The Kano Model Explained (with Examples)

The Kano Model Explained (with examples)

Wondering “What is the Kano model?” On top of that, are you considering using the Kano model in product development?

In this article, we’ll answer all the pressing questions and more. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll know exactly if the Kano model fits your product development processes and whether it would be a good addition to your day-to-day job as a product manager.

What is the Kano model?

The Kano model is a product development analysis tool that helps you understand customer preferences and the perceived value of your product’s features.

It categorizes customer preferences into five groups:

  1. Must-have features: If you don’t have them in your product, the customer will be highly dissatisfied. At the same time, the customer takes those features for granted so they won’t contribute to their satisfaction level.
  2. One-dimensional features: Your customers compare those features when deciding between you and your competition. These features are directly proportional to customer satisfaction. The more of them you have, the more satisfied your customer becomes.
  3. Reverse features: The opposite of one-dimensional features. These features annoy your customers. The more of them you include, the higher the dissatisfaction gets.
  4. Attractive features: Your customers don’t expect those features, but if you include them in your product, they can lead to exponential satisfaction growth. On the other hand, their absence won’t negatively affect customer satisfaction.
  5. Indifferent features: Your customers don’t care about those features. Not having them doesn’t cause dissatisfaction either.

Say you’re a product manager of an absence management app, trying to choose between building a Slack integration or an internal chat for the users. You don’t have the budget and time to handle both of them next quarter (and you don’t know if it makes sense at all).

The Kano model will help you prioritize features based on their potential impact on customer satisfaction and, ultimately, the return on investment in the product’s growth.

You now understand the theory – let us show you how to apply the Kano model in practice:

How is Kano used in product development?

Implementing the Kano model should consist of five steps:

  1. Select the features to consider
  2. Survey your customers
  3. Categorize answers
  4. Collate your data
  5. Prioritize the features

Here is how to tackle each one:

  1. Select the features to consider 🗒️

A crucial part of this step is gathering all the planned features in one place. This should involve not only your backlog but also places like:

  • Customer support chats
  • Customer calls
  • Slack channels
  • Real-life conversations

This clear overview will allow you to organize the process and not miss out on any critical insights not captured in your project management software.

  1. Survey your customers 🧑‍🤝‍🧑

Once you have identified all the to-be-done features, you need to ask your customers how they feel about them in a standardized way.

The Kano model proposes a pair of questions you should include for each feature in your surveys:

  • The functional question: Ask your customers how they’d feel if a specific feature was present in your product. 
  • The dysfunctional question: Ask your customers how they’d feel if a specific feature was missing from your product.

Your customer should answer each pair of questions on a linear scale with five possible choices:

  • I like it
  • I expect it
  • I am neutral
  • I can tolerate it
  • I dislike it

For example, using the Kano model to plan your absence management app, you should ask your customer two questions:

  1. How would you feel if the product allowed you to send absence notices via Slack?
  2. How would you feel if the product didn’t allow you to send absence notices via Slack?

This can help you organize your customers’ opinions and evaluate them. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Categorize the answers 📊

Once you get both responses from the customer, you should evaluate them using the Kano Evaluation Table:

You take the customer’s answer to your functional and dysfunctional questions and reference the table to determine the feature’s category. As detailed earlier, the category is signified by the first letter of its name:

  • “M” for “Must-have features”
  • “A” for “Attractive features”
  • “P” for “Performance features”
  • “R” for “Reverse features”
  • “I” for “Indifferent features”

For example, if your customers answered that they “like” being able to send absence notices via Slack and they’d “tolerate” if they didn’t have this feature, you categorize this feature as “attractive.”

You might’ve noticed another category we haven’t covered: questionable features. These features don’t belong to any categories as your customer gave conflicting answers to the questions about them.

If your customer said they’d like the Slack integration to be both present and absent from the app, you can’t draw any logical conclusions. This is when the feature becomes “questionable.”

  1. Collate the data and prioritize your work 🏷️

Here, you gather each feature’s category count and compare them.

Say you plan to implement five features in your absence management app next quarter. You surveyed ten customers about them and gathered their opinions. Your data might look like this:

AttractivePerformanceMust-haveIndifferentReverse
Slack absence notice73000
Custom messages08110
Scheduled notice delivery09100
“Document opened” notification001000
Internal team chats00181

You can see that 7/10 customers described the ability to send absence notices via Slack as a “delighter.” On the other hand, you can see that 8/10 people are indifferent to the chat functionality inside your app.

