The MoSCoW principle

I’ve always wanted to write a spy novel: a handsome spy hero, a gorgeous girl, a foreign location in the heart of an evil empire, enemies outwitted and defeated. But most of all — an attention grabbing, instantly captivating title.  Unfortunately, this is not one of those posts.  Maybe, when I cross into the myth-filled middle age, suffering a mid-life crisis, I’ll throw all caution to the wind, retreat to a secluded location and pen my critically acclaimed literary debut.  Until then, back to the real world of project management and Agile.

The MoSCoW principle is a clever acronym that can help manage project scope and customer’s expectations.  It stands for features that you

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have and
  • Will not have (would be nice, but don’t count on it).

The MoSCow principle is the difference between a project focused on fulfilling a contract and a project focused on delivering business value.

In a contract-based project every requirement is a Must-have.  There is no prioritization, no compromise.  You might as well figure out the order in which you will tackle the contract’s objectives, build out your WBS and your Gantt chart, and get to it.

A business value oriented project is driven by the MoSCoW principle. (Or at least it should be.) Out of al the features and requirements of the project, generally 50 – 60% will fall into the Must-have category.  Maybe another 20 – 25% will become the Should-have features.  And the rest — you have to work with the client to figure out what they could get and what will either become phase 2 of the project, or will not be done at all.

Figuring it all out and setting these priorities is not a simple task.  In fact, figuring out the last 15 – 20% of the could-haves and will-not-haves could be very painful and even politically charged, but… absolutely essential.

What could help in the process is to assign business value to each feature.  By itself, every feature is important and carries a high business value.  The true value of a particular feature can only be understood in comparison.  When you look at what is essential for your project to generate revenue, deciding between the must-haves and the could-haves becomes a little bit easier.