How do you define gold-plating?

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

The following is adapted from a question I posted on LinkedIn. Some might ask how this question relates to certification. Simple. Level D tests a candidate’s knowledge of project management, so a clear definition of gold-plating would be useful for the Level D exam. Levels B and C assess a candidate’s ability to perform in the role, so evidence of gold-plating could be an indication that this PM is not yet competent.

The original edition of PMI’s PMBoK Guide included the phrase “meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project” as part of the definition of project management. In subsequent editions, the “or exceed” was removed on the basis (I’m told) that this encouraged “gold-plating.”

In the current working draft of our NCB update, we are using the “meet or exceed” phrase.

Why?  To me, gold-plating is limited to scope. It means delivering a higher-grade product than the customer needs or wants. Does anyone have examples of gold-plating in the area of schedule or cost? And a related issue … do you think a project manager should be trying to exceed any of the following:

  • Stakeholder needs?
  • Stakeholder expectations?
  • Stakeholder requirements?

Or is it enough to do the minimum?

Your Comments?