What is the MoSCoW Method? Prioritization System Explained


It’s so important to know what to focus on when you prioritize your tasks, otherwise, it’s wasted time putting your energy into low-value tasks that are not impactful. There are many methods for prioritizing and organizing tasks by importance. Today will be going over the MoSCow method.

The MoSCow method is a prioritization technique used to identify and organize tasks and projects by importance for the best productivity. There are four categories to sort by: Must have, Should have, Could have, and Will not have.

The simplicity of this method is what makes it popular, with only four categories to choose from. Keep reading to learn more about how to use this method.

What does MoSCoW Stand For?

The Moscow Method Acronym explained
The MoSCoW Method Acronym

The word MoSCoW is an acronym with the O’s filling in to make it more pronounceable. The method itself contains four categories which make up the name of the method.

M – Must Have

o

S – Should Have

C – Could Have

o

W – Will Not Have

This method has many other names it goes by MoSCow analysis, MoSCow prioritization, MoSCow technique, and MoSCow rules

Who Can Use The MoSCoW Method?

The MoSCoW method was developed by Dai Clegg of Oracle UK Consulting in the mid-1990s.

This method is ideal for large groups from different departments working on completing one project together. With so many moving parts, without communication, different areas of the project might be considered more or less important by each department.

Taking the time to discuss one cohesive plan where everyone can agree upon the importance of each task will help make the entire process go by smoothly. Having a drawn-out plan is also great for sharing with other people in the company who were not part of the discussion so they can all understand what’s going on and be on the same page.

Even though this method was developed for a company setting, it is still a great tool to use if you work individually. The essence of this method is laying out all your tasks and identifying which is the most important to least important so you know what to focus on and work on first. That idea can be applied to any work, in a group setting or individually.

How To Use The MoSCoW Method

Implementing the MoSCoW method is simple, follow the steps below.

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be done to complete the project
  2. Simply label each task with one of the four categories. Put every task in the Would category, then work your way through the list and justify the task moving to the top.

To help this process move along smoothly, teams should set some ground rules for when they are deciding which tasks go in which category. Make sure the project objectives are clear and visible so everyone can stay focused. Also have a plan for settling disagreements so the process can go by quicker.

Teams should also look at the entire task list and roughly dedicate what percentage of tasks go into each category, otherwise, every task will end up in the “Must Have” bucket.

If you are working individually, the same rules will apply. Keep focus on the goal and set objectives for yourself as well.

The categories are identified below:

Must Have

  • Completely non-negotiable, and mandatory, it is essential to the project’s success, the project would not succeed without this step.
  • There are high consequences, the project will fail without this step
  • Not legal without this step
  • Unsafe if left out

Should Have

  • Only one step below the “Must Haves”
  • This step is still important and vital to the project, but it can be done after the “Must haves” are complete.
  • The project can still be complete if this step is not done, but it will add value and make it better if there is a chance to get it done later.
  • Not critical to schedule to complete right away, but can be scheduled in the future after the first stage is done

Could Have

  • The first two steps are considered important, this step is not as important
  • This step is a desire or want, less impactful when left out, adds nice touches, but really don’t need it
  • Can schedule in the future if time permits, but it’s not a priority
  • A “nice to have” step

Would Not Have

  • This step is about including things you don’t want to focus on
  • Can help manage expectations so you can stay on track
  • Place things that are not a priority for this specific project this time around
  • Put ideas here that you currently don’t have the resources for so you can note them in future projects

Does The MoSCoW Method Work?

Truly any method you use will work, as long as you stick to it. The MoSCoW method can work because it is simple to use and easy to understand. There are only four categories and the first letter of the categories is in the name, so it can be easy to remember the categories too.

This is a good method because it brings many departments together for discussion, and at the end of the discussion, everyone is on the same page, working on the same goal and focusing on the most important tasks.

The same applies when you use this method individually. Your tasks are organized from most important to least important so you can start working on the most impactful tasks for your projects. It’s a great way to lay everything out and focus on the end goal.

“Focus on being productive instead of busy”

Tim Ferriss

What are the problems with the MoSCoW method?

Every method has its pros and cons, especially a method that was made for gathering larger groups from different departments, all with different ideas and opinions. Here are some things to consider when using the method.

  • A group discussion and having everyone come to a final agreement can be hard and time-consuming. Set rules and boundaries at the beginning of the discussion to help the conversations move along.
  • Everyone will have different opinions about what is more or less important, and the team’s decision-making skills will determine the efficiency of the discussion process.
  • Method doesn’t have a lot of room for changes during execution. Things can come up while you are working on the project, so make a plan to regroup or make plans anticipating changes.
  • The “Would Not Have” category is not very clear if ideas get implemented later or if it is dismissed altogether.

Other Task Organization Techniques

There are many other task organization methods to prioritize, check them out below.

“Good things happen when you set your priorities straight”

Scott Caan

Hong Singer

I'm the creator of Ambition Forward. I keep things simple by focusing on the goal and being consistent in my actions to get the results I want, and I'm here to help you do the same. I encourage you to look for the things that bring you joy and go for it!

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