MoSCoW Method

Tools | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes

MoSCoW written on a blackboard in coloured chalk

It is essential to develop a clear understanding of the customers' requirements and priorities when managing a project. Many projects start with the barest headline list of requirements, only to find later the customers' needs have not been adequately understood.

Once there is a clear set of requirements, it is essential to rank them. This ranking helps everyone (customer, project manager, business analyst, designer, developers) understand the most critical 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 around

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.

Use the MoSCoW prioritisation method to decide which requirements to complete first, which must come later, and those to exclude.

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

The must ranked 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 ranked requirements as possible. Could and would level requirements are nice to have and do not affect the project's overall success. The could requirements are removed first if the project timeline or budget is under any 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 wish to deliver a successful project. The recommended method for setting priorities is MoSCoW.

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

Recommended read: Requirements Gathering 101 by Duncan Haughey.


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