MoSCoW Prioritisation and Timeboxing: Top 2 Agile Techniques

Date: 09/07/2024| Category: Agile|

On-time delivery is the El Dorado of project management. No one wants to be late for a key deadline. As the deadline approaches, and you’re running late, the project manager and the project teamwork work like crazy to stay on time. Everyone works late and comes in on weekends. This generates stress, overload, even burnout. There’s a better way to deliver on time. It’s called time-boxing.

What is a time-box?

A time-box has a fixed end date but the work to be done is variable. By using a time-box clear, pre-approved way of doing the essentia work needed for the project to be delivered. This can help you get back on track if you are running late.

Before the time-box starts, you need to list the work to be done, and then get agreement on how to prioritise it.

Time-box: Real-life example

Here’s an example, for a simple project that aimed to tidy up and repaint a garage. Without a time-box, you might list the needs in any order, perhaps in order of work:

  • Sort content of boxes
  • Recycle junk
  • Install new lighting
  • Buy new tools
  • Paint floor
  • Paint walls & ceiling
  • Paint woodwork

Without a time-box, if you run short of time, you may have to rush the last painting tasks. If you want to do a good job, you’ll be painting until midnight, and be completely stressed out…

By using a time-box, you can keep calm and avoid panic. You will focus on the essentials, and make sure that those essentials are delivered on time.
The trick is, before you start work, you should get the time-box agreed. You need to prioritise the list of needs.

Writing a List of Prioritisations

Following our example, we use a MoSCoW list of Prioritisation to determine the importance of our project’s deliverables.

Must have

  • Paint walls & ceiling
  • Paint woodwork
  • Recycle junk

Should have

  • Paint floor
  • Install new lighting

Could have

  • Sort content of boxes
  • Buy new tool

If we are a bit late, we will drop one or more items from the “could have” list. If we are seriously behind schedule, all the “could have” items and one or more “should have” items won’t get done. We will plan our work accordingly, with the “must-have” items early in the schedule and the “could have” items later.

The first time you use time-boxing, you might hit the problem that people can’t or won’t prioritise their needs. Your boss might say that everything is a top priority. Nothing is negotiable. That’s normally not true, especially if on-time delivery is important.

You may need to “educate” your boss. You may need to help people think about their real priorities.

Time-boxes in PRINCE2

If you are using a Project Management methodology like PRINCE2, you can add time-boxing to your work. In PRINCE2 terms, a stage or a work-package could be a time-box.

You commit to deliver on time (zero tolerance on time), but you have a lot of flexibility on what you deliver, using your prioritised list of needs (so you have high tolerance on scope).

Time-boxes in AgilePM

Another choice for methods is to move to an Agile method such as Agile ATERN (with an AgilePM certification), which is built around time-boxes and prioritised lists.

This method uses the acronym MoSCoW for “Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, Won’t Have” to help you remember to prioritise.


So if you are always rushing to hit your deadlines, you have a better way forward. You have a way to avoid last-minute stress and panic. If you need to deliver on time, then it’s time to start using time-boxes.

Article republished from Milestones by Jeff Ball


Jeff Ball

Sr. Project Manager

Jeff has 25 years of Project and Programme management experience. He has delivered end-to-end IT projects in challenging multi-cultural environments; As Programme and PMO Manager, Jeff has set up P3O structures at NEC Computers and Fortis Bank; and managed Programme offices for major enterprise transformation programmes at NEC Computers and BNP Investment Partners. He is a multilingual trainer for PRINCE2, MSP, P3O, MoP and AGILE Project Management, able to perform courses in English, and French.

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