This allows you to prioritize the features and organize the upcoming tasks. Here are the best prioritization practices for the Kano model:

  • Start with the must-haves: Your customers expect to see these, so you must deliver them as soon as possible.
  • Include as many performance features as possible: Your customers are looking for those features when comparing your app to the competitors.
  • Add attractive features: Include a few attractive features that answer a clear customer pain point and help them reach the “Aha! Moment” faster.
  • Remove any reverse features (if you have any).
  • Ignore indifferent features.

Should I use Kano in my work?

You know how the Kano model works and how to implement it. The question is: should you do it? Here are three use cases for and against Kano:

Pro 1: You have limited time and resources

The Kano model is relatively straightforward and can quickly provide clear guidance on prioritizing the right features to work on.

The model is repeatable, too, allowing you to conduct continuous research, spot market trends, and monitor changing expectations about your product.

For example, for your absence management app, the Slack integration may have become so widespread among your competition that it turns into a performance feature, not an attractive one. You can use this knowledge and adjust your product roadmap accordingly.

Pro 2: You want to find your customer’s “Aha! Moment”

The Kano model allows you to quickly spot the Jobs to be done for your product and tell you which features communicate them best. It can help you prioritize the features that help your customers reach the “Aha! Moment” faster.

Returning to our previous example, say the survey highlighted that your users appreciate the consolidation of absence data from various departments. 

Using this insight, you can rearrange the tasks in the pipeline to prioritize features that enhance data visualization. More precise and organized data may improve the user experience, leading to more positive reviews and a higher NPS score. 

Pro 3: You need to define the features of your MVP

The Kano model informs you about your users’ sentiment towards certain features. During the MVP development, this information can help you eliminate all the features your customers can live without, clarifying the core functionality your app should have.

Say you and your team wonder if you should include the sign-up with a Google/Microsoft account in your MVP. The Kano model will quickly reveal how your users feel about this feature or its absence and remove guesswork inside the team.

We saw when Kano could be useful - now let’s check a few situations when it might not be the wisest to deploy it. 

Con 1: You have a long list of features to prioritize

Because of how the Kano model is structured, you may find it difficult to interview your customers about a long list of features. They might feel overwhelmed having to respond to 60 questions (the functional and dysfunctional ones for each feature).

Scale down the number of features being tested to keep your Kano session focused and minimize the effort for your users.

Con 2: You don’t know exactly how the customers use the product

The Kano model requires you to ask specific questions about real-life use cases of your product. If you don’t know how your customers use the product, coming up with relevant questions that give you enough information might be impossible.

Say the design team for your app asks about a made-up scenario that doesn’t reflect how your users actually use the product. This may confuse the users filling in the survey, leading to inconsistent (or entirely wrong) data.

Make sure to validate all the use scenarios with supplementary research. This will help you establish the as-is situation.

Con 3: You need a stable stream of data

The Kano model isn’t about definitive numbers or stable research methodologies. It’s a quick, lean method for roadmap prioritization or identifying new feature opportunities that might give you an edge over the competition.

When you need more precise data about specific aspects of your product, you might consider using more accurate models, such as Conjoint Analysis, Quality Function Deployment (QFD), or the Voice of the Customer (VoC) framework.

Each model has unique advantages and can provide a more rigorous understanding of customer needs and preferences than the Kano model, which might be more suited for early-stage ideation and prioritization.

The PM’s hot take

As unprecedented as it might be, we are bringing in several Fibery in-house voices for our verdict on the Kano model:

The reasoning behind the model makes sense and I think we all implicitly use it when prioritizing features. Would I use this as my primary prioritization method? Absolutely not.

Anton Iokov, Head of Product

While I like Kano model simplicity, I failed to apply it cohesively for the large product. It still frames your thoughts about users needs in a good way, but it is not enough to make decisions about priorities and feature roadmaps.

Michael Dubakov, CEO

I haven’t used this model before. I just watched people struggle with it :)

productmonkey at Fibery

Kano has the advantage over a lot of other prioritization models in that it allows for identifying features that could have a negative impact. Most other methods assume that everything you work on will be beneficial (by a lot or a little).

Chris Gibbs, Solution architect

Conclusion

The Kano model helps you go beyond features – it empowers you to prioritize the work on your product based on customers’ emotions, needs, and pain points. 

While using the Kano model, keep in mind that this model gives you immediate insights into your users’ sentiment towards specific features. Treat it as a vital signal that informs your strategy, but don’t rely on it in every aspect of your product development.

If you want to start using Kano immediately, check out Fibery’s guide for interviewing and surveying users with the Kano model. And, if you already have completed the first surveys and need a place to organize the work, sign up for a free Fibery trial and use our integrated Kano classification features.

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