Scope Creep and Gold Plating in Project Management – How to Avoid them?

Scope creep means uncontrolled changes occurring continuously in the project which is impacting the project constraints negatively. So, it means you continuously executing the changes, without looking at impact to the project.

On the other hand, gold plating means adding extra functionality intentionally (with good intentions) in the project, which is not part of the project scope at all. This usually happens because of team members wanted to highlight their abilities or skills to the project manager or the customer.

Both Scope creep and Gold plating are threats to the project.

Scope Creep and Gold Plating

Scope Creep

Scope creep is the situation that occurs on executing the changes in the project without considering the impact to the project constraints.

After all, why anybody does it in the project team?

Well! At most of the times, the project team may accept the change without taking change through change management process, as it seems to be a small change to them. But eventually they figure it out later, the change impact many other project constraints.

Sometimes scope creep also happens because of unclear project scope or requirements. It may also happen as the stakeholder did not understand the scope clearly.

Scope Creep – Why It Happens in the Project?

Why Scope Creep Occurs

  • Gaps in the Requirements – Customers always do not know what they want. Sometimes certain requirements might have missed out. And sometimes, the stakeholders may not be able to provide the requirement description properly.
  • You have not considered all the stakeholders – During requirements collection phase, you have missed or not involved some of the stakeholders, because of which some of the requirements are not considered.
  • You are doing this type of project for the first time – You have no historical information on the similar projects in your organization. So you do not know much on what complexities are hidden in the project, and do not know what to ask and whom to ask.
  • Do not have a sophisticated change control system in place – Your project did not establish a proper change control system and approval process.
  • Customer Expectations to do it for FREE or less cost– Sometimes, customers think that this change does not impact much on the project and put more pressure on you to deliver it without any additional cost.
  • Do not have proper (formal) communication channel established with customer.
  • In experienced Project manager – Project manager is not being able to identify the scope creep situation, until it occurred.
  • Requirements or scope are subjective instead of objective – Requirements agreed with no measurement criteria to confirm, whether requirements are fulfilled or not.
  • Gold Plating – Project team or the project manager add the extra functionality in the project which is not part of the scope of the project to please the customer or the senior management.

Scope Creep Example

Let us consider an example of developing a software application for a customer in a phased manner. First phase you have already delivered to the customer successfully. While the project team is working on the second phase deliverables, customer has come up with a small change, which initially seem like not going to take more than a couple of hours to fulfill the same.

So you accepted to do it without looking at the impact on the project constraints, as it seems to be a small change. As you progress more on the change implementation, you identified that, it is causing an impact to one or more of existing functionalities in your project. And these functions must be tested for regression, which eventually takes more time, effort, and cost for the project.

This is exactly what Scope creep is.

Scope Creep Impacts on the project

Scope creep may impact your project with either one or more of the following:

  • Schedule overrun
  • Cost overrun
  • Quality issues
  • Increase project risks
  • Resource issues
  • Other problems triggered by the above issues

Scope Creep – How to avoid it in your project?

How to Avoid Scope CreepWhile scope creep is considered as serious threat to the project, the project manager always must make sure that he/she has taken steps to avoid the scope creep. The following are most important measures to avoid the occurrence of scope creep in the project.

Requirements Gathering – Involve all the required stakeholder early during the collect requirements process. And make sure you gather all requirements with objective measures instead of subjective measures.

Concrete Scope agreements – Define the scope rigidly and make sure the stakeholders in your organization and the customer side organization (people who are responsible), understand the scope clearly and raise any flags during the scope agreement.

Establish a Concrete Change Management procedure – Establish a change management procedure and make sure you and the complete project team follows the same, with no exceptions.

Establish a formal communication channel with the customer side stakeholders, to deal with changes in an accepted and agreed way. Also make sure all the stakeholders are following the agreed communication plan.

Make sure team members coordinate in terms of project scope and understanding of requirements. And ensure there are no gaps in understanding the scope and project requirements.

As a project manager, be on top of the project to monitor any exceptional situations to prevent the situations like scope creep and gold plating.

