MoSCoW: The Simple Framework for Effective Prioritization Team Published: 27 Mar 2023 Updated: 15 Dec 2023

In any product development process, it’s essential to identify what needs to be done and prioritize the work items effectively. Prioritizing can be tricky, especially when dealing with numerous requirements! Lucky for us, that’s where the MoSCoW method comes in handy. The MoSCoW method is a prioritization framework that helps product teams categorize their work items based on the order of their importance. This method can be used in various settings, from product management, product development to project management, to ensure that the most important items are delivered on time.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the MoSCoW prioritization method, its origins, how it works, why you should use it, and some tips for using it successfully. We’ll also address some common criticisms of the framework to give you a comprehensive understanding of the method. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to use the MoSCoW method confidently and effectively.

What is MoSCoW prioritization?

MoSCoW prioritization is a technique used in product management to prioritize work items based on their importance. It is an acronym that stands for Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, and Won’t-haves. The method provides a simple and effective way to prioritize work items by categorizing them into four different priority levels.

  • Must-haves: These are the work items that are critical to the success of the product. They are the items that must be delivered for the product to be considered successful.
  • Should-haves: These are the work items that are important but not critical. They are items that should be delivered, but the product can still be considered successful without them.
  • Could-haves: These are the work items that are desirable but not essential. They are items that could be included if time and resources permit.
  • Won’t-haves: These are the work items that are not essential and will not be delivered in the current phase. They are items that are deferred to a later phase and not considered at all.

What are the origins of the MoSCoW prioritization method?

The MoSCoW prioritization method was developed by Dai Clegg in 1994 while working for the Oracle Corporation. The acronym MoSCoW was coined to represent the prioritization categories, and it has been widely adopted as a standard approach to prioritizing items in any product development team.

How does the MoSCoW prioritization method work?

The MoSCoW prioritization method works by categorizing work items  into four different priority levels based on their importance. The following are the steps to implement the MoSCoW prioritization method:

  1. Gather all work items: The first step is to define all the work items. This could be done through brainstorming sessions, stakeholder interviews, surveys, or feedback.
  2. Categorize the work items: Once all the work items are defined, they should be categorized into the four MoSCoW categories. This can be done by evaluating each work item and determining which category it belongs to.
  3. Assign priority levels: The next step is to assign priority levels to each item within each category. For example, within the “must-haves” category, some items may be more critical than others, so they would be assigned a higher priority level.
  4. Re-evaluate and adjust priorities: As the product planning and development progresses, priorities may change, and some items may become more or less important. Therefore, it is essential to re-evaluate and adjust priorities as needed throughout the product planning and development process.

Why should one use MoSCoW?

MoSCoW prioritization is a useful technique that can be applied in any product planning process  where there are competing priorities, limited resources, and a need to deliver the most important features first. 

Here are some of the reasons why you should consider using the MoSCoW prioritization method:

Helps to focus on what matters
MoSCoW allows teams to focus their efforts on the most important work items and avoid wasting time on less important ones. By prioritizing work items, teams can ensure that they are meeting the most critical needs of their stakeholders.

Facilitates collaboration and communication
The MoSCoW prioritization method can help to facilitate collaboration and communication between team members and stakeholders. By prioritizing requirements together, teams can ensure that everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done and why.

Provides a framework for decision-making
MoSCoW provides a clear framework for making decisions about what work items to include in a product. It helps teams to make objective decisions based on the needs of stakeholders and the constraints of the product.

Encourages flexibility
MoSCoW allows product teams to be flexible in their approach to work items. By categorizing work items into must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and won’t-haves, teams can adjust their priorities as the product evolves or new information becomes available.

Overall, the MoSCoW prioritization method is a powerful tool for ensuring that products are aligned with the needs of stakeholders and focused on what matters. It helps teams to work collaboratively, make objective decisions, and stay flexible in the face of changing circumstances.

Potential downsides to using MosCoW

While there are certainly benefits to using the MoSCoW prioritization method, it’s important to also consider some of the potential risks or downsides of using this method in certain situations. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Ambiguity: The “won’t have” category can be considered to be too ambiguous. This can lead to uncertainty around whether certain items will actually be included in the final product, which can be frustrating for customers who may be relying on those items to achieve their goals.
  • Resource allocation: Another risk of using MoSCoW is the potential misuse the method may lead to attempting to secure extra budget or resources. This can lead to a situation where items in the “should,” “could,” and “would” categories are promised to stakeholders, but there isn’t actually enough budget or resources to deliver on those promises. This can lead to disappointment and frustration on the part of stakeholders, and can damage team morale as well. (Not to mention, you may get a CS or Sales rep in a bit of trouble if they’ve promised a feature inadvertently, only for it to be taken away.)
  • Insufficient prioritization: While MoSCoW can be a helpful way to get a high-level view of prioritization, it’s important to remember that each category may contain many items that need to be further prioritized. Without careful consideration of each item, there’s a risk that the team may build the wrong features or overlook important functionality.
  • Time and effort: Finally, it’s worth noting that MoSCoW can be a time-intensive process that requires a lot of discussion and collaboration among stakeholders. This can be challenging for teams that are already stretched thin, or for products that are under tight deadlines. In these cases, it may be necessary to find a more streamlined prioritization method that can be executed more quickly.

Despite these risks, there are still many reasons why product teams may choose to use the MoSCoW method. Ultimately, the decision to use MoSCoW (or any other prioritization method) will depend on the unique needs and circumstances of your team and product. As long as you approach the process with a clear understanding of the potential benefits and risks, you should be well-equipped to make an informed decision about whether MoSCoW is the right choice for your team.

Top tips for using MosCoW effectively

Now that we have a better understanding of what MoSCoW prioritization is and how it works, it’s time to discuss some top tips for using this method effectively. These tips will help you and your team get the most out of MoSCoW and ensure that your prioritization decisions are well-informed and aligned with your goals. Whether you’re new to MoSCoW or have been using it for a while, these tips can help you improve your prioritization process and achieve better results.

  1. Make sure all key stakeholders are involved from the beginning. It is important to have all necessary team members present during the prioritization process to ensure that everyone’s perspectives and opinions are taken into account.
  2. If there are any concerns or conflicts that arise during the prioritization process, it is important to address them separately to prevent derailing the process. (Perhaps take it on to another meeting.)
  3. Once you have decided on the work items that fall into the “must-have” category, it is important to set deadlines for them to ensure that they are completed on time. Remember, product management assures you’re focusing on bringing the right value to users.
  4. Before starting the MoSCoW prioritization process, it is important to allocate resources to each task to ensure that the team has a clear idea of what can be accomplished.
  5. The MoSCoW prioritization process is meant to be collaborative, and it is important to avoid any one person’s opinion dominating the decision-making process.
  6. Keep the users at the center of your decisions. The MoSCoW prioritization method is meant to prioritize work items f based on their importance to the users, so it is important to keep the user’s needs in mind throughout the process.
  7. It is important to set strict requirements for each category to ensure that work items are not mislabeled, and that the team has a clear understanding of what each category means.

By following these tips, teams can ensure that their MoSCoW prioritization process is effective and results in the delivery of high-value features for their users.


The MoSCoW prioritization is a powerful tool that can help teams effectively prioritize their work items and make better decisions. By following the method and incorporating the top tips we’ve discussed, teams can ensure that their product planning process is on track and aligned with the needs of stakeholders and users. Although there are some criticisms of the method, the benefits of MoSCoW prioritization far outweigh the risks, and it’s a great way to help product teams stay organized and focused on delivering value to their users. So why not give MoSCoW a try in your next planning session?? You might be surprised at how effective it can be! Team Team