What Is MoSCoW Method, and How Does It Help Prioritize Tasks in Projects?


You deal with hundreds of tasks daily, and each task takes up a valuable part of your time. Dealing with all the tasks at once would be an unwise move, you need structure and order in your life to make sure you stay on top of your A-game.

As an Agile professional, you must bring the same orderliness to your work. One way of doing that is to prioritize your tasks, but how?

MoSCoW method is a prioritization technique that helps you organize your tasks into the order of priority.

In this article, we will be walking you through the basics of MoSCoW matrix and how it works.

What Is MoSCoW Method?

MoSCoW method is a technique of prioritizing your tasks. The MoSCoW matrix is a four-step technique for assessing which project requirements would result in the maximum return on investment (ROI).

The method can help you structure your to-do list from top to bottom in the order of importance. This implies that you can narrow down your workflow to focus on the most important tasks first.

The use of MoSCoW matrix helps make sure that all the team members are aware of the priority status of different tasks. In such a way, they can focus on the most important tasks first and then move on to the less important ones.

MoSCoW method in project management is especially effective since it provides greater clarity into the requirements of the task and the amount of effort and finances required for the accomplishment of each task.

Using the method helps ensure enhanced productivity and better profitability. Also, it greatly improves the quality of the project.

Background Of the MoSCoW Method

MoSCoW method in project management was developed by Dai Clegg, a software development expert. Clegg developed the method for use in Rapid Application Development in 1994 while working at Oracle, a multinational computer technology corporation.

The method was first developed to time-box projects in order of priority. It gained popularity in the early 2000s and was used by the agile project delivery framework Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) from 2002.

Presently, the method is used in project management to prioritize tasks and accomplish goals without any gaps in the process.

This is particularly useful for managers who oversee many projects or lead cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams are typically constrained by the demands of another organization or department. 

While your team is working on a new product release, another project manager may be placing pressure on them to fulfill the deadline of another customer.

And, as we all know, issues arise during the life cycle of a project. Although effective planning assists teams in remaining nimble, the MoSCoW method can make even the most difficult and unanticipated obstacles more bearable. 

Understanding the MoSCoW PROJECT MANAGEMENT Categorization


By now, you must have noticed the weird capitalization in MoSCoW, it’s because MoSCoW is an acronym. The word MoSCoW indicates four prioritization categories:

  1. Must-have
  2. Should-have
  3. Could-have
  4. Won’t-have

Before the MoSCoW analysis can begin, all participants must agree on which activities will be prioritized. It is vital to consider how to deal with conflicts in order to avoid them obstructing progress at this stage of planning. This can help to prevent issues from arising in the first place.

Following the establishment of the framework, it is time to begin determining the appropriate categories for each project.

1. Must-Have

Must-haves are the requirements that are absolutely necessary for the successful completion of a project. The project will not move smoothly unless you fulfill these requirements. The absence of the same can lead to unpleasant consequences.

The presence of must-haves is non-negotiable. Ask yourself the following questions to make sure whether something belongs in this category or not:

  • Will you be able to complete the project without this necessity?
  • Will the final result satisfy the customer even if it does not fulfill this requirement?
  • Can you find an alternative for this requirement?

If the answer to these questions is a no then, you have to get this must-have to complete your project successfully.

2. Should-have

Should-haves are those resources, the presence of which has a significant impact on the flow of the project but their absence does not hinder the workflow. They are ranked just below the must-haves.

If you fulfill these requirements, your project is likely to process more smoothly and have a higher chance of success. If you want to assess whether a resource or requirement is a should-have or not, ask yourself how much value does it add to the project?

Keep in mind that these requirements are secondary to must-haves. Their presence is important but not vital for the success of the project.

3. Could-have

Coming to the third most important category in MoSCow technique – could-have. Could-haves are less important than should-haves. The addition of these elements can greatly add to the value of the project but their absence has no significant impact.

To distinguish between should-have and could-have, analyze the impact of their absence on the overall flow of the project. Those having a greater impact can be categorized as should-have while the others can be added to could-have.

Could-haves are only included in the project after making sure that all the requirements in must-have and should-have are satisfied. The items categorized in could-have are added for a ‘nicer’ effect.

