Prioritising requirements

Your initial list of requirements is likely to be very long and will need to be prioritised in some way.

Start by ensuring that there is a real justification for everything that is included in the specification. Keep asking yourself 'Why do we want to do this? '.

Once you are sure that every item in the specification is valid and worthwhile you can look at other ways of prioritising and weighting them.

You will need to decide how many different priority levels to include and how to define them for example:
  • essential, highly desirable or desirable;
  • mandatory; critical; highly desirable; desirable.

Your prioritised list will help with evaluating supplier tenders - for more on this see the section on Testing and evaluating platforms.

It will also help in developing your implementation plan and focusing your efforts when it comes to realisation of business benefits - for more on this see the section on Delivering the benefits.

MoSCoW prioritisation

A technique commonly used to help prioritise stakeholder requirements is known as MoSCoW. The acronym stands for the different levels of priority:
  • Must have - a requirement that has to be satisfied (the must haves make up the MVP - minimum viable product).
  • Should have - an important requirement that should be satisfied if at all possible.
  • Could have - a requirement that is desirable but not necessary.
  • Won't have* - a requirement that is not included at this stage but may be considered in the future.

*The W is sometimes stated as 'wish' or 'would like to have'. If you choose to adapt the technique in this way you need to be careful. Terminology is important. Specifying that you 'won't' have something at this time can be important in managing expectations and scope creep whereas inviting people to 'wish' for something can result in elements being introduced 'by the back door' during the implementation phase.

You may indeed choose to focus on the first three elements in specifying your requirements to suppliers and to clarify what you won't have in presenting the actual implementation plan to internal stakeholders.

Top tip

Review your prioritisation carefully. The University of Hull faced the risk of having to restart its procurement process when all of the suppliers failed a criterion that had been defined as 'mandatory'.

Weighting requirements

Once you get to the stage of preparing a formal invitation to tender (ITT), the way you choose to weight the different requirements can have a significant impact on the outcome.

We advise you to think about this at an early stage, take advice from your finance department and undertake some modelling. It is not unheard of for business users to leave it to the procurement team to apply some standard weightings that could significantly skew the outcome.

Suppliers have told us that the first thing they look at in an ITT is the weightings to get an indication of what is important to you.

Suppliers will undertake modelling on this in order to judge how they think they will compare against the competition. For example, they may choose to exclude available functionality that is an optional extra if they think this will push up the cost without necessarily increasing their functionality score by very much.

You need to make your own priorities clear if you are to get tenders that best meet your needs.

Our research has shown that weightings vary considerably e.g. price can be from 10% to 50%, usability varies from 10% to 40% and some people have contractual terms as high as 20%. Price may include not only the price of the product but also an estimation of total cost of ownership over a specific period. More on this topic in the section on Estimating Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

The University of Nottingham informed its requirements gathering by asking different groups of stakeholders to weight how important particular functionality was to them.

Unusually for this university, price was a very small part of the overall weighting because we believe the VLE is the most important system affecting the student learning experience.

Anonymous, Post 92 University

Scottish universities and colleges are part of a procurement consortium known as APUC (Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges). The group has set up a framework agreement for VLE supply and Glasgow School of Art acted as the pilot institution for this.

It was potentially challenging for such a range of institutions to come up with a joint requirements specification particularly as Glasgow School of Art is a specialist institution.

There was a strong emphasis on assessment overall in the requirements specification although priorities differed between institutions. Things like complex grading structures and anonymous marking were less important to Glasgow School of Art than to some of the other institutions. Issues specific to Art as a discipline include the fact that there is often no assessed artefact being stored but they would like to have the feedback for a particular assignment online and all in one place.

Pinning down requirements tightly so that the procurement process was transparent and fair was a steep learning curve for all concerned. The fact that the group successfully defined a common set of requirements is illustrated by the fact that supplier rankings were broadly similar across all of the different institutions.

The University of Twente in the Netherlands undertook a VLE procurement in 2016. Its approach to defining requirements was very different to that used in the UK.

A copy of the weightings used in the ITT is shown below.

Overview Qualitative and Quantitative Award Criteria
Award Criterion Description Minimum average score Weighting
AC1 Additional options for functionalities for instructors and students - 10%
AC2 Additional functions - 5%
AC3 Integration - 20%
AC4 Innovation and strategic developments - 18%
AC5 User experience 100 30%
AC6 Sustainability - 2%
AC7 TCO-Price - 15%

Suppliers had to meet a set of minimum requirements that were mandatory and covered the most essential functionality. Beyond that they were given considerable freedom to show the best they had to offer. Criteria AC1 and AC2 constitute what we would term functionality and together they are only worth 15% of the marks. Likewise TCO/Price is also worth only 15%.

Their approach to evaluating functionality was to invite suppliers to describe their offer stating: 'Here you have the opportunity to really excel on the functions that are the most important to us.'

A lot of emphasis was placed on the openness of the system and the ability to integrate with other tools. There was also considerable emphasis on innovation and strategic developments which set out the University's strategic priorities and asked how suppliers would work with them to achieve these.

You can find a copy of the full ITT from the University of Twente in the resources at the end of this section.