Minimum Viable Salad: How to delight users without gold plating

Caprese Salad 2

I can’t think of very many things more fantastic than an excellent Caprese salad. Simple, delicious, filling, and takes less than ten minutes to make. Simply marvelous.

You know what’s not marvelous?

Gold plated technical products.

Unfortunately, in technology, organizations often feel like it’s not good enough to create a simple solution.  Enterprise software tends to involve a lot of stakeholders representing a lot of market segments, clients and teams. This often leads to complex feature bloat, known as gold plating.

At best, gold plating leads to increased product development expense.

At worst, gold plating can cause companies to miss critical market opportunities and fall behind competition.


The most basic version of the Caprese salad, according to my friends at Wikipedia, involves tomatoes, mozzarella, sweet basil, olive oil, and salt, typically served on a plate with simple layers. Let’s call this this the Minimum Viable Salad.

The Minimum Viable Salad does the job.  If I’m hungry and someone offers me a Minimum Viable Salad, the odds of me turning it down are low, and if it’s of high quality, I’m going to be a pretty happy camper.

Making and selling a Minimum Viable Salad has an excellent chance of serving you well, especially if the people you are serving are pretty traditional have simple needs.

Recently, I stayed with some cousins during a trip to a family reunion.  During the trip, I got some amazing garden herbs from a friend who lives nearby. Knowing my cousins’ taste, I decided that a Caprese salad was in order.  But while I knew these cousins would enjoy a Minimum Viable Salad, I also wanted to step things up just a notch. After all, they hosted me all week which saved me hundreds of dollars in hotel expenses!

So I added balsamic vinegar, cracked black pepper, and some gorgeous dried oregano to my Minimum Viable Salad.

These three, small, low-risk enhancements to my Minimum Viable Salad absolutely delighted my cousins….as evidenced by the pictures of my enhanced salad all over social media and the lack of leftovers.

You know what I didn’t do?

I didn’t add anything weird.

I once got a Seared Ahi Tuna Caprese salad at a restaurant.  Beautiful salad, but absolutely not something I was going to tackle making for my cousins.

  • It was risky.  Really good Ahi tuna isn’t cheap, and I have only attempted searing it once, several years ago.
  • It requires more equipment.  Searing Ahi involves trimming the tuna, heating a pan, and using some sort of fish spatula thingie to flip the tuna at the exact right time.  There’s more clean up involved, too.
  • It required more time.  My enhanced Caprese salad took perhaps 60 seconds longer to prepare than a Minimum Viable Salad.  Making an Ahi Tuna Caprese salad would require time to marinate the tuna, heat the pan, sear the tuna, and trim the tuna.  Most recipes I’ve seen for this require 2 hours *just* for to marinate.
  • Most importantly, I don’t even know if my cousins would value an Ahi Tuna Caprese Salad.  I’ve known these people for decades, but we live 500 miles apart and I flat don’t know how they feel about seared Ahi.  I do know how they feel about Minimum Viable Salad, and I was able to quickly find out their take on my enhancements.

Higher risk, more resources, more time, and a lack of understanding of whether the result would be valuable to your users are the very hallmarks of gold plating.

Naturally, the $64,000 question is….how do I avoid gold plating?

The answer is simple. (It might not be easy, but it’s still pretty simple).

As you are defining what you plan to build, ask yourself questions about what problem you are trying to solve, when you want to solve it, and how you want your users to feel about your solution. Then ask how any proposed enhancements line up with those objectives.

In my case, I wanted to solve hunger, because we’d all had long work days that day.

I wanted to solve hunger quickly – in a matter of a few minutes – because we were all hungry, and let’s face it – nobody likes me when I’m hungry.

And I wanted my cousins to feel valued, and also like they were having a bit of a mini-vacation during the week with a special dish.

Ahi Tuna Caprese salad wouldn’t have done that for my cousins, and gold plated features probably won’t do it for your users either.

What do you think?  Does your team struggle with gold plating? Tell us about it in the comments!

Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as  Product Owner for Data Analytics at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense. She prefers sliced tomatoes from her mom’s garden for her Caprese salad, but will accept almost any tomato that doesn’t taste mealy in a pinch.


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