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As a product manager, you know the importance of an effective prioritization technique when you’re deciding on what to work on first. The MoSCoW prioritization method is a linchpin in agile project management that can help you sort through your to-do list and make informed decisions.

What is the MoSCoW Prioritization Method?

The MoSCoW method guides decision-making in project management by putting your tasks into four prioritization categories: 

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have

The MoSCoW prioritization method is essential for product managers in agile environments, where flexibility and adaptability are key. I recommend pairing this framework with a product management tool like Mira that allows for visualization and collaboration.

Must Have: Non-Negotiable Essentials

'Must-haves' are the non-negotiable, essential functionalities that your new product or software development project can't do without. They are your deal-breakers, the backbone of your product features, and the foundation of your product release.

Should Have: High-Impact, Manageable Effort

The 'Should have' category is crucial for a balanced approach in agile project management. These are important product features or functionalities that provide significant value but aren't deal-breakers. They enhance the user experience and are often seen as the 'nice to have' elements that don’t cause scope creep.

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Could Have: Nice Extras When You Have Enough Time

'Could haves' are the cherry on top of your project delivery. These features would be great to include if you have enough time and resources. They are often included in the backlog for future release considerations.

Won’t Have: Not This Time Around

The 'Won’t have' category is just as important in your MoSCoW analysis. These features or initiatives won’t be part of the current iteration or product release. They are often set aside for subsequent phases or iterations of the product development cycle.

Where Does The Term MoSCoW Come From?

The term MoSCoW method is not related to the Russian capital. It's an acronym crafted by Dai Clegg during his time at Oracle. The method was later popularized through the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) methodology.

When To Use The MoSCoW Prioritization Method

The MoSCoW method is adaptable and can be used across various projects and industries. It’s especially effective in agile project management, where the workflow is iterative, and priorities can shift. Here are some scenarios where the MoSCoW method shines:

  • When managing a tight timeframe with limited resources.
  • In product development, where clear categorization of product features is essential.
  • For managing a backlog effectively in software development.
  • To create a clear roadmap and prevent scope creep.
  • When balancing the needs of key stakeholders and team members.

Pros and Cons of the MoSCoW Method


  • Enhanced Communication: It facilitates clear communication among team members and stakeholders.
  • Flexibility: Ideal for agile environments where priorities can shift.
  • Focus on MVP: Helps in defining the minimum viable product effectively.


  • Possible Neglect of Lower Priorities: 'Could haves' and 'Won’t haves' might be perpetually postponed.
  • Subjectivity in Categorization: Sometimes, there can be disagreements among stakeholders and team members on the categorization of tasks.

Examples Of How The MoSCoW Prioritization Method Is Used

In Software Development:

  • 'Must haves' might include critical functionalities like user authentication and data security. 
  • 'Should haves' could involve advanced user stories that improve the user interface.
  • 'Could haves' might include additional integrations with third-party services. 
  • 'Won’t haves' might encompass experimental features that are slated for a future release.

In Launching a New Product:

  • 'Must haves' would be the features that define the product’s unique selling proposition. 
  • 'Should haves' might include additional services that enhance customer satisfaction.
  • 'Could haves' could be innovative features that aren’t essential for the initial launch. 
  • 'Won’t haves' are those features that are deferred to avoid scope creep.

In summary, the MoSCoW method is a strategic approach to decision-making in product management. This prioritization technique ensures you have a clear roadmap, with each initiative thoughtfully categorized. By applying the MoSCoW rules, product managers and development teams can navigate through the complexities of project delivery, ensuring that each iteration, each product release, delivers maximum value on time. So, embrace the MoSCoW prioritization method, and watch your projects transform into a streamlined agile workflow.

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.