The project manager always looks for new ways to enrich the project scope. To provide for the client and stakeholders, they add extra features to the timeline. Gold plating in project management refers to the controlled expansion of the scope baseline.

To scope creep a project, project teams alter the original scope beyond the agreement. Granted, this can affect the initial process. Hence, gold plating refers to those aspects that “sweeten the deal” without producing blockages.

The Basic Project Management Tasks

Project managers handle creep and gold plating in project management on their own. So, such actions rest on their better judgment. In that way, they aim to accomplish more within a given time frame. This shouldn’t upset the project management plan but should exceed the client’s expectations.

However, it shouldn’t create extra costs for the sponsors. Giving them more than what they ordered is a type of bonus. As such, it is done to earn the other party’s favor. At times, tempering with the project may very well prove to be the wrong move.

Examples of Gold Plating

  • A team member may insert additional features without consulting the higher-ups
  • A project manager might add new goals to garner attention from the client
  • Gold plating can be a distinction from certain subpar aspects of the project
  • Either way, gold plating should appease the client

With that said, there are cases where gold plating will do more harm than good. It may devalue the other achievements of the work breakdown structure. In such scenarios, it’s best to stick to the agreed-upon scope.

For instance: Adding a short video to a software project is a good idea. After placing one on the client’s landing page, they ask for more to be made. So, the team will have to put in extra hours since this is outside the agreement.

That’s why any gold plating should fit the standard methodical procedure. That way, neither the budget nor the team will suffer. Preserving the initial timeline is a goal you should never ignore.

Problems and Common Difficulties

A Few Causes of Slowdowns

Inflating a project mid-way can upset the team’s tempo. To scope creep the work means putting a lot on the line for an extra feature. Before long, it can cause you to push a deadline further than you would’ve otherwise. Gold plating in project management can only worsen this trend.

Not a Cost-Effective Option

The project’s budget won’t account for gold plating. Plus, it can warrant an extra testing period and eat up other resources. This is bad news when already pressed with time.

Impose a Different Workflow

Once you alter courses in that way, the team may wonder what to do first. So, running after customer expectations can confer the project team. Even when based on the best intentions, the additional cost might incite a veto.

Can Lead to a Failed Project

Even if the extra add-ons don’t affect the client’s pocket, they might change the final outcome. As such, they’d be products outside of the client’s approval.

Depending on the original agreement, this might be a deal-breaker. Next, the client might opt to dismiss the work and won’t accept the product.

Warrants Regulatory Requirements

Some clients may take gold plating for granted. Thus, they would ask for such freebies on all future tasks.

If the client approaches it that way, you should stop the scope creep. It will keep on creating responsibilities for the team without reason.

Stick to the Best Case Scenario for Your Position

  • Enforce a rule that all changes must wait for PMP approval. Make it clear that you don’t want any uncontrolled changes within the project. Thus, you’ll prevent an extra cost from appearing
  • Stick to the common principles. Regardless of the market conditions, no team members should alter the work on their own. Instead, they should raise any idea to the higher-ups first
  • Establish clear communication channels. Even at the later stages, keep looking for a sudden unauthorized change.

In other words, to keep your client happy, stick to their wishes. If the team adds something to the to-do list, everyone should discuss it in detail. Also, if you notice a way to improve the order, notify the client first of all. Also, schedule an impact analysis if they do agree.

A Definition of Scope Creep

Scope creep refers to the practice of further changing a project as it develops. This is usually done without any additional testing.

In such cases, it becomes very difficult to keep the team focused. So, most leaders try to avoid managing scope creep. However, sometimes it can follow gold plating in project management.

How Scope Creep Occurs

The list of most common triggers for this includes:

  • Off-the-record orders between the client and a team member
  • A member acts on their own without a proper review period. This can happen even if you encourage open communication
  • Miscommunication between the team and the clients or stakeholders.
  • Not feasible time constraints and deadlines
  • A bug in the quality assurance process
  • Missing project scope statement that alters the product scope

Hot to Avoid Scope Creep

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Project managers should not allow space for sudden scope creep. Otherwise, they might have to schedule delays. Here are a few approaches that can prevent it:

  • Observe your team’s wishes and change management if necessary
  • Don’t ask for new features
  • Handle all client communication instances
  • Often call for inputs from your team members
  • Demand frequent progress updates

How to Spot Scope Creep

Assume you’ve already delivered the first leg of the project. As soon as the team starts moving to the next phase, the client asks for a change. Thinking it’s not a hefty change, you accept. However, it starts impacting the project scope in a major way.

Before long, this added feature affects the ongoing work and causes cost overruns. Plus, you’ll need to check and review the new product, which also demands resources.

Scope Creep and Gold Plating – Key Differences

Although similar in a practical sense, these activities have varying outcomes. Generally, project managers resort to gold plating to make headway elsewhere. So, they try to cover some mishaps in that way or shoot for a better deal later on. Hence, it’s more of a controlled risk.

In comparison, scope creep can also originate from the client. It may follow a successful gold plating attempt, but this is not a rule. Either way, the added costs will follow on the company’s back. Granted, unless there are changes to the initial agreement.

Conclusion on Gold Plating in Project Management

While seemingly harmless, gold plating can end up working against you. A myriad of outside conditions can vastly complicate its execution. Thus, even when using it strategically, it can grow out of proportion fast.

Therefore, both scope creep and gold plating are risky endeavors. The PMP exam cites them as such, and they necessitate extra attention on the manager’s part. To minimize their frequency, work on proper communication channels.

The bottom line, these cases imply that the manager is being too liberal with their decisions. If all conduct follows the basic rules, then the team will stick to the initial order. That way, they will stick as close to the client’s expectations as possible. Otherwise, that tendency can easily cause you to waste resources.

If you liked this article talking about gold plating in project management, you should check out this one about project management for non-project managers.

I also wrote about similar topics like operations management vs project management, project management OKRs, monitoring in project management, forward pass in project management, and scheduling techniques in project management.

I like project management a lot so I also wrote about project management lead time and contingency planning in project management.


I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.