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I was reviewing an RFQ recently. It included a long list of software requirements for a project that was requested by a new prospect. There was a hard deadline on the job, and funds were limited. It was clear that scope was the one area that the prospect could control. How could I help this prospect prioritize the scope?

It got me to thinking about the MoSCoW prioritization method. It’s described in pretty clear and simple terms in this article and video, How to Prioritize with the MoSCoW Method by Susanne Madsen. The gist of it is this. The name is an acronym for must have, should have, could have, and won’t have.  It’s often used when prioritizing software requirements, where they are divided into those four categories. There are many ways of using the method – by project, phase, or time block – to name a few.

While I don’t use the MoSCoW prioritization method frequently, I have used it several times, with great success on charity events – where software is often the last thing on anyone’s mind. (They are often much more interested in planning the food and beverages for the event.) In this blog, I offer three questions to ask if you are considering using this technique.

When does it make sense to use the MoSCoW Prioritization Method?

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a big fan of defining scope and then delivering client value, regularly and rapidly. When a team plans a project it decides on what needs to be done to accomplish the scope. There is often a cost factor that drives what gets included and what doesn’t. Say, the team breaks the scope into 50 activities that are needed to accomplish the objectives. Why then revisit that and categorize activities using the MoSCoW prioritization method buckets? Seems like a waste.

But one area where it makes sense to me is in planning charity events. That’s because the project team often has no idea how many volunteers may come forward. And it’s entirely possible to get specific donations towards an event after the project has been planned. This notion of realizing that your team has grown and/or your budget has increased doesn’t happen very often in the corporate world.

For a charity event, you may decide that the event, with an engaging dance band, great food, flowing beverages, and modest decorations are a must have. A small raffle and more elaborate decorations may be a should have, and a large auction is a could have. The number and quality of volunteers who are willing to go out and solicit donations will determine the size and scale of that auction.

Let’s look at three questions to consider if you decide to use the MoSCoW prioritization method.

Where are you in the project planning and execution process?

As I said earlier, the MoSCoW method can be used in a number of ways. If you are three months away from the event date, you may scare off a number of volunteers if you suddenly decide to add a silent auction. On the other hand, if you are early in the process, you might begin to recruit auction volunteers and delay the final decision on the scope of any auction.

I typically recommend that you revisit what ‘done’ looks like on any activity before you begin executing that activity. Things change too fast in our world. The focus of that PowerPoint presentation or the needs on that new software feature will evolve over time, and it just makes sense to confirm how you defined ‘done’ in the beginning to make sure your understanding is correct.

Revisiting that charity event, if a donor has stepped up to the plate and stroked you a nice check for this particular event, you may want to step up the decorations. OR, if fundraising is down because of Covid-19, you may decide to scale back the food and beverages, if there is time. It depends on where you are in the process.

In considering an increased scope are you really trying to hide the fact that other scope elements are behind?

I see this in the corporate world too often. Things aren’t going well. Instead of digging in, understanding the problem, and fixing it, someone will put forth an exciting idea that re-engages the team. Everyone gets excited for a change. Unfortunately, it can distract the team from the vision.

Be sure that if you decide to add scope that you are following a disciplined change management process when the timeline or the budget are projected to increase. I’ve written about that in this article, How to Create a Project Change Management Process.

In charity events, the event date is typically the driving factor. Cost is usually the second most critical factor. Scope is typically what gets adjusted when things are evolving. The MoSCoW method may just the ticket.

Are you really doing product management, rather than project management?

I’ve written before on the distinction between product management and project management. This is an area where the MoSCoW prioritization method shines. And in some ways a recurring charity event resembles product management. Let’s face it, when a charity throws an event year after year, it wrestles with some of the same questions that a product manager asks:

  • Is the event (or product) meeting or exceeding the attendee’s (or the ultimate customer’s) expectations?
  • Does the event (or product) give us a competitive advantage against other charities in the area (or companies)?
  • What event (or product) improvements would improve the organization’s fundraising efforts (or company’s bottom line)?

If you have other recommendations on when to use the MoSCoW prioritization method, I’d love to know about them. Please share in the comments.