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MoSCoW Method

~ By Duncan Haughey

MoSCoW written on a blackboard

When managing a project, it is important to develop a clear understanding of the customers' requirements and their priority. Many projects start with the barest headline list of requirements, only to find later the customers' needs have not been fully understood.

Once there is a clear set of requirements, it is important to rank them. This ranking helps everyone (customer, project manager, designer, developers) understand the most important requirements, in what order to develop them, and what not to deliver if there is pressure on resources.

So what is the best method for creating a prioritised list of requirements?

The MoSCoW method can help. MoSCoW stands for must, should, could and would:

  • M - Must have this requirement to meet the business needs
  • S - Should have this requirement if possible, but project success does not rely on it
  • C - Could have this requirement if it does not affect anything else on the project
  • W - Would like to have this requirement later, but delivery won't be this time

The o's in MoSCoW are added to make the acronym pronounceable and are often in lowercase to show they don't stand for anything.

MoSCoW as a prioritisation method is used to decide which requirements to complete first, which must come later and which to exclude.

Unlike a numbering system for setting priorities, the words mean something and make it easier to discuss what's important. The must requirements need to provide a coherent solution, and alone lead to project success.

The must requirements are non-negotiable. Failure to deliver even one of them will likely mean the project has failed.

The project team should aim to deliver as many of the should requirements as possible. Could and would requirements are nice to have and do not affect the overall success of the project. Could requirements are the first to go if the project timeline or budget comes under pressure.

It is essential to have a clear set of prioritised and agreed requirements with the customer, alongside the overall objective, quality criteria, timescale and budget if you are going to deliver a successful project. The recommended method for setting priorities is MoSCoW.

MoSCoW was developed by Dai Clegg of Oracle UK in 1994 and has been made popular by exponents of the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).

Comments (9)

Topic: MoSCoW Method
5/5 (8)
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8th September 2015 11:44pm
Nitin Jain (London) says...
Great method. Thanks for explaining it so well here. Would vs Won't debate is not relevant. However, a practical consideration is the inability to sort out the list based on this classification in Excel or any other request tracking system as MoSCoW does not appear alphabetically. Any suggestions for the same? We can do 1-Must, 2-Should, 3-Could, 4-Won't, but that defeats the purpose to some extent.
8th September 2014 6:00pm
Nicole Yaniz (Mokena) says...
Does anyone have a good template they use?
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22nd July 2014 1:54am
Chu (Yangon) says...
Please explain to me about W. It is won't or want. In my first textbook (Agile), it is named as Won't. It is named as Want in Database Frameworks and method.
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25th July 2014 8:50am
Duncan Haughey (London) says...
I don't think it really matters whether it is Won't or Want as long as the intent is clear. It is not worth debating which it should be. Won't, want and would are all used and quoted depending on where you look. Personally, I like would, as in, "I would like to have this requirement, but will leave it out this time for consideration at a later date".
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21st June 2014 3:53pm
Christina (Athens) says...
Just a point. For the prioritization that involves 3rd party priorities (regulation, legislation) I use "Ought" as well.
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18th June 2014 9:39pm
Dan Brenner (Lakewood) says...
The PMBOK has not defined this anywhere, and it isn't in the PMI lexicon either.
  • Must, Should, Could, Would is the "all positive" project manager.
  • Must, Should, Can't, Won't is the "all negative" project manager.
  • Must, Should, Could, Won't is the "balanced" project manager.
I prefer the balanced approach as it allows you to define some things that have been defined as 'out of scope', while still giving a middle ground of things that you could decide to include in the project.
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18th June 2014 8:33pm
Yaroslav (Slavutich) says...
"W" does not mean "Would", it means "Won't" this is confused.
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18th June 2014 9:32pm
Duncan Haughey (London) says...
I'm not sure won't is correct either. I believe the definitive definition is:

'Want to have but will not have this time round'.

This is applied to those requirements that can wait until later development takes place.

Whether you use would, won't or want - these requirements aren't going to be delivered this time round.
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21st June 2014 6:00pm
Shilpa Adavelli (Chicago) says...
For requirements prioritization, BABOK says 'W' is for 'Won't', not 'Would' or 'Want' but not necessarily everybody follows the BABOK, so I guess 'Would' would work for some organizations. As long as it is clearly defined what the expectation is and what 'W' stands for, I don't think it's an issue.

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