MoSCoW Method
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Overview

They can’t have it all right? So the next time you’re sorting through a long, long list of requirements with a group of stakeholders, consider using the MoSCoW method. 

The MoSCoW Method is a prioritisation technique based on whether requirements are ‘must have’, ‘should have’, ‘could have’, or ‘won’t have’ over a defined time period. 

ENGAGING STAKEHOLDERS.

It’s a simple technique that can be easily understood by stakeholders, helping product teams and stakeholders to gain a shared agreement on priority requirements. It can be used to help define scope for a project, identify goals for an Agile Scrum sprint, or to evaluate tenders for a new system or platform.

CATEGORIES IN MORE DETAIL. 

The categories are as follows:  

  • Must have: mandatory features that will be prioritised. 
  • Should have: great to have features but not critical in this build. They can be seen as important, not urgent and are high contenders to be ‘must’ in the next iteration.  
  • Could have: non-essential additions that will add value but their absence will not have a cost. 
  • Won’t have: lowest importance, potentially on a road map but not considered for the iteration.

IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.

The MoSCoW Method is a useful prioritisation framework when gathering a range of requirements for a product or project. Alternative prioritisation methods include the RICE Score, Impact Effort Matrix and Kano Method. Use it as part of Agile Methodology sprints, including to define and deliver Minimum Viable Products. 

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Actionable takeaways
  • Identify goals and participants. 

Understanding the nature of the project, including key purpose, audience and ‘what success looks like’, is crucial to determine relative priorities using the MoSCoW Method. In addition, a MoSCoW process should include both project team and key stakeholders, ideally with a representation of the targeted audience group. 

  • Gather requirements. 

Capture requirements that are short, clear, and verifiable. A common structure includes ‘the <thing> shall provide <something> to achieve <this>’ or as a user story, ‘as a <type of user>, I want <goal> so that < reason>'. Such user stories or requirements are often organised in high-level epics, to categorise more detailed requirements under that. 

  • Identify timeframe. 

The MoSCoW Method is designed to prioritise for a defined time period and will be updated in the next iteration. Be clear about the initial time frame and potential resourcing and scope as a result.

  • Apply the MoSCoW method. 

Categorise requirements using the MoSCoW Method. If it is being done collectively, consider using card sorts or visual methods to organise and debate categorisations. Aim to have about 60% of requirements for the time period as ‘must-have’, with around 20% for could haves. This provides a level of contingency. 

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In Practice

Life sciences platform.

This case study from Browser, a user-centred consulting firm, describes how they helped their client to establish a life science platform using the MoSCoW Method.

Limitations

The MoSCoW Method is highly subjective, not providing clear criteria for the various categories, nor providing distinctions within a category. For example, if ten requirements are identified as ‘must-haves’, there is no further prioritisation of them within the method. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

The MoSCoW method is a product feature prioritisation technique that takes a slightly different approach to alternative such as RICE scores, impact effort matrix or the kano model.   

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave the MoSCoW method into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • RICE score, impact effort matrix and Kano method: as alternatives ways of prioritising. 
  • Pareto principle: in establishing how to identify the 20 that delivers the 80. 
  • Eisenhower matrix: which is a more individually targeted approach based on similar concepts. 

Complementary models: 

  • Agile methodology: an iterative approach that works well with this form of prioritisation. 
  • Empathy map: to consider the potential impact on a specific audience group.
  • Zawinski’s law: a warning to prioritise and avoid product bloat. 
  • Lean thinking: considering how to deliver real value with fewer resources, and potentially features. 
  • Minimum viable product: to test core basic ‘must have’ features from a customer perspective.
  • Golden circle: to identify the core purpose of your business to guide product feature decisions.
  • First principles: understanding the core offer of a product and need of a customer.
Origins & Resources

The MoSCoW Method was developed by Dai Clegg who, with a rich history of big data and data modelling for a range of large corporates, now works for Evidence for Development — an NGO dedicated to reducing poverty with evidence-based decisions. 

Clegg originally developed the method for prioritisation in timeboxed projects during his time with Oracle and it was later donated to the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM). 

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