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Applying Vision-Led Product Management in the real world.

A Product Manager's Guide to the Kano Model

Posted by Rajesh Nerlikar | September 26 2019

Kano Model Overview

The Kano Model is a theory developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano to categorize customer satisfaction of product benefits into different categories.  The key concepts include:

  • Customers will categorize the features / benefits of a product into 3 buckets:
    • Must Haves.  These are the features / benefits the product must have in order to remain a viable contender for my business.  For example, a personal must have when it comes to cars is a 5-star IIHS safety rating given we have young kids.
    • Performance.  These are features where customer satisfaction scales linearly with the amount of feature sophistication.  For example, a personal performance benefit when it comes to cars is fuel efficiency.  I'll be 10% more satisfied if a car provides 10% more miles per gallon than my current car.
    • Delighters.  These are features where customer satisfaction scales exponentially with feature sophistication.  For example, remote start is a personal delighter for me with cars because I can get the air conditioning going in the Texas heat and get the kids into the car seats while the AC is running, so they don't get sweaty and cranky.
  • Over time, delighters become performance factors and performance factors become must haves.  As customer expectations change, there are diminishing returns on performance factors (at some point, they become "good enough" and therefore a binary yes/no factor).  For example, with cars, I know at some point I'll think of mileage as a must have and expect something on the order of 32 mpg with my next car (also influenced by the regulations around fuel efficiency).  I also know that the remote start will become a performance factor for our next car (honestly, probably a must have - I can't imagine life without it now!).

Creating a Kano Model for Your Product

This article references a sophisticated survey you can run to determine how customers or prospects bucket your product's benefits / features, but it looks overwhelmingly complex, and it's not very useful for new product launches since you don't have any customers yet.  I think it's possible to create a Kano model through other sources of data such as:

  1. Competitive research.  Reviewing the marketing sites and actual products of others in your space should help you get a sense for the must haves (what do all the products have in common?).
  2. Qualitative interviews. You can ask questions like the one below.  This is, of course, a very simplified view of the interview questions but after talking to enough new customers, for your product and your competitors, you should be able to start bucketing the factors into must haves, performance and delighters.

Tell me about how you decided to buy this product you recently purchased.  What factors did you use to decide whether this product was right for you?

Using the Kano Model to Make Product Decisions

There are 3 ways you can use the Kano Model:

  1. Understanding Customers. In order to know whether a feature is considered a Must Have, Performance or Delighter, you must talk to customers and understand their perspective well. What you might find is that different customer segments categorize features / benefits differently, which might necessitate different products.
  2. Competitive Differentiation. As you’ll see in the example tables below, you can use the Kano model to determine how to compete against other products for customers. Of course, it’s important for product marketing to clearly communicate these differentiators.
  3. Prioritization. Once you’ve identified what features are Must Haves, Performance or Delighters, you can create a roadmap to prioritize any missing Must Haves first, then balance the rest of your product development efforts between Performance and Delighters. Deciding how to balance time depends on many factors, such as:
    1. The differentiation you need to win customers over.  If a delighter is a key point of differentiation, it’s high priority. In particular, don’t forget that you’re unlikely to catch up to a competitor who has a head start. You might even focus more on delighters knowing that they’ll become performance factors at some point.
    2. The level of effort.  Some must haves might be heavy lifts.  You might think about making them performance factors first, to create a "stepping stone" to the must have.  For example, an e-commerce company might start with 3-day shipping as a stepping stone on the way to getting to 1-day shipping, their ultimate must have destination.

Example: Video Conferencing

I do most of my work calls via Zoom.  I've found it to be the best in terms of audio and video quality, and it's pretty easy for people to join a call (desktop / mobile apps + a one-tap phone number).  In July, Zoom fixed a major security bug that changed the audio / video quality.  I felt like I was in those old Verizon commercials:

Can you hear me now?  How about now?

