MoSCoW prioritization method: what is, how to use and its benefits

In our professional life, we’re surrounded by multiple projects in various shapes and forms. Some projects have a beginning and an end, but some are meant to be worked on in the long run. On that logic, it’s easy to accumulate a lot of tasks that can be both insignificant and important. 

To solve the struggle between what you need to prioritize for the health of the project, the MoSCoW method was created. With a more attentive look at the deadline of each project, this technique can separate the things you need to give attention to from the things that are not urgent. 

This prioritization method is the ultimate tool to focus on the success or even the possibility of extending the project. Through this article, you’ll be able to discover all that’s behind the MoSCoW method, how it works, and its benefits and tips.

Discover if the prioritization model works for you and what’s the impact on your life.

What’s the MoSCoW prioritization?

The MoSCoW method is a task prioritization technique that allows you to better organize your workload and priorities.

MoSCoW stands for an acronym divided into four categories:

  • Must-have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have

They can determine the prioritization you can give to every feature and requirement from the selected project.

As long as you have the complete list of the requirements, you have the green light to rank them in the order proposed in this model.

The hierarchy of the MoSCoW technique helps everyone involved, so you can reach every project’s success.

In 1994 Dai Clegg created the MoSCoW method, which was first used with the dynamic systems development method.

Its main goal is based on the deadline proposed within each project. With that established, it’s important to create a prioritization chart that’s able to get you focused on the most important things.

By filtering your focus towards your project’s priorities, you’re able to create boundaries for the tasks that are not urgent or even dispensable.

It can also be used in the context of a team that needs this method to align with the company’s values and expectations.

MoSCoW method - explanation table

How the MoSCoW method works and how to use it

Every task that’s required to do indeed needs your attention eventually to succeed on your project. But it’s impossible to do it correctly at the same time.

You must compartmentalize every task, so you can give undeniable detention to each one. With that context, onto the MoSCoW method, you have to sort which task falls in each category below.

must have explanation - MoSCoW

1. Must have

These requirements are absolutely indispensable to your project, so they need your undivided attention. On the given timeline for your project, these tasks are the first ones that need your help or your team’s help.

The way you can understand if it’s important for the project you have to ask yourself if you can move forward with the project without completing this task.

If the answer is no, you must see to it.

Should have explanation - MoSCoW

2. Should have

The requirements that are attributed as a Should have are important but not that urgent to deliver on the proposed deadline. These tasks are not as time-critical or even time-consuming so you must give the utmost attention.

In this category, you have a margin to work on the requirements. To know which tasks belong in this list, you must think if you can complete it later and move forward with the project.

If the answer is yes, you should leave it for another time.

could have moscow prioritization method

3. Could have

The requirements for the Could have category are completely different from the ones above. You can benefit from getting these requirements done, but it wouldn’t hurt your project if you didn’t complete it.

The impact is not that significant, so they are identified as bonus tasks that would increment some value, but not that much.

If you feel you don’t have the time and think of sacrificing those tasks, you could do it.

won't have explanation - moscow method

4. Won’t Have

You don’t need to worry about these tasks in the deadline for this project because you can implement them on a different timeline.

These requirements don’t need to be included in your schedule because you have other time-pending tasks that need your help.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to eliminate those tasks from your sight. You can put them on standby and work on them later.

If you ask yourself if you can get back to these tasks another time, you won’t need to think about it now.

5 Benefits of the MoSCoW prioritization method

If you put the MoSCoW method into practice, there are several advantages that’ll make a difference:

1. Give focus to the project

While building your prioritization lists, through the MoSCoW technique, you can filter your focus and energy onto the project.

You don’t have to multitask every requirement, instead, you can only pay attention to the important things.

>Did you know that multitasking is one of the main reasons why people feel unproductive and of the biggest time wasters at work?

2. Forces difficult decisions to be made

Compartmentalizing your tasks will give you the strength and power to make difficult decisions.

Unfortunately, it’s not an option to avoid difficult things to do for the health of your project, so this prioritization method gives you the will you need.

Do you know why quick decision-making is critical for your performance and business? Get to know everything in our blog.

3. The direction that your project will take

This prioritization technique can guide your project in the right direction due to the extremely focused energy toward Must have tasks.

Your project’s success is even more likely to happen if you continue to invest in your requirement’s prioritization.

4. Effective way for a team to stay focused

The fact that you keep your priorities aligned with the MoSCoW, you’re able to keep your team focused on the tasks that are crucial to the success of the project.

While staying on the same page, there will be a straightforward method for executing tasks.

5. Saved time

With all the priorities established on every category of this technique, you’re able to save tons of time for you and your team if that’s the case.

There’s not a minute of wasted time, or extreme planning, because you have everything set.

3 Tips to effectively use MoSCow technique

It’s not easy to change your mindset on time management, but it’s possible to improve the way you do things in your professional life.

Some tips will help you considerably in the success of the application of the MoSCoW Method:

  1. First, you need to come up with a complete list of every task you have within the said project.
  2. After, it would be best if you prioritized them in an exact order which is: Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have.
  3. Finally, you have to restructure the list according to their priority. That will give you a clear view of what to expect and what to do first.

Main errors when using the MoSCoW prioritization technique

Although there are necessary steps and tips to implement the MoSCoW method, there are also some mistakes that you can easily fall into if you don’t practice with discipline.

Below, you’ll find the traps you have to avoid while dealing with this technique:

Don’t place the tasks in the wrong categories

One feature of the MoSCoW method is that you cannot find an objective methodology to categorize all the tasks.

To approach this most correctly, you need to analyze every step along with your team so you’re able to be on the same page.

Include everyone that might have an expertise say in the categories attributed to the tasks

You must include all the experts that might influence the methodology that impacts the assigned tasks’ categories.

Without their insights, the requirements could fall under the wrong category and ultimately hurt the project’s success.

Don’t get too personal while assigning tasks to categories

It can be easy to fall into the trap of voicing your own personal opinions onto the prioritizations list, since there’s no objective methodology.

With that in mind, it’s important to stay objective and practical in order to minimize your bias or even your team’s.

Don’t place every task in the Must have category

When you’re invested in completing a project, it’s difficult to know which tasks are urgent, and which are not.

So, you’re automatically programmed to fit every task into the Must have category.

Make sure that you stay focused on the project’s success, and be methodical with your tasks’ assignment to each category.

Conclusion

This is one of the several techniques you can use to prioritize your work. If you think that MoSCoW isn’t for you, we suggest you read about Eat the Frog method, Time management matrix – 4 quadrants, RICE method or RPM by Tonny Robbins.

Upon reflection of this complete guide of the MoSCoW method, we can understand that this technique is an important attribute of your time management.

Mainly, it helps you to stay focused throughout your project, prioritizing your urgent tasks.

If you’re looking for a change of mindset on the organization of your requirements, this technique is the perfect alternative to establish the point where you start and what needs your absolute attention.

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