Gold Plating vs Scope Creep in PMP

Gold Plating vs. Scope Creep

Project management is challenging because things don’t always go as planned. Changes to your project scope or deliverables can happen through gold plating or scope creep. Avoiding these will prevent delays, increased costs, and other project management issues. In this article, we will explain the differences between Gold Plating vs Scope Creep.

It is crucial to familiarize yourself with scope creep and gold plating for the PMP exam and project management in general. Read on for insights about Gold Plating vs Scope Creep from your Project Management Academy experts.

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What is Gold Plating?

Gold plating happens when the project team adds extra features that were not part of the original scope, usually as “freebies” for the client. Possible causes include:

  • Going above and beyond: the project team thinks it will make the client happy.
  • Showing off: team members want to demonstrate their abilities.
  • Distracting from defects: an attempt to hide mistakes or deficiencies.

Often, gold plating is well-intentioned and may initially seem like a good idea. The client may appreciate the extra work, but they could also be upset that changes were made without their approval. Either way, gold plating is bad for the project and incorrect PMP procedure.

Why is gold plating bad for your project?

Let’s say the client likes what was added. This may initially seem positive. However, besides increasing costs, risks, and time delays, you have also increased your client’s expectations and set a troubling precedent. Next time, they may expect you to over-deliver again and be unhappy if you don’t.

On the other hand, if your client dislikes the unauthorized changes, they may refuse to accept the deliverable. In this case, gold plating causes further delays and increased costs as you remove the extra features – or you may even lose the client. PMPs should avoid gold plating altogether.

Guidelines for avoiding gold plating

Monitor project progress and deliverables to avoid gold plating. Here are some guidelines to help:

  • Set a standard: never allow team members to add extra features without client approval and a PMP-approved review of how they will affect the project.
  • Follow PMP procedure: establish steps for if team members think additional work is needed outside of the original project scope.
  • Communicate and monitor: communicate openly throughout the project and monitor work to prevent gold plating.

As a PMP, it is best to avoid gold plating and stick to the agreed-upon scope to manage your client’s expectations, set a reliable precedent, and control your project’s budget.

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What is Scope Creep?

Fixing a Troubled Project croppedScope creep occurs through uncontrolled changes or expansions to your project scope without adjusting the project’s time, cost, or other resources. It usually happens little by little and often creates issues in later stages. Scope creep may happen for reasons including:

  • Client requests or interference
  • Project team miscommunication
  • Incomplete or inadequate scope statements, systems, or procedures
  • Insufficient project monitoring
  • External causes (e.g., market trends, industry announcements)

Controlling scope creep is tough for PMPs, but it is crucial to keeping your project within budget and on schedule.

Scope creep and change management

If you follow the proper steps for integrated change management, this is controlled change, not scope creep. Scope creep changes the scope without changing other parts of the project. In contrast, proper PMP change management includes reviewing the change, performing impact analysis, and adjusting other project details as needed. By following this process, you accommodate the change and mitigate its impact on your project.

Guidelines for avoiding scope creep

Scope creep can be challenging for PMPs to avoid because it has many causes and often occurs in small increments. Follow these guidelines to control scope creep:

  • Manage expectations. Create a thorough scope statement, get approval for all deliverables and timelines, and establish clear expectations and understanding.
  • Review all changes properly. Keep the project team from making changes without review.
  • Control client communication channels. Communicate promptly with the client and do not let the client speak directly to the team unless necessary.
  • Encourage open communication within the project team.
  • Check in regularly. Ensure the project progresses as planned to prevent any deviations from the scope, budget, or timeline.

Remember, any changes from what is stated in the project scope can cause costly delays, unexpected expenses, or other issues.

Importance of scope creep and gold plating for the PMP exam

Gold plating and scope creep are highly likely to appear on the PMP exam because they are common in real-life project management situations. You can expect to see at least one or two questions about scope creep and gold plating on the PMP exam.

Definitions of gold plating vs. scope creep

Know the definitions of gold plating and scope creep for the PMP exam. Gold plating is when you deliver more than what you initially promised. The scope stays the same, but your deliverables do not match the scope.

In scope creep, the scope changes, but other project details do not change accordingly. The scope is expanded without considering the impact on your project schedule, budget, risks, and more.

Core differences between gold plating vs. scope creep

Scope creep and gold plating for the PMP exam differ in two ways:

  1. Scope creep expands or changes the scope. Gold plating keeps the scope baseline the same but adds additional features or deviations.
  2. Scope creep usually begins with a stakeholder requesting a change or expansion. Gold plating usually begins with the project team providing extras without client approval.

Both gold plating and scope creep are bad for your project and should be avoided. However, this does not mean you should ignore client requests or issues raised by your team. Communication and control are essential for a good PMP! Learn more in the following examples.

Example of Gold Plating

Suppose you are creating a product for a client and a team member approaches you with an idea for delivering more functionality in the product with no extra cost, risk, or time.

If you agree and allow your team member to implement the change without any review or communication with the client, this is gold plating. Instead, as the PMP, you should contact your client and explain the situation fully to see if they want to explore or pursue the change.

Example of Scope Creep

Let’s say you are developing a website for your client. Your client approaches one of your front-end developers to request something outside the scope, and your front-end developer agrees without proper review. This type of scope creep can have unplanned effects on later project stages.

Your client should approach you, the PMP, directly. Then, you can determine if the requested scope expansion can be integrated into the project by adjusting the project’s budget and other details. If you can’t accommodate the project, make sure to contact your client and explain why.

Test question examples

Curious what scope creep and gold plating PMP questions may appear on the exam? Check out some test question examples. (Answers at bottom of blog)

Question A B C D
1. You are managing a project to develop a new software platform for one of your top customers.  In past projects, there were often additional, unrequested features added to the scope in order to “wow” the customer, but the stakeholders have made it very clear that this should not be done in this case, as the budget and schedule are very tight.  You are also dealing with more limited resources than usual.  As you develop your project management plan, you should pay particular attention to which of the following in order to prevent this sort of gold plating from re-occurring? Project Charter WBS Scope management plan Cost Management Plan
2. You are managing a project to develop a new space craft.  The project has dragged on for several years, with hundreds of changes and updates being requested/implemented.  You have dealt with multiple stakeholders and your sponsor changed midway through the project.  You have spent most of your time lately ensuring that changes to the project are properly authorized, documented, communicated and implemented.  What is the process in which you are currently engaged? Identify Risk Direct and Manage Project Work Monitor and Control Project Work Perform Integrated Change Control

Studying for the PMP Exam?

It is important to understand scope creep and gold plating for the PMP exam and project management in general. Uncontrolled changes can cause unexpected costs, schedule delays, or problems completing your project. They can be prevented through project monitoring, proper review, and well-established procedures.

Want to learn more? Contact your experts at Project Management Academy!


1: C. The scope management plan would outline controls for ensuring that gold plating (extra functionality, not part of agreed upon project scope) is prevented, while ensuring that all approved requirements are included in the deliverable.

2: D. The question is describing the Perform Integrated Change Control process. A critical part of project management, it ensures that each change is properly approved, documented, communicated to those affected, etc. A failure in this process will often result in scope creep, cost overruns, delays, miscommunications, quality defects, and other problems.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO