Kano Model and Release Planning

I am a regular attendee at the various meet-ups organised by different groups on meetup.com. All my groups revolve around technology, particularly Agile and product development. At one of these meet-ups, the speaker briefly mentioned the Kano model. My interest was aroused as I recalled having studied about it during MBA (and eventually forgotten). The speaker mentioned how the Kano model can be helpful in backlog prioritisation and release planning. That was enough for me to decide to learn more about it. This blog post is the result of that research.

I will briefly describe the model for those who are new to it. The Kano model is a technique developed by Prof. Noriaki Kano to identify customer needs and ways to satisfy them. While this model is studied with great interest by marketers in the making, it is equally important to product managers who would like to see their product grow in the market.

Kano Model

Image source: Wikipedia

The model plots the level of functionality provided on the X-axis and the customer satisfaction on the Y-axis. Customer needs (and the features developed to meet them) are divided as follows based on their position in the graph:

Basic Needs/ Dissatisfiers/ Must-be Quality/ Expected Needs/ Thresholds
All these terms are used to describe the needs (or features satisfying these needs) that fall in this category. This is the minimum level that must be met in order to enter the market. Even though they cannot satisfy a customer all by themselves, their lack may cause significant dissatisfaction or, possibly, abandonment of the product. For example the ability to send text messages from a phone. These needs correspond to “hygiene factors” in Herzberg’s Two-factor theory. When entering a market, even a small increment in functionality increases satisfaction by a significant amount. However, once a basic level of satisfaction has been achieved, the needle on satisfaction hardly moves by subsequent increments. On the positive side, once you reach the threshold, you don’t need significant investment to sustain it.

Performance Needs/ Satisfiers/ One-dimensional Quality/ Normal Needs
Needs that have a direct correlation of satisfaction with the increment of change in functionality fall in this category. The more a product has of these, the more is the satisfaction. An example for this is the battery life of a phone (even though most of us usually change our phones before the battery’s life comes to an end). Based on the cash position of the company and its marketing strategy, it can continue to pour money into these type of needs and keep increasing its customers satisfaction proportionally.

Exciting Needs/ Delighters/ Attractive Quality
These needs are those that the customer is not necessarily aware of and is not expecting. But, they provide the “wow-factor” to customer experience and increase the likelihood of repeat purchase. Their absence does not decrease customer satisfaction but presence greatly increases it. These needs correspond to “motivators” in Herzberg’s Two-factor theory. For example, a free extended warranty plan with your phone. Over time, as competition matches your delighters, they could turn into basic needs. An example could be the front camera on a phone which was an exciting need a few years back but a phone without one would barely be able to make a sale today.

Indifferent Quality
The customers are indifferent to the presence or absence of these qualities and they do not affect his satisfaction. For example, (under normal circumstances) the quality of the box the phone is sold in.

Reverse Quality
As weird as it may seem, the presence of these “qualities” makes the product less desirable to the customer and affects his satisfaction adversely. For example, the iPhone 6 had a protruding camera to accommodate better optics but it was disliked by a lot of users worldwide.

Now how can we use the Kano Model for better Release planning and Backlog grooming? To start with, it might make sense to remove features that are perceived to fall under Reverse Quality or Indifferent Quality. You might not know these features upfront which is why market validation and lean analytics go a long way in identifying such features. You can choose to open the throttle on Satisfiers and Delighters based on your financial situation and your market strategies around your customer base (whether you want to expand it, retain it, consolidate it, etc.). However, it is worth investing in features that satisfy basic needs before going all out on delighters. Nobody has ever bought a car without a provision for spare tyre in the boot even if it had all the power under the bonnet!

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