It was not only annoying but also unprofessional.  I work with technology companies!  How could my own tech not work well?  It was an embarrassing way to meet new people, so I entered the "Switching" chapter of my customer journey with Zoom and started looking around for alternatives by:

  • Asking members of The Prodify Guild what video conferencing tools they use
  • Looking up Zoom alternatives on TrustRadius
  • Testing other products
    • I happened to get invited to a client call via Google Hangouts around this time.  It had been a while since I used Google Hangouts, so I was excited to test the product as a viable (and cheaper) alternative to Zoom.  Unfortunately, the call quality was as bad as Zoom, if not worse.
    • Another client uses BlueJeans, and the quality was actually wasn't bad.

But I got lazy and figured I'd give the Zoom support team a chance to fix the issue.  In the end, I ended up staying with Zoom.  Let's take a look at my own personal Kano model when it comes to video conferencing products:

Kano model table for video conferencing products

Must Haves

These are the factors I'm looking for that are table stakes - that is, I wouldn't even consider a product that doesn't have a check mark on these.  Note that these are binary - yes or no, unlike performance factors, which operate on a scale.

  • Secure: There's a lot of sensitive information discussed on calls.  In 2019, I expect that unwanted people aren't going to be able to listen in.  I evaluate this based on whether they call out their security features on their marketing site.
  • 5-Star Mobile App:  I take some calls when I'm driving or on the go.  I need the mobile experience to work.  Notice how Google Hangouts got knocked out of my consideration set because Hangouts Meet has 2.7 stars in the App Store.
  • Screen Sharing: This is what separates video calls from phone calls.  Given how long screen sharing has existed, the quality is solid nowadays, so it's not a performance factor (ex. quality of screen sharing) like it might have been a few years ago.

Performance

These are features / benefits where my satisfaction scale linearly with the feature sophistication.

  • Audio / Video Quality: No one will complain about better audio / video quality.  We're not yet at a point where all the products are rock solid in this dimension, so I consider it a performance factor.  I know Zoom is one of the best, which is what prompted me to start looking around when I ran into quality issues in July.
  • Cost:  I'm not made of money.  This is a business expense, so I'm cost conscious.  Note that Google Hangouts would have been my preferred product if they performed better in other dimensions because it comes free with my Google Suite subscription.
  • Ease of Joining Call: I want my guests to have a simple experience in joining the call, so I appreciate features like one-tap dial in and integration with calendar products like Google and Outlook.
  • Ease of Adding Hosts: As we bring new people onto our team, I sometimes need to add them to our Zoom account so they can host their own calls.  Zoom makes it really easy to remove them if they no longer need to host after a few months.  I don't know how easy Google Hangouts or Bluejeans make this, but I'd hope they call it out on their marketing pages.

Delighters

  • Mobile Screen Sharing: This is a factor that prompted me to stop searching for a Zoom replacement (in addition to the audio / video quality issue being resolved).  I was doing some usability testing on this site and loved that I could ask people to share their screen on their mobile device to test their reactions to our responsive layout, and that I could still see their face while they were looking at the screen.  I'm not sure how good this is on the other two products as I've never tried it myself.
  • Background Changer: I got really excited when I heard Zoom announce the virtual background feature.  I thought about all the cool destinations I could emulate as ice breakers on intro calls, or funny starts to client calls.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the implementation - you pretty much have to have a green screen behind you for it to work properly...

Closing Thoughts

I wouldn't have written this if I didn't find the Kano Model to be a good framework for product managers.  What's really helpful is to do an exercise with teammates to create a Kano model.  Often the difference of opinion on must haves is at the root of a lot of product prioritization / strategy debates.  Getting alignment using customer data will help you and your team start moving faster.

Note: this post is an excerpt from a 13-page Google Doc we have in The Library.  The document clients have access to also includes more examples of competitive Kano model tables and instructions / a template for creating your own Kano model.  For information on becoming a Prodify client and gaining access to all of The Library, please contact us.

Topics: Strategic Planning, Market Research

Written by Rajesh Nerlikar

Rajesh is a co-founder of Prodify and Chief Product Advisor / Coach. Prior to that, he was the Director of Workplace Products at Morningstar, a Senior PM at HelloWallet, which was acquired by Morningstar, and a PM at Opower, which went public in 2014.

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