Think of a smartphone.
While all smartphones enable users to send SMS, make calls, and browse the internet, smartphone manufacturers go to extreme lengths to distinguish themselves from each other. They do this by introducing features unique to their respective brand.
However, they understand that no one would buy a smartphone if it didn’t have the capability to make voice calls. In such a compact device, the manufacturers have to determine which combination of essential and unique features will make their smartphone stand out.
All products and services, whether digital or physical, consist of individual features that contribute to a customer’s overall experience. Some features are absolutely necessary that no customer would buy the product without them. Some features are intended to surprise and delight customers. These are the features that help companies succeed over their competitors.
Product managers are always faced with the challenge of prioritizing which new feature to introduce or an existing one to improve. In product management, the Kano Model (pronounced “Kah-no”) is the appropriate tool for feature prioritization by establishing the relationship between customer satisfaction and the degree of functionality or execution required in building each and every product feature.
In this guide, we discuss what the Kano Model is and how to use it. This article is particularly useful to product managers and specialists looking to build and reassess their product roadmap. You can use the Kano Model whether your product already exists in the market or it’s still under conceptualization or development.
What is the Kano Model?
The Kano Model is a framework or approach in product development and management used in prioritizing product features. As a feature prioritization framework, the Kano Model helps product teams articulate the relationship between satisfaction and functionality.
Following the Kano Model, the goal of product teams should be to increase customer satisfaction — which can even be further elevated to delight or excitement. At the same time, the Kano Model asks product teams to assess how much of the feature the user gets, which the Kano Model refers to as functionality. Functionality accounts for the degree of effort or execution in developing each feature, the amount of investment, and even the quality of the implementation.
The relationship between these two is visualized in the Kano Model template (illustrated below) whereby Satisfaction is represented as the y-axis vs and Functionality is represented as the x-axis.
In deploying the Kano Model, product teams will be able to identify and separate product features into five (5) categories: Basic, Performance, Excitement, Indifferent, and Dissatisfaction.
Basic Features (also called Must-be or Threshold Features)
These are features that customers expect and must be included in the product. When implemented excellently, customers remain neutral. Customer satisfaction decreases when it’s absent or poorly done.
Examples of Basic Features for a smartphone: Send SMS, make phone, calls, browse the internet
Performance Features (also called One-dimensional Features)
These are features that directly or proportionally increase customer satisfaction the more you invest and put more effort in its execution or functionality.
Examples of Performance Features for a smartphone: Longer battery life, higher camera resolution, increased storage capacity
Excitement Features (also called Attractive Features)
These are features that result in a disproportionate increase in customer satisfaction — and cause delight — when present in the product. As customers don’t expect these features, its absence is unlikely to decrease satisfaction. However, the more you invest in them, the more they’re likely to dramatically increase customer satisfaction and delight.
Examples of Excitement Features for a smartphone: Facial recognition capability of being able to recognize its user even while they’re wearing their face mask, screen-time monitoring that informs users how many hours they used their phone in the past week
The presence or absence of these features doesn’t impact the customer’s appreciation of the product. When the feature is available, investing more in its functionality is unlikely to increase customer satisfaction.
Examples of Indifferent Features for a smartphone: Increased range of emojis and emoticons, additional ringtone options, availability of more font types
Dissatisfaction Features (also called Reverse Features)
Customers prefer that these features are absent from the product. For instance, there was once a smartphone that had a built-in projector, which obviously did not rise to popularity. Customer satisfaction increases when these unliked features are removed.
Dissatisfaction could also occur when a well-liked feature is taken away. For example, some smartphone makers have recently decided not to include chargers upon the purchase of their phone, a move which has received some criticism.
Additional examples of Dissatisfaction Features for a smartphone: Location-sharing feature for certain apps that can’t be turned off, persistent text auto-complete
How to use the Kano Model
The Kano Model process starts by identifying and listing down all product features. This includes features that are already available (if the product already exists) and features you may wish to introduce (if the product is still under conceptualization or development).
