Actionable advice: do not gold plate or allow scope creep at workplace

By | June 22, 2018

Every project manager will undoubtedly know the definition of gold plating and scope creep, also known as requirement creep. For the uninitiated, to gold plate, in project management parlance, is to add any functionality or feature that was not a part of the original project scope plan. This does not mean that new features or functionalities cannot be added once the project is underway. They can be; however, those changes have to be managed properly through project change control process.

Scope creep or requirement creep, likewise, results when a project scope grows uncontrollably after the launch of the project. Scope creep often happen when there is no defined process for collecting requirements, scope is not properly defined, scope and project requirements are not managed effectively, lack of involvement from the key players, and project length—long projects more susceptible to scope creep than short projects.

It is a big no-no in the world of project management to gold plate or allow scope creep in projects you are managing. And, most project managers are able to do just that in their projects. However, unfortunately, gold plating and scope creep are not limited to the world of project management, only. They are a norm in many real-life situations. It seems we just can’t live without the two in our daily lives. Sometimes this fact drives me nuts, but mostly I find humor in this. Let me give you examples of gold plating and scope creep I often encounter in my daily life.

Moms and Grandmas

One day I returned home drenched to the skin, drained and exhausted. I was in a sullen mood, and had a bad headache. My Mom looked at me and said, “You look terrible. Is everything alright? Can I get you something?” I looked at her with weary eyes and said, “My head is killing me, and I feel nauseous. May I have a cup of tea; strong, please?” She looked at me with a lot of concern in her eyes, and said, “Of course, give me just a few minutes.

I collapsed on the couch, closed my eyes, glad that I am back home and tried to take a catnap while waiting for my cup of tea. Now, my request to my mom was very clear—I just want a cup of strong tea. That’s it; nothing more. Precise, to the point requirement. However, when the hot beverage arrived, I found a plate-full of  snacks accompanying it. I looked at my mom and said, “But, I just wanted a cup of tea.” Her response was something along the lines, “You have returned home tired and with a headache, and you expect me to give you just a cup of tea. Do you think I am heartless?


No, Mom, it is just that… I… Never mind.

Gold Plating Moms

I’d ask for a cup of tea, and not only did I get that but I got something more, too. As a “client,” I did not ask for that “something more,” but was given that “something more.” This is gold plating. This is a no-no in project management. You give only what was requested, decided and approved, and that’s it. Nothing more. In real-life, however, gold plating, such as the example above is a norm.

In my case, my mom gold plated because she is well, “a mom.” Moms always do that. Grandmas do that, too. In India, at least. Although, sometimes, it drives me up the wall, but do I understand where they are coming from and accept the fact that they will always gold plate my requests. They do that out of their goodness of heart.

Gold Plating in the Corporate World

Gold plating is extremely prevalent in the corporate world and in the world of politics. In the corporate world, gold plating does not happen out of the goodness of heart. Mostly, they are a result of people wanting to ingratiate themselves to someone more powerful than them and win brownie points.  Political cronies gold plate to win favors from their political masters, and, in the corporate world, many employees bend over backwards to please their managers to get into their “good book.”

A gold plate!

Do not gold plate boss’ requests to win brownie points. It is a bad idea and a horrible practice. In the long run, it is a lose-lose for all.

My definition of “gold plating” from the purview of the corporate world is simple—employees doing things for their bosses that are not a part of their core responsibilities. During my working years, I have seem some outrageous examples of “gold plating” by fawning employees, just to please their bosses. For e.g., there was an employee who would bring lunch for the boss everyday, because the boss’ wife was unwell. Another would bring tea from home because his English boss did not like the tea from the office vending machine. Another employee spent almost two full days at work planning an elaborate shopping trip for a visiting manager. Going to great lengths to find and buy dark chocolates for the boss was another employee’s approach towards gold plating. Seeing their obsequious self was nauseating to say the least.

To Gold Plate or not?

Then, there are many bad bosses who promote a culture of “gold plating” in their team. They expect employees to be their personal serf. Surprisingly, there are always a few employees willing to carry the water for their bosses. The predatory bosses take advantage of such employees by asking them to do things that would put a self-respecting person to shame. Eventually, such employees become a doormat to their bosses. I have also seen employees being used, abused and discarded like a rag doll after they had outlived their usefulness to their bosses. That’s not a pleasant sight to see, at all.

Therefore, my advice to all hardworking employees is to never curry favors with your boss by doing things for him/her that are not a part of your job description. In other words, do not gold plate. It may work in your favor in the short-term; however, in the long-term, it always fails. This has been my experience. Furthermore, it has also been my experience that all “gold plating” employees:

—lose respect of their colleagues.

