Using MoSCoW Prioritization for Ecommerce Projects

Ecommerce businesses, like all businesses, have tasks or jobs that need to be done. Organizing tasks into priorities may help ecommerce owners and managers improve how their companies operate and grow.

Some jobs repeat daily, weekly, or monthly. Others will be related to a project, such as a new feature for a website or a new financial software package for the accounting team.

Businesses can become very efficient at routine jobs. But sometimes projects and implementations can languish half-done or get so far off track that they are never completed.

Borrowing from Agile Software Development

Taking a lesson from the software development community, the leaders at your ecommerce business can prioritize each task within a project, focusing on what is most important.

This approach may help your business do a better job with projects, complete projects more quickly, and execute projects more effectively.

That is a lot to promise, but it is consistent with the results software development teams enjoy when they use MoSCoW prioritization.

The term MoSCoW is an acronym with an extra pair of O’s inserted to make it easier to pronounce. The capital letters in MoSCoW stand for “must have,” “should have,” “could have,” and “won’t have.”

MoSCoW prioritization is intended for projects with a specific due date. If you want a Black Friday or Cyber Monday landing page on your ecommerce website, that landing page will need to be completed before Black Friday or Cyber Monday — so MoSCoW makes sense.

MoSCoW in Practice

The idea is simple enough. When planning for a new, time-bound project, type out all of the associated tasks or requirements and then sort those requirements into the appropriate category.

This is typically done as a group of stakeholders so that every part of your business impacted by the project has input in prioritizing it.

MoSCoW prioritization works best when stakeholders from every department involved in a project also have a say in how tasks are prioritized.

MoSCoW prioritization works best when stakeholders from every department involved in a project also have a say in how tasks are prioritized.

Must have. Items without which you cannot complete the project belong in the “must have” category.

In software development, must-have items represent the minimum usable subset of tasks. For example, if you were building an ecommerce website, the tasks of displaying a product or accepting an order would be must-haves. Without these, you really wouldn’t have an ecommerce-enabled website.

If your company is working on the marketing and advertising plan for your upcoming Christmas sale, the task of deciding which products to put on sale and how much to discount them is a must-have priority. If your business doesn’t make this choice (complete this task), you don’t really have a Christmas sale and you won’t need a marketing and advertising plan.

But not every task associated with your Christmas sale will be a must-have. Setting prices is critical, on-site banners may be critical, but pay-per-click advertising may not be since you could still have a Christmas sale without buying PPC ads.

Should have. The next category in MoSCoW prioritization represents the “should haves.” These are important or even very important tasks or requirements but are not strictly critical to the project completion.

If a should-have task or requirement is left undone, your project can still be completed, but it may be somewhat less successful or there may be some painful effects.

A brick-and-click retailer, as an example, was recently planning for an event — a barbecue festival — on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

There were hundreds of tasks that needed to be completed for the project, including developing a new iOS application for capturing entries into a contest the merchant was running.

The task of developing the app was not completed in time, so the company’s marketing team printed entry forms and bought pens so folks could sign up to enter.

The event was a huge success. Lots of merchandise was sold. Customers and employees had a good experience, but there are also several thousand hand-written entry forms that the marketing team needs to read and manually add to the email list.

The on-site activation project should have had an iOS app for capturing contest entries. That would have been a lot better, but it was not vital. So it was in the should-have category.

Could have. The tasks and requirements in the “could-have” category are interesting and maybe even important, but skipping them would have relatively less impact on success than skipping the should-haves.

For its upcoming Halloween promotion, a retailer would have liked to run an online Halloween costume contest. Shoppers could submit photos for a chance to win.

This task (really a subset of tasks) could have made a big impact on social media. But it is relatively less important or impactful than must-haves and should-haves since you can still have a successful Halloween promotion without a costume contest.

Won’t have. These tasks have been prioritized off of the list. “Won’t haves” are tasks or requirements that your company came up with when discussing the project but are not feasible or at least not feasible yet. You won’t be attempting these tasks as part of the project.

MoSCoW Gotchas

There are a couple of known weaknesses or gotchas with MoSCoW prioritization. As long as you know them, you should be able to avoid them. Here they are:

  • Everything is a must have. This error indicates that you don’t really understand what is essential to the project. Redefine your goals. As a rule, no more than 60 percent of your tasks should be must haves.
  • You have no rationale for comparing tasks. This problem is also an indication that you have not really defined the project or, perhaps, that not all stakeholders (departments) understand the project.
Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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