MoSCoW Method – A Popular Prioritization Technique

moscow method

MoSCoW Definition

“The MoSCoW prioritization method, also known as the MoSCoW analysis, prioritizes tasks. It helps to get stakeholders on the same page while working on a project. MoSCoW model of prioritization is based on the agile method of project management. It establishes the product’s cost, quality, and other early requirements.”

So, what is MoSCoW? 

Well, it’s an acronym carved from every first letter of the prioritization section from the MoSCoW method. 

It stands for must-have, should have, could have, and won’t have.

What Is the MoSCoW Method?

The MoSCoW method, otherwise known as MoSCoW analysis, is a popular prioritization framework geared towards managing the requirements of a project. It helps all key stakeholders understand various aspects of a specific product release. 

Often, the MoSCoW method is the best prioritization framework when working on a DSDM project. It is because you have a fixed time, and you need to make as much progress as possible.

MoSCoW is an acronym that stands for four different categories that you can place various features or initiatives in. These include must-have, should have, could have, and won’t have. 

Depending on the organization using the MoSCoW method, the “W” in MoSCoW can also stand for “wishes” for the future.

MoSCoW Method
MoSCoW Method

Must Have:

This category of features and initiatives comprises essential parts of the product, project, or a specific release rolled out. 

For example, suppose you are trying to create a file transfer application. In that case, the ability to upload various files and download them again later is a critical feature. It would help if you implemented it for the application to work.  

It would be best if you implemented everything in the must-have category to ensure the success of the product/feature.

Suppose you are unsure whether a specific feature or initiative is a must-have. In that case, there are a few questions you can try to answer to make a more informed decision.

  • What will the product/project/release be like without this specific feature/initiative?
  • Will the product/project/release work without this feature/initiative?
  • Are there any other ways to accomplish the goals of this feature/initiative without implementing it?

If the answer to the questions above implies that the feature/initiative is needed, it is a must-have.

Should Have:

This category of features and initiatives is just below the must-haves in importance. 

They are often things that would greatly benefit the functionality and usability of the product/project/release. Still, you don’t necessarily require them to launch it.  

A good example would be if you were creating a file transfer application. 

In such a scenario, the ability to add and share your uploads would be critical but not required. That is because the core user experience is storing files on a remote server and downloading them later.  

Other examples of should have features would be bug fixes and performance improvements since everything functions without them.

Could Have:

You can think of this category of features and initiatives as ‘nice to have.’

These features are not critical to the core functionality of the product. Yet, they would have a comparatively smaller impact on the final product if left out entirely.  

Suppose there is not enough time to finish the must-have and should have components. In that case, these features are the first to be cut or pushed to a later release.

Won’t Have:

You will never implement the won’t have category of features. 

That is because the benefit of implementing them is marginal at best. It is also possible that they are not pertinent to a specific release or timeframe goals.

The primary benefit of this category is that it helps prevent scope creep in the long term.  

Often teams designing and implementing a product/release can develop very innovative features. You can prioritize those placed in this category higher in a future release.

What Are the Advantages of the Moscow Technique?

Following are some of the advantages that the MoSCoW prioritization method comes up with: 

Flexibility While Prioritizing

The MoSCoW method clearly distinguishes between “must-have” and “won’t-have” features. 

Due to this, you can prioritize the urgent and necessary features to build the product. The ones that are not a priority, you can sideline those for some time. 

The MoSCoW technique helps decide whether to take or exclude certain features from your backlog instead of making a list of all the features and then deciding. 

Focusing On What Is More Important

Another advantage of the MoSCoW model of prioritization is that you can focus on the highest value requirements first, leaving low priority items later. 

That way, you can learn more about the low priority items and what they need to solve before committing to their development. That helps you better understand your problem space and find a better solution.

Transparency During the Development Period

The MoSCoW method makes it easy for all the key stakeholders involved in developing a product to focus on one prioritization list. It is essential because everyone understands each “must-have” item. 

With this level of transparency, developers quickly realize which items to include in each sprint or iteration.

Less Risk During Development

The MoSCoW technique is an effective way to prioritize requirements and tasks to match the development cost. 

Suppose you should make any changes as the story progresses. In that case, product owners can make those changes without worrying about how they will impact the other backlog requirements. 

This advantage also collaborates with how the MoSCoW method reduces product risk. Developers can feel confident when they are sure that no requirement is left behind. 

With the MoSCoW analysis, the requirements that don’t meet the “must-have” standard are prioritized only slightly above items that you won’t develop at all. 

This way, you decrease the risk because if some requirement does pop up, you can move it up in the bucket list.

What Are the Disadvantages of the Moscow Method?

Lack of Clear Consistency of Scoring and Implementation

The MoSCoW method does not use the objective methodology when putting the requirements in the categories. But the MoSCoW analysis works best when the teams use a weighted scoring system across all the initiatives.

The weighted scoring system helps teams measure each MoSCoW requirement. In addition, it also does the cost and benefits standard criterion.

When it comes to the implementation, the MoSCoW technique does not have space for planning or hierarchically putting the tasks. Even though the MoSCoW prioritization method sets priorities quickly, its lack of implementation can lead to the risk in the release. 

