Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2010/11/09

Why we don’t gold-plate

Let’s say that you own a dive bar. Let’s further say that you are affiliated with the mob. A recent spate of chain restaurants and trendy bars are eating your profits. You decide to make some changes. You hire a project manager to oversee freshening up your facility with the hopes that your profits will grow. Although it is a little outside of his scope, your PM identifies two problems with the music at your bar. First, the quarters plopped into the machine take a couple weeks to hit your bank account, which affects your cash flow. Second, the music that the account manager puts in your machine is a little dated. Without asking, he signs a deal to have a digital jukebox placed on site that has a bank of music many magnitudes greater than the incumbent and automatically suggests the most popular songs of the week according to a finely tuned algorithm. These changes have resulted in 50% increases in revenue in similar bars throughout the county and the funds are deposited each night into the proprietor’s bank account. After a successful installation, the PM happily reports his changes to you. You fire him on the spot and when he arrives home his dog is dead, lying next to a half-full bottle of antifreeze.

Why?

The short answer is gold-plating. Gold-plating is adding functionality to the solution that is not part of the project requirements. At first blush it may seem like a “good problem.” However, for every time it works out well, there are dozens of instances of gold-plating fouling things up. The problem is that the project team does not see the big picture the way the project sponsors do. So, why did you “off” the pooch? Turns out, you preferred not paying taxes on all those quarters…

For PMs, doing what we are asked to do and passing “good ideas” through a formal change control process is not just a best practice–it is our duty to the stakeholders. Of course, we need to be on the lookout for ways to add value, but we are not demigods and we must trust the process if we want to be masters of our craft…and keep our dogs.

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