The problem w/ “gold-plating”

We had a discussion of gold-plating in project management during my leadership team meeting last week.  To refresh everyone’s memories, here’s a good, if informal, definition of the term (link here):

Gold plating is what we call it when the project team does work on the product to add features that the requirements didn’t call for, and that the stakeholder and customer didn’t ask for and don’t need. It’s called “gold plating” because of the tendency a lot of companies have to make a product more expensive by covering it in gold, without actually making any functional changes.

Andrew Stellman at Building Better Software has a post on why gold-plating is a bad name (post here).  It is an excellent discussion of what the right analogy is — he goes with a combination of gold-plated (a purely cosmetic veneer) and “gilded” (encrusted with useful, but largely-unused features).  Andrew’s bottom line is that such features are “just wasted effort, at least from the perspective of the person paying the programmer’s salary”.

I would say the bottom line is even more stark: gold-plating or gilding not only wastes money, it risks delivery of core deliverables.  Enterprise software projects usually must be delivered by a date certain.  I’ve found that development teams that get distracted by superfluous gee-gaws do so at the expense of priority features.  In other words, not only does gold-plating waste money, it diverts resources from ensuring that deliverables conform to requirements.

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