Then, gather as much information as you can, preferably quantitative data, on how customers rate each feature based on the satisfaction they derive (or could derive). Practitioners of the Kano model typically employ customer surveys for this. Today’s questionnaires for the Kano Model vary but Dr. Noriaki Kano’s original standardized questionnaire (table below) remains useful.
|The standardized questionnaire|
|I like it||I expect it||I am neutral||I can tolerate it||I dislike it|
|How would you feel if the product had this feature?|
How would you feel if there was more of this feature
|How would you feel if the product did not have this feature?|
|How would you feel if there was less of this feature?|
Note how the questionnaire asks customers how they would feel about the presence (“functional”) and absence (“dysfunctional”) of each feature. The table below shows the most common permutations of answers to the standard questionnaire of the Kano study.
|The most common permutations of answers to the standard questionnaire of the Kano study|
|I expect it||+||I dislike it||Basic Feature|
|I like it||+||I dislike it||Performance Feature|
|I like it||+||I am neutral||Excitement Feature|
|I am neutral||+||I am neutral||Indifferent Feature|
|I dislike it||+||I expect it||Dissatisfaction Feature|
Based on the aggregate results for every feature, you can then write or pin each product feature to the Kano Model template. As a best practice in the Kano Model exercise, it’s ideal to visualize your output (example below).
Source: Kano+, The Kano model
How does the Kano Model contribute to your product roadmap
When you have sorted your list of features into the five Kano Model categories, here are a few principles to follow for your product roadmap.
- Implement all Basic Features
It’s important to do these features well (i.e. high degree of functionality) even if your users may not be excited about them. They may not even notice how well-implemented these basic features are. Dr. Kano called these “Must-be” Features for a good reason: these features must be in the product and they must be executed well.
It may also be possible that you’ll have to drop some Performance or Excitement Features if these decrease the degree of functionality for your Basic Features.
- Implement some Performance Features and one or two Excitement Features
These are the features that will give your product an edge over your competitors. If your resources permit you, implement these features with as much functionality as your team can afford. With constrained resources, don’t feel bad if you’re unable to introduce all Performance and Excitement features.
- Discard all Indifferent and Dissatisfaction Features
These features will not contribute to customer satisfaction. At some point in the future (but not immediately), reassess if it’s possible that tweaks to these features can transform them into Basic, Performance, or even Excitement Features.
- Pay attention to the financial cost of delivering Performance and Excitement Features
Prioritize features that your customers are able to pay for while retaining an acceptable profit margin.
Additional tips for your Kano Model exercise
Running a Kano Model study will require a bit of strategy and thoughtful planning. Here are some additional tips when doing a Kano Model exercise:
- Avoid doing the Kano Model on your own. This exercise is done best with the input of your customers, preferably through a structured and quantitative survey. You may be surprised to find out that some product features you may think of as Performance or Excitement ones may actually be Basic Features.
- When doing your Kano study with sample customers, you will likely not have the luxury of asking them about your complete list of product features. Choose only the features that users receive meaningful benefit from.
- Product managers should keep in mind that features can degrade as a result of development, inaction, and evolving customer expectations. For instance, Excitement Features can become either Performance or Basic Features within a couple of years. For instance, recall the time when we were all excited when our phones were able to record videos, not just take photos. Today, being able to film through our smartphone camera is already expected.
What are the benefits of using the Kano Model?
Businesses can sometimes get overwhelmed by the abundance of product management frameworks out there. Even the Kano Model is just one of a few prioritization techniques that product managers could employ.
Here are some of the key reasons why you should consider using the Kano Model for your product:
- The exercise of building a Kano Model forces product teams to articulate the justification for every feature they’re considering.
- The Kano Model can be applied to digital and non-digital products and services. It can also be used at any stage of the product life-cycle.
- The Kano Model is particularly useful for organizations with minimal or constrained resources (e.g. time, budget) to help them more efficiently allocate their effort.
Integrate the Kano Model into your product roadmap
While there’s no singular approach to achieve success for any given product, the Kano Model is a simple technique to methodically discover which features should be a priority based on customer satisfaction.
Frameworks such as the Kano Model, when applied to specific issues, are extremely helpful for product teams. This is why we also recommend that product managers learn about other product development and management tools such as the Opportunity Solution Tree and the Job to Be Done Canvas.
Product development is a journey. The Kano Model specifically acknowledges that businesses have limited resources and not all desired or ideal features can be incorporated into the product — at least not immediately. Hence, we highly recommend that businesses integrate the outputs of their Kano Model exercise into their product roadmap.