I worked my way through college waiting tables. At one place I worked, we had a cook who treated employee meals differently than customer meals. Customers received the standard fair. They got what they ordered. But when an employee went on break and ordered a meal, this cook had a tendency to “gold plate” it. If you ordered a cheeseburger, you were likely to get double-bacon cheeseburger. Side of fries? You would get a big honkin basket of fries.
It was a nice gesture, but we would often get much more than we could eat. Sometimes we would get something we didn’t even want. We could see that he was trying hard to get in good with his fellow staff members. But he was trying a little too hard. It was overkill.
I’ve seen the same thing in consulting. Perhaps a company sends out a request for proposal for a simple website to process orders. The consulting firm is competing with two others for the business. In their competitive drive to win the business, they over-engineer the solution, over-solve the problem, and end up proposing a trumped-up solution that the prospect didn’t want.
When the consulting firm loses a proposal like this, they go through various stages of denial. First, they assume they lost on price. They’ll ask the prospect if they looked closely at the functionality they included. They want them to understand that the high cost is reflected in the fact that they included more stuff. The prospective client probably understood that.
Then, the firm assumes that the prospective client didn’t understand the solution they proposed. Because if they did, they would certainly have continued the dialog. Chances are the client understood the solution. It just wasn’t the solution they asked for, that they wanted, or that they were going to buy.
Gold plating happens once the client wins the business too. In the software development consulting world in which I work, we contract with clients to write web software. The scope of the project is defined around a certain set of parameters. Project managers need to monitor the work by the team members to make sure their work falls within those parameters.
Computer programmers, like many good workers, can have a tendency to get excited. Writing code strictly within functional requirements gets boring after a while. So why not make it a little fancier? Instead of having all these selection boxes as prescribed, they might create a drop down window option. The users will certainly love that better.
When that happens, it’s well outside of the client’s expectations. Not only does the developer spend extra time doing work that wasn’t asked for, they spend more time reversing it after the user rejects it.
Going over and above the call of duty is admirable. But when consultants go too far, creating value that’s not valuable, they create the nuclear flyswatter that is not wanted, not needed and most likely, won’t be paid for.
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As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.