Prioritization plays a crucial role in every business. In an ideal world, businesses have enough time and resources to complete every task within a project satisfactorily. The MoSCoW method is a task prioritization framework. It is most effective in situations where many tasks must be prioritized into an actionable to-do list. The framework is based on four main categories that give it the name: Must have (M), Should have (S), Could have (C), and Won’t have (W).
- Understanding the MoSCoW method
- The four prioritization categories of the MoSCoW method
- Advantages and disadvantages of the MoSCoW method
- MoSCoW method examples
- Key takeaways
- Related Agile Business Frameworks
Understanding the MoSCoW method
Since unforeseen setbacks are inevitable, task prioritization ensures that the most relevant and important tasks are completed first. Projects lacking in task prioritization quickly become disorganized and chaotic.
Instead of a systematic process, resources are typically assigned to tasks by those that simply have the most influence in the room. Invariably, this comes at the expense of the success of the project and of the organization itself.
The method is based on an acronym from the first letter of four prioritization categories.
In the next section, we will look at each category in more detail.
The four prioritization categories of the MoSCoW method
All requirements are important to MoSCoW method principles, but they need to be categorized according to priority to deliver maximum benefit to the business.
Here are the four categories in descending order of priority:
- Must have (M) – or requirements that must be satisfied for the project or solution to be a success. These requirements play a vital role in meeting deadlines and satisfying legal or safety standards. If the result of a requirement not being met is project cancellation, then it occupies this category.
- Should have (S) – or important (but not vital) requirements such as a lack of efficiency or unfavorable stakeholder expectations. These so-called “secondary requirements” usually have a workaround and do not significantly impact the project being delivered. In any case, they should only be rectified once “must-have” requirements have been satisfied.
- Could have (C) – this includes requirements that would be nice to incorporate on the proviso that they do not affect anything else. However, leaving them out of the project scope must result in little impact when compared with a “should have” requirement. This category sometimes includes low-cost refinements that are carried out provided there is sufficient time to do so.
- Won’t have (W) – these requirements are either beyond the scope of the project or add little value. They may be feasible for a future project update and should be stored away for later reference. For example, a new rideshare company may shelve plans for a premium car option until usability issues with its app have been resolved.
Advantages and disadvantages of the MoSCoW method
- Ease of use. The method is easy to learn and implement because it is based on basic principles of task prioritization.
- Accuracy. Accurate task prioritization is reliant on group consensus lead by an impartial moderator. It does not rely on biased prioritization where big personalities can influence others.
- Versatility. The MoSCoW method can be used for any project and any sized company.
- Lack of category sorting. While the method provides clear guidance on categorization, it does not suggest how requirements within the categories should be sorted.
- Bias. Despite the team-based approach, bias can still occur when most requirements are mistakenly placed in the “must-have” category. Some businesses find it helpful to stipulate that no more than 60% of all project requirements can be classified as high priority.
MoSCoW method examples
Below we have listed a few general examples of the MoSCoW method in action.
Developing a project management app
- Must have – task assignment, file attachment, workflow monitoring, and integration with Google Calendar.
- Should have – Kanban view, Notion integration, mobile app version, in-app messaging, and time tracking functionality.
- Could have – collaborative whiteboard (in-app), Chrome support (add-on), integration with Slack, and a feature that visualizes key project advancement indicators.
- Won’t have – video conferencing.
Designing a block of apartments for a new city development
- Must have – cement, bricks, windows, proper ventilation, fire hoses for each floor, pile foundations, and a stairwell for emergencies.
- Should have – a compact, modular kitchen, doors made from composite material, soundproofed walls, two elevators, at least two bedrooms per apartment, and ducted, reverse cycle heating and cooling.
- Could have – load-bearing balconies (with a balustrade), internal staircases for penthouse apartments, outdoor entertainment areas, and an intercom system.
- Won’t have – traditional gardens, water features, and a separate laundry room for a washing machine and dryer.
Product development for a men’s wallet
- Must have – two slots for banknotes, ten compartments for credit and debit cards, durable construction material, and high-quality sewing.
- Should have – leather as the primary composition, a transverse horizontal compartment, a transparent credit card sleeve, and a small company logo on the outside face.
- Could have – an attractive, timeless color or pattern on the inside of the banknote slots, an additional transparent sleeve for treasured photos, and a small, zippered coin pouch.
- Won’t have – cream or beige colored leather that stains or wears easily, external metal accents that can catch on the material inside the wearer’s pocket.
Purchasing a new vehicle
- Must have – at least seven seats, 4WD, a 5-star safety rating, a hybrid engine, front and rear passenger airbags, adaptive cruise control, tow bar, and Apple CarPlay.
- Should have – reverse parking sensors, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), blind spot mirror warnings, an electric driver’s seat with customizable settings, and Bluetooth.
- Could have – lane departure warning system, heated seats, limited slip differential, sunroof, leather upholstery, center airbags, remote parking, intersection-scanning autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and live blind spot video feed.
- Won’t have – a small, four-cylinder engine, screens that are not touch-sensitive, haptic controls that replace buttons, spoiler, and voice recognition.
Building a website for a law firm that wants to enable clients to track their court cases
- Must have – robust coding free from any bugs, maximum uptime, a simple client registration system, a safe and robust personal directory that cannot be accessed by malicious actors, and discoverability on the first page of Google search results for the company name keyword.
- Should have – a modern, intuitive, and responsive design and navigation, email notifications, a site with pages that load quickly, nofollow links to external sites or organizations, a high contrast color scheme, and a prominent “Contact Us” page.
- Could have – a blog section with information on industry news and trends, custom menus with submenus, and an introductory video on the homepage.
- Won’t have – too much text, no whitespace, and pages with no mobile optimization.
- The MoSCoW method is a requirement prioritization framework. It may be used to classify tasks, objectives, or change processes.
- The MoSCoW method utilizes four requirement categories according to the degree that each requirement impacts the overall project.
- The MoSCoW method is a versatile, accurate, and relatively simple process to learn. However, it can be prone to bias and it does not suggest how requirements within categories should be prioritized.
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