MoSCoW Method in Business Analysis: Examples

Instructor: Ronald Price

Ron has held a variety of positions in higher ed and business, including 25+ years as an instructor and 20+ years as a corporate senior manager, and consultant.

This lesson explains the MoSCoW method and its use in business analysis to develop common priorities and expectations of an agile project with its stakeholders. This lesson also discusses the collaborative environment created around MoSCoW projects.

The MoSCoW Method

Business analysts have a variety of methods they use to identify the goals, priorities, and schedules of a project. The MoSCoW method provides a structure for prioritizing the requirements of a project. Its purpose is to ensure the most critical priorities are achieved.

The MoSCoW method grew out of the Dynamic Software Development Method (DSDM) process as a method for prioritizing projects. The MoSCoW method is predominantly used for prioritizing software development projects. The four uppercase letters in the acronym MoSCoW refer to the priority categories to which a project requirements or outcomes are assigned to indicate their relative importance to a project. These categories are must-have, should-have, could-have, and won't-have. Note the two lowercase Os in MoSCoW have no meaning other than to provide a pronounceable word.

MoSCoW Categories

In the initiation of a project and in the periodic meetings of the project team and the stakeholders, the priorities (objectives) of a project are reviewed and assigned to one of the four priority categories. As the project progresses, it may be necessary to re-prioritize some or all of the objectives.

The must-have category identifies the Minimum Usable SubseT (MUST) of a business project. The elements included in a MUST are essential to the fulfillment of one or more of a projects objectives. A must-have priority achieves a business objective, compliance with the regulations, or the expansion of a business. MUST items are absolutely required for the successful completion of a project, the continuation of a project, the compliance with legal or regulatory requirements, and conformance with a business' strategic goals.

Should-have priorities are important, but they aren't essential to the success of a project. Its relative business (financial, operational, strategic) value differentiates a should-have from a must-have, or even a could-have, priority. Should-haves are highly desired by stakeholders but have a slightly lower priority or contribute less than must-have items. However, should-have priorities should be completed if time and resources allow.

Could-have priorities are desirable objectives that, if omitted from the project, will likely have little or no impact on cost, schedule, or success. Not achieving a could-have priority won't necessarily impact the completion of a project. Could-have priorities are dependent a window of opportunity opening when a project is ahead of schedule or under budget. Slack in a project schedule allows for the inclusion of these priorities.

Won't-have priorities can also be called won't-happen-in-this-project. These priorities have been set aside or postponed until a later project.

MoSCoW in Business Analysis

A business analyst (BA) can use a variety of methods to identify the requirements of a proposed project. Once the objectives or goals a project are identified, the project team and the project's stakeholders can meet and use the MoSCoW method to prioritize them into one of the priority categories. In the initial phases of a project, priorities can be a bit optimistic, but as the project progresses, priorities falling behind schedule or running over budget can be re-prioritized down or up using the MoSCoW method.

It is not uncommon that a project may need to be re-prioritized and its objectives reconsidered. During a project, if resources (people, equipment, materials, etc) allocated to project A at its start are reallocated to or depleted by project B before project A needs them, the priorities, and possibly deliverables, of project A may need to be re-prioritized. This is where the use of the MoSCoW method is best.

Here's a simple example of how MoSCoW works:

1. In the initial project team meeting of GotUCovered, Inc., a custom clothing and shoe provider, includes stakeholders from sales and marketing, accounting, information technology, the senior vice president of operations, and the company's business analyst. The following priorities were identified:

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