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
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.
- 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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