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To Gold-plate Or Not To Gold-plate?

We have already looked at context switching, now we look at productivity itself. Which aspect do we consider? We will look at how much work needs to be done to achieve the target.

Let’s start off with the titled question, anyone with knowledge of project management will have heard of the term Gold-plating. Gold-plating means to keep working on the project/product past the given functional requirements to enhance it. It is usually known that the technical perfectionists are most likely to carry out gold-plating a product in hopes that the client will appreciate their efforts and initiative.

The question is whether and when it is acceptable to carry out gold-plating?

I will talk from my experience at university. Any project or coursework given to us had clear requirements of the output. We knew exactly what we had to achieve and how much our reward (marks) would be. We worked to achieve that goal and did not improve our answer further. Whatever gold-plating we carried out was in the presentation of the results and in the reports.

When a project is assigned, there is also a budget that is assigned with it. If the functional requirements are well-defined from the beginning and the reward agreed, there is no need to go past the functional requirements. If any initiative needs to be shown, it should be shown when defining and agreeing the requirements with the client. The client might appreciate the gold-plating but will not usually penalise if it is not done. Sure if it is a software project, make sure the interface is usable and neat but no need to add fancy effects which might later become annoyances.

Last year I was a technology forum hosted in London by one of the largest Investment banks showcasing their trading software. The project manager was telling us how a couple of members of his team had worked few extra hours to enhance the interface by adding eye pleasing fading effects etc. , but only for the traders to feedback saying these effects were slowing down their speed and were annoyances. The development team had to spend more time removing all the effects and keeping the interface simple. This cost them a lot of time and also morale. This time could have been spent well developing the next iteration or working on another project.

A lot of project managers will attest that the project cost could have been lowered and completed in a shorter time if it wasn’t for gold-plating their work to impress the client. Fair enough that the first couple of times, a little gold-plating can be done to impress the client and retain them for longer periods but it cannot be done every time and in the long run. Another cause for gold-plating is over-estimation of budget. Just because the expenditure in completing a project to functional requirement is lower than the budget, doesn’t mean that the extra budget needs to be spent. If the client accepts the functional output according to the requirements, they will probably be impressed more knowing that the project was completed with lower costs than the estimates.

So what is the answer to the titled question? Well it depends what the motivations are behind gold-plating. If it because there is budget left for it, then there is no need to gold-plate the output. If the aim is to impress a client and reel them in for longer term then gold-plating is acceptable or when presentation is important. Gold-Plating can also cost money and time affecting not only that project but others as well. The outcome and reward of gold-plating should be carefully assessed for each project.