MoSCoW Difficulties prioritizing work is a recurring problem. An easy and simple tool to help out actually exists - the MoSCoW method.

I have talked about prioritization before on this blog, but it keeps coming back as a problem. The reason is, of course, that prioritization is hard. Everything feels important, you want to please everyone. The result is a long backlog of stuff to do – where everything in it is just as important as the next thing. This leads to all sorts of problems, which is discussed here.

A simple prioritization technique to help out is the MoSCoW method. The method originated from the DSDM methodology and, as mentioned, is a simple way to sort features/user stories into a prioritized order. This will enable the teams to quickly see and understand the customer’s view of what is important – and also what is not that important.

If the teams deliver features prioritized as “Must have”, “Should have” and “Could have”, the “Should have” and “Could have” are the first requirements to go if something needs to be dropped from a delivery. MoSCoW categories are outlined more broadly below:

Must have
Requirements labeled as MUST are critical to the current delivery timebox (sprint) in order for it to be a success. If even one MUST requirement is not included, the project delivery should be considered a failure.

Should have
Requirements labeled as SHOULD are important but not necessary for delivery in the current delivery timebox. SHOULD requirements can be as important as MUST, but they are often not as time sensitive or there may be another way to satisfy the requirement, so that it can be held back until a future delivery timebox.

Could have
Requirements labeled as COULD are desirable but not necessary, and could improve user experience or customer satisfaction for little development cost. These will typically be included if time and resources permit.

Won’t have
Requirements labeled as WON’T have been agreed by stakeholders as the least-critical, lowest-payback items, or not appropriate at that time. As a result, WON’T requirements are not planned into the schedule for the delivery timebox, and may be dropped from the backlog altogether to keep the backlog lean.

Using the terms in the MoSCoW method it should be fairly easy to categorize your company’s prioritizations. If everything falls into the “Must have” category even after applying this method you are back to square one, leaving the teams in the dark about what the priorities really are. MoSCow should be easy to start using and easy to use, although doing the prioritization itself might be hard. The categorization however should make the process a lot easier for POs and stakeholders not familiar with actually making these prioritizations.


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