All Stakeholders Not Included

Simply putting the initiatives in the MoSCoW method would make your team poor choices. It is vital to receive relevant information from the relevant stakeholders. 

And that is the drawback of the MoSCoW analysis. Suppose your team doesn’t receive the required information on time. In that case, they are most likely to make a mistake and put the initiatives in the wrong MoSCoW method categories. 

Blurry Lines Between Categories and the Bigger Picture

Another common pitfall of the MoSCoW method is that the lines are blurred between the four categories of the MoSCoW analysis.

There is a lack of clear description between the MoSCoW requirements. Hence, all the ‘must have’ and ‘should have’ tasks should be approached and carefully put into categories of the MoSCoW prioritization method. You can do this only after giving much thought and collecting relevant information. 

The MoSCoW method suggests putting the initiatives from the must-have to the won’t have a category. However, these extremes may still not point or focus on the bigger picture and business goals. 

For example, suppose the plan is to concentrate on a few critical features for some time. In that case, the MoSCoW analysis may clearly show a different path. The teams and stakeholders can put the business goals in place by themselves to avoid this. 

How Development Teams Can Use Moscow Prioritization Method?

The MoSCoW method was developed by Dai Clegg, keeping in mind the time constraints of the teams working in DSDM (Dynamic systems development method) projects. 

But it has been widely discovered that the development teams can use the MoSCoW technique even if other issues arise apart from time limitations. 

Following are the three areas when the MoSCoW analysis can come to the rescue.

Prioritizing When Skillsets Differ Across the Teams

When working with different teams, one of the common issues to deal with is the varying skill sets of the team members, from products to developers and many more.

In such a case, the MoSCoW analysis can help score the items or skillsets. Then, the team can accordingly decide the following steps to build the feature.

Prioritizing When There Are Financial Constraints

It is not always the deadline or the time factor that the teams face but also the budgetary constraints. Due to this, the teams may have to cut down certain aspects of their projects. 

But don’t worry. Development teams can take the help of the MoSCoW method and put the initiative in the four categories. Once that is figured out, the teams can start working on tasks using the budget as a reference.

Prioritizing When There Are Multiple Needs To Be Met

Development teams, especially those working at the cross-functional levels, can have a lot of essential needs on their plates apart from the product releases. 

When the time frames are the same for the other priorities and releases, focusing on one task at a time, and delivering the best can be an arduous task.

When the teams are stuck like this, you can do two things: 

  1. Use the MoSCoW method and determine the different facets of product releases.
  2. Put them in the four categories of the MoSCoW technique. 

This way, you know which aspects fall in the must-have and should have boxes and the ones you should keep aside for some time. 

When To Use the Moscow Prioritization Method?

The MoSCoW method allows for collaboration between large organizations without unnecessary jargon since various categories are self-explanatory, making features easy to evaluate.  

As a result, when faced with many stakeholders, using the MoSCoW method can be incredibly valuable.

Best Practices for Using Moscow Model of Prioritization Effectively

Now that you know how and when to use the MoSCoW analysis, it’s time to try it and make the process of prioritizing less tedious and more straightforward. 

But before that, you must know a few points about the MoSCoW technique so that you can reap the full benefit of the MoSCoW analysis. 

Share the Moscow Technique Across Teams in the Company

Everyone in the organization should know what MoSCoW is and how you as a team decide to use it. That way, you can bring everyone on the same page. The stakeholders will also understand why you made certain decisions based on the MoSCoW method. 

A prioritization tool such as the MoSCoW method shows why you as a team need to prioritize one task or initiative over the other for products. 

When you share the entire process of the MoSCoW analysis across the organization, everyone is aware of why someone made certain decisions. They also understand that everyone gave enough thought and research to make that decision.

Hence if any stakeholders come up with an issue with prioritizing a task, the teams have solid proof and can present the same to them. 

That connects us to the next point where you consider inputs from all the stakeholders before jumping to conclusions.

Consider Inputs From All Stakeholders

It is imperative to consider important insights and contexts from all the critical stakeholders in the organization to avoid having an issue with the decisions after finalizing everything.

This way, once you have considered the valuable points given by the sales or customer success teams, the team can now put the initiatives in one of the four boxes of the MoSCoW method.

Have a Separate Scoring System in Place

As discussed, one of the disadvantages of the MoSCoW technique is that it does not use an objective methodology. 

Also, the MoSCoW method will not by itself help you to segregate the tasks into the four boxes (must have, should have, could have, and won’t have). A scoring system will be required to do this job. 

To ensure that the process of putting the initiatives into the categories is efficient, you can use any of the following ranking systems:

  • Opportunity scoring
  • Weighted scoring
  • Kano model
  • Value vs. complexity

Wrapping Up

The many benefits of the analysis depict that this is the simplest prioritization method. It is straightforward to understand as well as to implement. 

The MoSCoW model of prioritization can work as a helping hand when working with cross-functional teams and making several decisions at a time. 

The MoSCoW technique will also show you precisely what initiatives and projects you need to take first and leave the rest in the backlog.

So, what are you waiting for? 

With the help of the guidelines in this article, prioritize your work efficiently and win.

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