewed to make sure they align with project goals and provide measurable value before being implemented.

3. Encourage open communication: Encourage team members to voice concerns and make suggestions related to the project scope and requirements. Maintain regular communication channels so everyone is informed and engaged throughout the project lifecycle.

4. Emphasise delivering value to the end user: Encourage the project team to prioritise features that directly contribute to meeting user needs and project objectives. By keeping the user top of mind, the team can avoid unnecessary additions that don’t provide significant value.

5. Make use of project management software: Using PM software to assign tasks and track progress will provide transparency and direction into who is working on what task as well as keep the project team on top of the high-level goals.

6. Gather data to inform decisions: Make sure to base decisions on data and evidence rather than subjective opinions. This can help you assess the impact of any proposed changes on project goals, schedule, resources, and budget.


To avoid the negative consequences of gold plating and ensure project success, it is crucial to implement effective mechanisms to deal with changes to the original scope. Clear project requirements, well-defined scope statement and robust change management procedures provide a solid foundation for project execution and delivery.

Remember, effective project management is about delivering value within the defined scope. At All Front, we understand the importance of building digital products that cater to your user's needs.

Through techniques such as Contextual Interviews, Focus Groups, Technical Tooling and Customised Solutions we can help you identify and prioritise features your users actually want so you can avoid gold plating and deliver value-driven projects.

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Project Management
David Stellini

31st May 2023