The MoSCoW Prioritization Technique

Guest Post by Simon Buehring

No, not Russian politics, but a method developed by business analysts and project/programme managers for determining the priority of requirements and changes on a project.

  • Must
  • (o)
  • Should
  • Could
  • (o)
  • Won’t

The four basic levels of priority, under the MoSCoW rubric, are must have (essential requirements, the sine qua non of project success), should have (high priority, but alternative routes are possible), could have (this would be nice), and won’t have (these are the features the customer might dream about, but simply are not feasible just yet).

MoSCoW is important, insofar as it provides clarity of vision for a group with varying priorities and conflicting interests. Projects are, in their very nature, infinitely expansive, and there are always more features and requirements that would, doubtless, enhance the finished product. Yet by necessity these add-ons will also add on to the time and the cost of the project, and the more pressure you put on the system, the greater the risk of collapse. By focusing attention on what is truly important, MoSCoW provides a framework for making these tough-love decisions. Is full training necessary? Should the track run to the airport or only the train station? Sure, it would be possible for us to build an extra storey, but does the project genuinely require this? Most importantly, what do we lose by keeping it in, what do we lose by its elimination?

No project can have everything. Failure to plan for what the project will not have results in unpredictable gaps—perhaps you will push the track on not just to the airport, but to the stadium as well; and in trade-off, money will be diverted from acquiring high quality tracks, and the line will require closer maintenance and expense; or perhaps you build that extra storey, and so run out of time to perform proper safety checks.

Deciding in advance what you can and can’t have ensures that the project is not stretched beyond the tension that its resources allow, and focuses the attention of stakeholders, senior management, and the project team, on delivering what is actually, crucially important.

Simon Buehring is a project manager, consultant and trainer. He is the MD for KnowledgeTrain which offers PRINCE2 online courses and project management training.  Simon has extensive experience within the IT industry in the UK and Asia and can be contacted via the KnowledgeTrain website.



2 thoughts on “The MoSCoW Prioritization Technique

  1. I first came across MoSCoW some 15 years ago when I started working with DSDM. It’s fine in principle but all too often stakeholders find it impossible to use because everything is a Must. Even items set to lower priority often bubble back up the list while your back is turned!

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