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Christmas… where life and project management meet. If the last few years are anything to go by, our Project Managers (generally me in this case) need to be more agile than ever to realise the benefits effectively. The best way of doing this in an agile way is to never scrimp on quality. Our customers (the kids) won’t thank us for it if we do.

So how do we stick to the timescales and the cost and still get this done on schedule? By adjusting the deliverables.


Our project sponsor is putting their foot down this year on account of the limited budget, but all the usual deliverables are expected. One of the most important components in the agile toolbox that will help you here is MoSCoW prioritisation. What ‘really’ needs to be on that Christmas shopping list and what can we pass on without too much disruption.


M must have – representing requirements that are guaranteed to be delivered.

S should have – representing requirements that are expected to be delivered

C could have - representing requirements that are desirable but less important than 'Should Haves'

W won't have this time –  representing requirements that will not happen this time.

The Christmas 'must haves'

The ‘must haves’ are the requirements that cannot be omitted without causing the project to fail.

This of course is our Christmas dinner and all its trimmings, but there are plenty of treats that can be taken out of deliverables that will go unnoticed. The sherry no one drinks and a box of chocolates or two less.

Presents are of course in the ‘must haves’. Managing our key stakeholders experience of ‘Project Christmas’ is very much dependant on the outcome of this benefit. The expensive gaming tech for the teenager may not be considered a ‘must have’ by the parents but our customer (the teenager) will fail the entire project without this deliverable.

I’ll have to be careful though. If all the requirements are ‘must haves,’ this undermines the Agile ethos of fixing Time and Resources and adjusting Features in order to 'deliver on time'. So, with that in mind I will reduce the volume of expensive stocking fillers at least.

The MoSCoW rule of thumb

As a rule of thumb the ‘must haves’ should not represent more than 60% of the effort. The ‘should have’ and ‘could haves’ represent 20% each. This equates to 40% contingency which will allow for even the most optimistic estimates. This means that firstly the ‘could’s’ and then the ‘should’s’ can be dropped to enable the Timebox to complete on time.

There needs to be continuous review of priorities throughout the project as a result of any change in understanding of depth and detail. It is expected that most projects will deliver the ‘shoulds’ and indeed some of the ‘coulds’ won't be delivered.


1. Agree what the priorities mean early in the project.

2. A ‘must have’ means that the product won’t work without it or is unsafe – non-negotiable.

3. Challenge all of the ‘must haves’.

The Christmas 'should haves'

The ‘should haves’ represent the requirements that would be costly if omitted, or ones for which work arounds would be difficult. These requirements should be left out as a last resort to keep the project on track.

I’m going for new Christmas decorations for our tree on this one. They have been broken, lost and chewed by various pets over the years and our tree is looking a little sad, so yes, we could live without them, but it would make my Christmas and those of our stakeholders a little brighter to replace them and add to the festive spirit.

I’m also going for presents for the dog on this one too. Yes she doesn’t know that it is Christmas Day but this is about the project team and our feeling that we have done a good job. Anything squeaky or stinky? Filed under ‘won’t haves.’


4. If a workaround can be put in place then it is not a ‘must have.’

5. Look for defined boundaries between a ‘should and a could.’

6. Control the percentage of ‘must haves’.

  • The target of no more than 60% is to assure predictability.

  • As the percentage of ‘must haves’ increases above 60%, predictability of the project decreases and risk of failure increases unless:

  • Some of the estimates are known to be true based on past experience.

  • The approach is tried and tested.

  • The team is well established with a proven track record.

  • The environment is well understood and relatively stable.

The Christmas 'could haves'

The ‘could haves’ represent the requirements for which work arounds are easy and fairly cheap and could be left out without causing significant problems.

Let’s think then. How many of the ‘must haves’ for Christmas Day are, in reality the ‘could haves?’

The list of endless treats could be reduced as I have already mentioned. With 2 stockings per child and an endless number of presents from both Santa and Mum and Dad, plus the presents brought by family later in the day. Maybe we don’t need to spend extra on a Christmas Eve box too?

To reach my target of time, I am also ditching making my own chutney and cranberry sauce and buying it from the shop this year. I will however do my own stuffing as this is considered a ‘must have’ by all of our customers (the family).

There is a need to reassure the business that the team guarantees to deliver the ‘must haves’ but they should also expect delivery of most, if not all, of the ‘should haves’. If things go well, the ‘could haves’ may also be delivered.

The 'we won't' have this Christmas

The ‘won't haves’ are requirements that we won't have this time and are out of scope for the project as a whole or for the current timeframe. So, that I guess, are things for the list next Christmas.

It is important to also understand the levels of priority of the requirements. The Project Manager and Business Analyst can challenge a ‘must have’ requirement. This can result in a high level requirement being broken down into lower level requirements, each with a different priority giving flexibility at a lower level.

Top tips

7. Use all the priorities.

8. Any new requirements or unexpected work for an existing requirement needs to be evaluated against how critical it is to the existing work using MoSCoW. Care should be taken not to increase the percentage of ‘must haves’ beyond the agreed project level.

9. At a minimum, review priorities at the end of each Timebox.

10. Re-prioritise all requirements that have not been met at the end of a Project Increment in the light of the needs of the next increment. They are not automatically carried over.

11. Prioritise everything – It helps the concept become deeply ingrained in the team’s approach.

If you would like to know more about the agile toolkit why not visit our AgilePM training page or call our team on 01202 736 373. 

Good luck Project managers and here is a to a very productive festive season and a relaxing Happy New Year!