—lose respect of other managers in the organization.

—end up being get taken for granted by bosses preying on them.

—face their colleagues’ resentment and become an outcast in the team.

—get second guessed about their achievements. “Did he achieve that by dint of hard work or brownnosing?”

—lose trust of their colleagues. The colleagues act differently when a “gold plating” employee is around them and do not take such an employee into confidence anymore.

—are considered a “snitch” for the management.

—end up being the butt of many cruel and ugly jokes.

—end up being miserable in the team.

Scope Creep in the Corporate World

If you look at it closely, you’ll notice that gold plating is self introduced; whereas, scope creep is introduced by an external entity such as the customer, the stakeholder or your boss. Therefore, just like gold plating, employees should not allow “scope creep” in their professional lives, too.

Scope creep

Scope Creep: a horror movie for many employees in the corporate world.

For e.g., your boss might come to you one day and say, “Hey, I know you are extremely busy with everything on your plate; however, you need to do me a personal favor. Ms. Sue Pervisor’s team is working on a major project for a client, and her project manager is on maternity leave. Can you help her manage that super-critical project? This is a major client, and we cannot afford to have this project go off track. Deadlines are very tight; hence, people are working overtime and you may need to, too. Meet with her to understand what help she needs and just get it done.”

Your boss is trying to introduce “scope creep” by modifying your job responsibilities on the fly. Happens quite often in the corporate world. However, before you do anything, you need a clear guidance from your boss about this sudden change in your role and responsibilities.

Boss Creep | Creeping Boss

You may want to set up a short meeting with your boss to discuss the following questions. There could be many more, depending on the role you have in an organization.

—What happens to your current project, and the responsibilities you are handling? You are swamped already; how are you going to manage additional responsibilities and do justice to them?

—Is your boss setting you up for failure by asking you to do something that may be extremely difficult to plan, manage and execute?

—What takes precedence, your current project or the one you are being asked to assist?

—How do you charge your time? Do you use a different charge code for the time spent supporting the other project?

—Are you willing to work overtime? Are you willing to put in more hours, sacrificing your personal life? Will you be paid for it or is it something that’s “just expected of you as you climb up the career ladder?

—How long do you have to work on that project—as long as it takes, just a few weeks, a couple of months, or a few days?

—What happens if, due to resource and time crunch in the other project, you are forced to dedicate more and more of your precious time to it, which in turn affects your current project?

—Presently, is the project on time, on budget and on scope?

—Will your client be informed of your dual role and the expectations recalibrated so?

—How will this added responsibility affect your goals for the year and your year-end appraisal?

—Can you get some extra resources; if so, how many and for how long?

If you take on the more responsibilities without clarifying your extended role, do realize that your boss has introduced “scope creep,” or what I call boss creep, and you are “gold plating” to please him. And, you may just be setting yourself, your boss, your projects and finally your clients up for failure. Just be wary of that.

Scope Creep and the Dreaded Honey-do-list

In our personal lives, I have observed that dads, wives, and girlfriends are (in)famous 🙂 from introducing scope creep. Honey-do-list or son-do-list keeps on expanding after the launch of the “project.” For e.g., your dad may ask you to help him with some home repairs over a weekend. You ask him about the tasks on hand and plan based on the requirements communicated by him. On that appointed day, you arrive at your parent’s house, and you and your dad get down to making the repairs. Then you hear the dreaded phrase, “As long as I have you here, let’s get a few other things completed, too.” or “Since I have you here, let’s get a few other things done, too.

Next, you know you are working on cleaning the gutter and helping him transplant a few saplings in the kitchen garden. Then, you help him get rid of weeds in the kitchen garden, water the plants and fix the compost bin. Next, there is a paint job that needs to be completed, a window pane to be replaced, some plumbing work to be done, and the filter in the kitchen chimney to be cleaned. Your original plan was to spend maybe 4 hours helping your dad. Now, after 10 hours you are almost done. That’s scope creep for you. Sounds familiar?

My life’s experiences tell me that moms and grandmas are famous for gold plating your ask. Their intentions are entirely altruistic. Their love, magnanimity and big-heartedness compels them to gold plate whatever their kids or their grandkids request. Now, I don’t want to offend the girlfriends and wives of the world. Girlfriends and wives also gold plate out of love and big-heartedness. However, when they gold plate, please know that a scope creep is inevitable, somewhere else. Hence, their husbands or their boyfriends had better be agile and ready to sprint. 🙂

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