Product Prioritization: MoSCoW

Must, Should, Could, Won’t

Welcome to ‘Product Prioritization’ — our series of tools, tips, and best practices for the skilled Product Manager to determine priorities and get results. Each month, we will highlight one of the dozens of popular methodologies and explain how to use it.

For our fifth installment, we take a look at ‘MoSCoW’, a quick way to identify things that will surface to the top and sink to the bottom. The MoSCoW prioritization technique isn’t as refreshing as a Moscow Mule but, it’s still a good one.

It’s similar to the Stacked Ranking technique, but sometimes it’s either too hard or takes too long to get a ranking of the features you want to prioritize. If you find that features are too similar, and your team is ‘arguing’ over a feature that should be in the #3 or #4 spot, MoSCoW should be a good fit.

Besides a yummy drink… what is MoSCoW?

MoSCoW is an acronym to help you remember four different categories when you’re running a prioritization session.

  • M = Must Have. Critical features that must be included in the product. If it’s not included, the product release will be a failure.
  • S= Should Have. Important features, but not critical for the product. These could be features released in phase 2 or added into phase 1 if your team has extra development time.
  • C = Could Have. Commonly called ‘Nice to haves’ aka ‘NTH.’ These features aren’t necessary for the release. As new information comes from users, these features may move to a ‘Must’ or ‘Should’, or to a ‘Won’t’ in future planning sessions.
  • W = Won’t Have. Kill these ones. These features will be things that aren’t aligned with the goal of the product, or maybe the risk/value is in the wrong quadrant.

Wait. What about the two Os?! They don’t stand for anything but are just there to create a name that’s more memorable.

This is a good method when you need a quick ranking to start to paint the picture of what should be in the next release, in the MVP, or even in the next sprint.

I’ve found that MoSCoW works better in smaller groups. In larger groups, the nuance of a feature being in the ‘Should’ or ‘Could’ group may take away from the intention of getting a quick prioritized list.

Moderator Tips

This method is also enhanced when combining it with real Moscow Mules.

When coaching a team about this method, it’s a great idea to bring in real Moscow Mule cup as a visual aid. Having this visual helps your team remember this technique.