How to prioritize your tasks using the MoSCoW method


Multitasking often seems like the perfect way to manage your time when you’re left with a long to-do list. But the problem with juggling multiple tasks is that you might end your workday with a bunch of unfinished tasks and a feeling of frustration.

Prioritizing your tasks can help. In this article, we’ll explore how you can do this using the MoSCoW method.

What is the MoSCoW method?

A man organizing tasks on a kanban board

There are a number of tasks that you need to complete within a set time frame and budget. However, if these tasks are not organized according to their importance, they often become up for grabs, usually not to the benefit of the whole project.

The MoSCoW Matrix is ​​a prioritization framework that can help you determine which tasks are essential at any given time and structure your to-do list in order of importance.

This way, organizing your tasks can help you and your team members spend more time, money, and attention on the most important tasks before you get down on your to-do list.

Origin of the MoSCoW technique

Dai Clegg, software development specialist at Oracle UK, invented the MoSCoW method, or MSCW method, as it was called in 1994 (the two O’s were added later to help with pronunciation).

Although Clegg originally developed this prioritization technique for use in rapid application development, its application is quite versatile. You can use it for market / product launches, to start a new business, or for something as mundane as planning a party.

MoSCoW prioritization categories

Screenshot of the Trello board

As we hinted at above, the two O’s have no meaning in this acronym besides making it easier to pronounce and remember. That said, the capital letters of the acronym represent four categories of priorities:

  • Must have

  • Have

  • Could have

  • It will not be

Let’s dig deeper:

1. Must have

This category represents the requirements or tasks that you must accomplish to ensure the success of the entire project. There is no way around them. It contains non-negotiable needs for the desired outcome. Failure to complete these tasks on time can lead to adverse consequences.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to find out which tasks or requirements fall into this category:

  • Will the project work if you don’t complete this task?

  • Can the project be successful without this requirement?

  • Is there a workaround that you can design to avoid doing this task?

If your answer is no, then this task is the foundation that shapes the whole project. It therefore belongs to the category of essentials. For example, if you are developing an app, you need to ensure that its security is waterproof to protect users’ personal and sensitive information.

2. Should have

Must-have tasks immediately follow must-have tasks in terms of priority. They add a lot of value to the whole project and make it more successful when you finish them. But the project can still work if you leave out the essentials. In other words, completing these tasks is important but not vital to the success of the project.

You can create this category by wondering if there is a workaround or if the project can still move forward if you do not meet the requirements. For example, you need to integrate social media tools into your app, but you can definitely go on without them.

3. Could have

Completing the possible options is important, but they don’t add as much value to the project when you compare them to the must-have options, and they also cause less damage when you leave them out. You can also call them nice to have, as long as you can fit them into your budget and schedule.

In order to create this category, take a look at the list of tasks you want to complete to determine what will have a deep impact (should have) and what will add less value (could-have). For example, you can add the dark mode feature to your app if you can.

4. Will not have

This category represents the lowest priority of the MoSCoW method and contains tasks that you should not work on within a particular budget and deadline. The presence or absence of wills has no impact on the completion and success of the whole project at this time, but it could in the future on this project, or another.

Creating this category allows you to leverage your focus and resources on the top three. For example, you can add a new security feature to your application through an update to fix software vulnerabilities.

Why should you use the MoSCoW method

The MoSCoW method is most effective when you want to include your team (or a few representatives) and other stakeholders to gain a broader perspective and eliminate the risk of bias.

Plus, this prioritization technique will help your team know how much resources and effort to put into each category to ensure the success of the entire project.

How to use the MoSCoW method using Trello

1. Bring the team together

Team members assess tasks

The first step in applying the MoSCoW technique is to bring together all the key players who will participate in the project. If you are working on a large project involving a lot of people, it can be chaotic getting everyone around the table. Instead, you can bring together a few team leaders or decision makers in the different departments related to the project.

2. List all tasks

Now that you’ve gathered all the people who will be involved in the project, it’s time to list all of your tasks. Let everyone participate and write down all the ideas without negotiations. You can create a master to-do list in an app like Trello for Tasks.

3. Categorize your tasks

Before you start to group all your tasks into each category, you can allocate financial and time resources for all the steps of the MoSCoW method to make sure you stay within your limits.

You can now chat with your team to rate the importance of each task and categorize them into their respective categories. Create all of the MoSCoW categories on your Trello board and assign each task accordingly.

You can also drag tasks into each category to organize them, starting with the first task you want to work on. Finally, you can assign a specific tag to each category to add clarity to your Trello board.

To download: Trello for Android | iOS (free and premium version available)

Improve your productivity using the MoSCoW method

Organizing all your tasks according to their priorities is a sure way to improve your productivity. You can use the MoSCoW method to ensure that you are using your resources on the tasks most relevant to your projects and to foster healthy teamwork in your organization.

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