MoSCoW Prioritization: Overview and Tips


MoSCoW prioritization (or the MoSCoW method) is a tool used in all sorts of professions and industries to provide a structure for prioritizing work tasks. It is most commonly associated with the Agile approach Dynamic Systems Development Methodology, which is where I learned it. The origins appear to be from the book “CASE Method Fast-Track: A RAD Approach” written in 1994 by Dai Clegg and Richard Barker. I’ve never read that book so I cannot comment on it. If you are interested in reading it, Amazon has it.

MoSCoW prioritization can be used within other Agile approaches or even outside of an Agile approach. You could organize your days using MoSCoW if you wanted. It’s fairly simple, easy, and straightforward to use.

If you haven’t noticed already, there are four capital letters in MoSCoW. MoSCoW is an acronym plus a couple of o’s. The important letters are MSCW.


“Must” or “Must Have”. These are for requirements that Must be met, or features your product Must Have. These are the top priority items.


“Should” or “Should Have”. These would be the second priority items. Once you complete the “Must” items, you move on to the “Should” items. These items are still fairly important to try and work in, but not “violating the law” or “you’re going to be fired if you don’t do” important.


“Could” or “Could Have”. These are items you would complete if you want to suck up to your boss. A bit of going the extra mile maybe. You don’t do them first because they aren’t as important, but if you can squeeze them in it may help you negotiate a pay raise come review time.


“Won’t”, “Won’t Have”, or “Won’t Have This Time”. These are items that you just won’t really have in the current stage of the release or increment. They may be on the radar to be done and they may be needed someday, but the need for them may be in the future. If I have a report due in a month, I probably would put it in the “Won’t Have This Time” category for a weekly task list.

Books on Prioritization

Tips on Using MoSCoW (Examples of the MoSCoW Method)

1. Pen/Pencil and Paper

I personally recommend paper for brainstorming, then move to a computer for the actual organization to help make it cleaner. Now if you are just creating a personal task list than just sit down when you get a moment and start thinking about what you have to do.

For projects or group efforts on work, it should be more collaborative. Have someone serve as a note-taker to just scribble out ideas first as the group comes up with them (Actual notes of mine below – excuse my handwriting):

Brainstorming notes before prioritization

Brainstorming notes before prioritization


I realize it looks very chaotic, but that is the nature of brainstorming. Eventually, I work to clean up the items and organize them, or I put them in a computer in a file (which is what I actually did with the notes above).

As I go through the ideas from the brainstorming list I decide on a priority. I may write next to some of them what I think they are in terms of priority, but eventually, I will carry them over to a more formal MoSCoW list.


2. Whiteboard/Chalkboard

Another way to do this is by using a whiteboard or two. If you use one whiteboard it should be larger and you can place a line down the center. You use one side of the whiteboard for writing down the ideas, the other side to prioritize using MSCW labels. It works just like the pen and paper examples, but may be more suited to a colocated team.


3. Using Excel Templates

This attached Excel document (MoSCoW Excel Template) that I created is a step up from a handwritten MoSCoW list. There are different ways to do it in Excel, but I like this document because I can just enter the requirements and click a radio button. I have also made a more advanced one (Advanced MoSCoW Template).

The simple template is shown below. It just has several rows of radio buttons under columns for MSCW. (*Both templates are available on the Excel Templates page)





And there you have it, my fairly simple tips on how to use MoSCoW prioritization. For additional tips and a more detailed explanation, visit the Agile Business Consortium site, MoSCoW Prioritization section.



Some Images from

DSDM was created by the Agile Business Consortium.




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