Prioritizing Your Product Features with the MoSCoW Method

Andrew Verboncouer
Prioritizing Your Product Features with the MoSCoW Method

What you don’t do is more important than what you do

Whenever building software, it’s easy to think that more features and more bells & whistles equate to more value for your customers. But that’s rarely the case. When more things are added into your product and it tries to be too many things to too many people, you can add features that add to initial confusion and overwhelm your customers during onboarding.

The first step to clarity is gaining an understanding who your customers are, what journey they’re on, and what they are looking to gain by hiring your product. Once you’ve identified the problems to solve and opportunities to help make their life better, you can start proposing potential solutions and start validating.

It’s far better to focus on doing one, maybe two things really well and focus solving that better than any competitor or substitute that currently exists. As you deliver on the value and promise of your product or brand, you can observe your customer needs better, understand their behavior, and identify better ways to add more value.

"Life's too short to build something nobody wants." - Ash Maurya

The only constant is change

This couldn’t be truer in startups and new product development.

Founders and teams come to the table with a plethora of bias and assumptions about their customers, their market, and their product.

One framework and method use throughout the product lifecycle with our clients, is MoSCoW Prioritization. It’s an acronym for, Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have.

You may be familiar with other similar methods of placing priority, for example; based on High, Medium, or Low. These types of tags and discussions are similar, but miss the mark when it comes to looking at them from the perspective of a customer.

When having your discussions around priority, keeping the customer centric lens is essential. Without it, you’re priorities will most likely represent the preferences of your team, not the end experience you’re creating.

Building on a strong foundation of value

As we build new software products, it’s often times for a dual purpose. The first and most important is prioritizing which features provide the most value. While showing value to potential customers and helping sell and validate on prototypes, we help cast the vision the product could have 1-3-5 years down the road to potential investors or internal stakeholders. Both are important because one sets you up for short-term success, and the other helps you get essential buy-in for funding, support, and dissemination.

The whole concept is simple: keep your product lean and focused.

Build what you’re most confident will provide valuable outcomes for your customers. As your product is alive in your customers’ hands, you can observe their behavior, have conversations with them about what’s working and what’s not, and analyze usage metrics to see if you’re delivering on your promises.

Part of the lean startup methodology is paring down your grand product vision into one that can focus on the highest point of pain, most reduction of risk, or deliver the most value or time savings.

The MoSCoW method

The MoSCoW lens helps to organize thoughts and features - and lower the risk of building the wrong thing.

Must Have features are ones that need to be in the highest fidelity possible.

Should Have features will provide value to your company and users, but the level of fidelity, polish, and UX is flexible.

Could Have features are ones that might make it into your product but are really nice to haves and provide some value, but not enough to be the core of your product.

Won’t Have features are ones that the team agrees should be in a future phase of the product should the data hold up, but won’t be a part of this version of your product.

Using MoSCoW as your product matures

The beauty of this framework is that it works as well on day 1 as it does on day 1000 of your product. Your teams may split and specialize in parts of your product instead of the whole, but you can gain clarity across your organization and features through one product journey.

We use and recommend a tool called Stories On Board for roadmap prioritization, while not the greatest user experience in some cases, it’s a great tool that helps bring the product, design, and development together.

You can create multiple swim lanes for questions, future features/nice to haves, and have conversations around how your features deliver the outcomes your customers desire.


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