4. Won’t-have

Won’t-have requirements are the ones that have no importance for the project in the process but may come in handy for projects in the future. The presence or absence of these requirements has no impact on the accomplishment of tasks and the completion of a project.

The won’t-have category helps you get rid of all the requirements deemed unnecessary for the given time period. The elements included in this category are not of importance and can be used in future projects.

Categorizing items in this category helps you narrow your focus on the first three categories. It is also an effective way of reducing scope creep in projects.

Once you have categorized tasks into these categories, you can set a priority status for tasks within each category to streamline the workflow.

Pros And Cons of MoSCoW Method:

Helps outline the priorities of a project.The Won’t-have category has an ambiguous status since it is not clear whether the elements in this category will be used or not.
Unifies stakeholders and team members.There is no specific method that pinpoints prioritizing methods within a category.
Eliminates the risk of bias or favoritism.If key members are excluded from the decision-making process, the resulting order might be more subjective and inefficient.
Teams can categorize requirements according to their skills and preferences.Demands a certain level of familiarity from all team members involved in the process.
Setting all priorities at once saves time for all team members involved in the prioritizing process.

Starting with the advantages of the MoSCoW method in project management:

  • Helps outline the priorities of a project.
  • Simple and easy to use.
  • Can be used for existing projects as well as for projects in the future.
  • Unifies stakeholders and team members.
  • Eliminates the risk of bias or favoritism.
  • Teams can categorize requirements according to their skills and preferences.

The downsides of the MoSCoW matrix include:

  • The Won’t-have category has an ambiguous status since it is not clear whether the elements in this category will be used or not.
  • There is no specific method that pinpoints prioritizing methods within a category.
  • If key members are excluded from the decision-making process, the resulting order might be more subjective and inefficient.
  • Demands a certain level of familiarity from all team members involved in the process.

How the MoSCoW Technique is Used in Project Management?

The MoSCoW project management approach can be used when there are limited resources and budgets to get work done. This can be decided by the project manager on how to prioritize the tasks that can be done following the limitations of the project.

It is more useful to apply the MoSCoW methodology to cross-functional teams, and when managing multiple projects. The MoSCoW technique for prioritization can help manage work throughout the project lifecycle, and it can clear roadblocks in an efficient manner.

MoSCoW Project Management For Agile

Iterations are used in agile project management to split projects into digestible chunks. Each iteration focuses on completing important project components in sprints that last two to four weeks. 

The MoSCoW matrix is often used in agile project management to determine which components, such as activities, requirements, products, and user stories, should be prioritized and which should be put on hold. 

These options can be used to develop an Agile project plan that 

  • Enables teams to produce solutions more rapidly, 
  • Use resources more efficiently, improve their flexibility and adaptability to changes
  • Identify issues more quickly

Tips For Using MoSCoW Method Prioritization

Before you start the actual MoSCoW prioritization process, we would like to suggest a few tips to make sure the process flows smoothly, without any hiccups:

  • Make sure stakeholders and key members of the team are involved in the decision-making process.
  • Disagreements are bound to arise, carve out a method to handle and settle disputes beforehand. This way, you can save your time and the time of the other members.
  • Prioritizing tasks is of the most importance, but allocating resources is also of equal importance. Make sure that the right resources are allocated to the tasks, and that the budget is also planned beforehand.
  • Set deadlines for each task in a category to make sure all tasks are completed on time.
  • Create a list of all the items or requirements that need prioritization to make sure you cover everything in the decision-making process.

Now that you are armed with all the essentials, you can start the process of prioritizing tasks into four categories defined earlier.


1. What is MOSCOW prioritization? 

The MoSCoW technique is a prioritizing methodology that is designed to assist key stakeholders in understanding the importance of activities in a release.

2. What is MOSCOW used in Agile?

It is based on the agile project management technique, which tries to determine aspects such as product cost, quality, and requirements as early as feasible.

3. What is the purpose of the MoSCoW method?

The MoSCoW project management method is very successful since it provides more insight into job needs as well as the amount of effort and money required to finish each assignment.

Ending Thoughts

MoSCoW method is a powerful tool that can help you streamline your workflow and enhance your focus. The use of the method in the early stages of a project can help you make sure that the project will flow smoothly.

DO you like the prioritization technique? Can you suggest a better method for prioritization? Let us know by email at fwilson@ntaskmanager.com

Further Readings:



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