Requirements Prioritization Technique: MoSCoW Analysis

According to the BABOK® Guide, there are five business analysis techniques you should consider when prioritizing your requirements during requirements analysis. I think that these techniques are an excellent addition to the skill set of any effective business analyst.  The five techniques are: MoSCoW Analysis, Timeboxing/Budgeting, Voting, Decision Analysis and Risk Analysis. Let’s have a closer look at the first technique, MoSCoW Analysis. We will have a look a the other four prioritization techniques in subsequent blogs.

MoSCoW Analysis is a technique you could easily use during your requirements analysis and specification efforts. It  helps you to reach a common understanding with your stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement.  You use this technique to divide the requirements into four categories: must, should, could and won’t. There are very specific definitions for each of these four categories.

  • Must: These requirements are a must have.  Think of them as very high priority requirements for your project.  They must be part of the final solution in order for that solution to be considered successful.  
  • Should: These requirements are also high-priority requirements, and are every bit as important as the requirements in the must category. However, there might be workarounds that satisfy these requirements or they may not be as time critical.
  • Could: These desirable requirements are of lesser priority and are nice to have capabilities in the solution. They really don’t affect anything else in the solution one way or the other and will be included if time and resources permit.
  • Won’t: These requirements will not be implemented in a given solution release. They may be considered for inclusion in a future release (future requirements that stakeholder would like to have) or be omitted from the solution altogether.

A lot of things may happen when using MoSCoW analysis to prioritize a set of requirements.  One or more requirements may be redefined, deleted or added to the set of requirements being prioritized. The prioritized list of requirements may change based upon new information and insight that comes from this prioritization session and your discussions with your key stakeholders. Requirements may move up or down the prioritization list as the group iteratively applies the MoSCoW technique and discusses their options for requirements prioritization.

MoSCoW analysis works best when done as a group technique. The group needs to recognize up front that due to project constraints not everything will be in the must category. A simple way of using MoSCoW analysis is to list the requirements being prioritized on a flip chart, then write M, S, C or W next to each requirement. You can also write the ideas on sticky notes and move them between flip chart pages taped to the wall for each of the four categories.

Well, that is our closer look at one of the recommended techniques for prioritizing requirements, MoSCoW Analysis.  I have found this technique to be of great help on many projects, particularly for getting stakeholders engaged and realistic about prioritizing the requirements for a project. Please give a shout if you have another BABOK® Guide technique you would like to explore in more detail!

Susan Weese

Business analysts are increasingly becoming the critical liaisons between business and solution development (oftentimes IT), so they must communicate and relate with equal effectiveness throughout all levels of an organization. Download this free White Paper to see which five common obstacles business analysts face and how to address them to ensure success.

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