Gold Plating

Gold plating is intentionally adding extra functionality, which does not exist in the agreed scope for the project.

Gold Plating in Project Management

One of the primary reason for doing this is one or more project team members or the project manager himself wanted to display their abilities in the work to the customer or senior management. The project team “assumes”, this would please the customer for sure.

However in reality, it may annoy the customer, as the functionality added in the product may result in ruining the customer plans, methodologies, and strategies for the product. Even it please the customer for the first time, and the customer may come back and expects you to delivery another such feature with free of cost next time. So in any case, gold plating is bad for your project and the organization.

Gold Plating – Why It Happens in The Project?

While gold plating is done by the project team or the project manager with good intentions, it eventually backfires on them. Typically, gold plating happens in the project for the following reasons.

  • Team members adding extra functionality to the product to show his abilities to the project manager or senior management.
  • Project manager adding the extra functionalities to the project, to earn credit from customer or senior management. Or the project manager has other intentions to join the customer organization.
  • Lack of clarity in the scope – Team members assume some un scoped requirements as implicit and add the same in the product.
  • Surprisingly, certain team members with lot of slack add the extra functionality, as they have free time and they assume this is going to do good for the customer.
  • Sometimes, you do gold plating to divert the customer attention from product defects.

Gold Plating Example

Taking the same example of software developing project, while developing the project, one of project team member thought that this extra functionality will add value to the customer, as it looks good. For example, he added a video which will give brief about the product to the end user. And the project team delivered the product to the customer.

When customer looked at the extra feature of adding the video of the product, he also observed that the web page performance is impacted, which is violating one of the quality requirements of the product. So customer asked the project team to remove this extra functionality, as it does not exist in the agreed scope.

Now the project team must spend good time, effort, and cost on the project to remove the extra unnecessary functionality and retest the product, before you deliver to the customer.

Here the project team was trying to please the customer, by adding an extra functionality, with good intentions. But it has done bad to the customer. And costed more to the project. This is a clear example of gold plating.

Gold Plating Impacts on the project

Though, gold plating is done with positive intentions, it results in creating issues to the project and organization. The following are the impacts of gold plating.

  • Increase in the project cost – Usually, top skilled resources do gold plating. And it takes good time and effort from these top resource without doing any good for the project.
  • Gold plating is impacting one or more of the project constraints. So by doing gold plating
    • you are trying to deliver something that you are not supposed to.
    • And missing something from your project (project constraints), which you are committed to.
  • Increased the project risk – Since you are adding more (extra) functionality, you may get more defects, compare to original scope.
  • Once you deliver the extra functionality to the customer, then customer may expect similar extra functionalities in your future engagements.
  • More importantly, though you did the gold plating with good intention. But if it does bad for the customer, he may ask to remove this extra functionality.  This may take even more time, effort and cost for the project.

Gold Plating – How to avoid it in your project?

Avoiding gold plating is much simpler than scope creep.

  • Project manager should create awareness to the team members of the situations of gold plating. And ensure that the project team follows the scope agreed for the project.
  • If there are any scope issues, project manager must involve for further discussions. And see what is the best way to resolve it, instead of giving controls completely to the project team. The intention here is not to ask the project manager to micro manage the project. But to make sure he has taken all the measures to resolve the gold plating issues in the team.
  • Project manager should establish a good communication channel with the project team. This will help in having periodical meetings on the project scope and how the project team is progressing. Also this will avoid last minute surprises.
  • Also project manager should realize the threat of gold plating. And make sure he is unknowingly not in the trap of gold plating.


Scope creep happens due to uncontrolled changes continuously in the project. On the other hand, gold plating is adding extra functionality to the product, in addition to the original scope. Both scope creep and gold plating are extremely bad practices in the project management.

While gold plating may do some good in the short term, but in longer run it damages the project. On the other hand, scope creep is always bad for the project.

As a skilled project manager, you must utilize your experiences, learning, and knowledge base on identifying the scope creep and gold plating situations and prevent or avoid them in the projects.

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