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Gold plating: what it is and how to avoid it 8 min read
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Imagine that you’re at the grocery store and have found everything on your list. When it’s time to pay, the cashier unexpectedly places an additional item in your cart, free of charge. You might feel grateful and excited if it’s an item that you enjoy. But if it’s an item you don’t want, you might feel indifferent or confused.

This same principle applies to project management and the practice known as gold plating.

This article explains what gold plating is, why it occurs, and how you can avoid it. Understanding the concept more thoroughly can help you move toward creating a more efficient and effective project team that prioritizes meeting the client’s needs over including bonus features and services.

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What is gold plating? What causes it? 

Gold plating occurs when a project manager or team member believes that a project could be enhanced by an additional feature and includes it without approval or discussion with the client. This moves the project beyond the originally established scope, and, while it comes at no extra cost to the client, it can nevertheless be damaging.

A number of negative effects can occur due to gold plating, including:

  • Extending the amount of time that it takes to complete a project
  • Upsetting the client
  • Wasting money and time when the team has to remove or correct the additions
  • Dissolving trust among stakeholders who no longer feel confident that specific instructions will be followed

Even if a client is happy with the final outcome of the project, gold plating typically results in diminished returns. In other words, the effort required to add the extra features or services does not pay off because it consumes time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Gold plating can result from a variety of motivations on the part of the project manager or team member:

  • Trying to gain the client’s favor with free additions or upgrades
  • Seeking recognition for a particular skill
  • Misunderstanding or misinterpreting the project scope
  • Deflecting attention from an area of the project that is weak or flawed

In each of these cases, even when it’s well-intentioned, gold plating does not actually serve the best interests of the client. Let’s take a look at some examples of gold plating in the project management field.

Examples of gold plating in project management

Evaluating examples of gold plating helps to clarify how it might manifest. This, in turn, can help you to prevent or stop it if you see signs that it’s occurring within your team.

First, imagine that a client requested a presentation for an upcoming conference. The client provided a detailed outline and specified it should only include text and a few tables. Believing that it would be more engaging with visual elements, the project manager added colorful photos and graphics throughout the presentation. While this may improve the aesthetic quality of the presentation from an outsider’s perspective, it does not follow the requirements set out by the client. The inclusion of photos might be well-received by the client, but it’s also possible that images were excluded from the project outline for a specific reason. As a result, the client might request that the project team spend additional time and effort removing the images that the manager chose to add.

As a second scenario, consider what might occur if a client and project manager established a scope baseline for the team to build a new business website with text, images, and a store. During the project, one of the team members had extra time and decided to spend it developing creative videos to place on the landing page of the site. When the client reviewed the project, he discovered that the videos caused the page to load more slowly and that some of the content contradicted the company’s mission. The project team then had to return to the project and reorganize the landing page without the videos. The client, who became upset because this pushed back the launch date for the site, chose not to work with the team again in the future.

These examples illustrate that it’s unwise for a project manager or team member to assume what is best for a project. Instead, that question should be posed to the client directly.

Gold plating vs. scope creep

Scope creep and gold plating are both common occurrences in project management that relate to going outside the scope’s baseline. However, the terms are distinct in that gold plating is the result of choices made by the project manager or team, while scope creep refers to additions initiated by the client.

In scope creep, a client may intentionally or unintentionally increase the workload of a project over a period of time. While it’s common for a client to make additional requests during a project, scope creep occurs when there is no adjustment to the payment agreement for the work that is being completed. Thus, the project team is doing extra work without receiving any additional compensation.

How to avoid gold plating

A lack of communication is at the heart of most problems with gold plating. Fortunately, there are some specific steps that you and your team can take to avoid it altogether:

  • Clearly define the scope of the project with the client, documenting all the details in writing and having both parties sign off on them.
  • As a project manager, keep the team focused on the specific requirements of the project, and redirect any team members who might be going off track.
  • Communicate with all parties involved, including the client, to ensure that the scope of the project has not changed.
  • Prioritize perfecting the project as it was defined rather than trying to add bonus features, and have team members reexamine, test, and evaluate various aspects if their work is finished early.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid gold plating is to closely follow the client’s requirements. If there’s a feature that you believe might be beneficial to a project, discuss it with the client before moving forward. This helps ensure the client is happy with the final outcome, and you didn’t expend time and resources adding features that the client ultimately might not approve.

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Combat gold plating with clear communication on

To avoid gold plating, it’s important that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of what the client wants. For that to happen, there must be frequent and clear communication between stakeholders.

The platform allows a team to be fully collaborative via communication, project monitoring, and oversight. If at any point a client, team member, or project manager feels that a change or addition is necessary, the issue can easily be discussed through This combats gold plating and creates a positive experience for everyone involved.

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Frequently asked questions

What does gold plating mean in project management? 

Gold plating refers to the practice of including free additions to a project without receiving the client’s approval. These are typically things that the team considers to be upgrades or benefits, but they are outside of the scope baseline that was established before the project began.

Is gold plating good or bad in project management? 

Although project managers or team members may think that they are helping clients by including free extras, it is generally bad practice to do more than what the client initially requested. Rather than adding on unsolicited features, project teams should stay within the scope and perfect each element of the client’s actual requests.

Avoid gold plating to improve project management

If you’re working on a project and discover the potential for additions that you believe would benefit the client, it can be tempting to take the initiative and incorporate those changes without the client’s approval. However, you should maintain focus on providing exactly what the client requested, nothing more and nothing less.

Using project management features on can help keep the project within scope by enabling clear and frequent communication between all parties. Gold plating may sound positive in theory, but in practice, it has the potential to waste resources, detract from the project’s overall quality, and damage relationships with clients.

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