Prioritization – Part 3: The Kano Model

Being a Product Manager and an Agile enthusiast, I spend a lot of time and energy working on prioritization.  It is both an art and a science to make sure that you and your team are working on the most important thing.  The first in this blog series on prioritization answered the question “Should we do this at all?”  and the second shared different tools to help with prioritization, specifically MoSCoW and the Risk-Value Relationship.  In this blog, we will tackle the Kano model, which holds a special place in my Agile story.  I first learned about it when I was doing research for our Agile textbook.  It then found its way into Businessolver and was a part of the story regarding how we addressed our Product Roadmap.  Very cool.

Kano Model Explained

First introduced in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano, it is a great tool for Product Managers to use when assessing different kinds of value.  The vertical axis represents satisfaction.  The higher you are, the more satisfied you are – one might say ‘delighted’ to put it into Businessolver terms.  The horizontal axis represents how well something is done.

Source: Businessolver

Source: Businessolver

Looking at the grey line first, these are basic needs – the ‘must haves.’  Thinking in terms of a hotel experience, we expect there to be hot water.  Hot water is table stakes for a hotel experience.  If you don’t have hot water, meaning the establishment didn’t do it well, then you are highly dissatisfied.  However, if the hotel did have hot water, meaning they performed that function very well, it does not delight you.  It is expected, so when done well, it doesn’t even register in your mind.

The blue line represents performance needs.  This could be the check-in process at the hotel.  It has the opportunity to dissatisfy – if the lines were long, the desk clerk inefficient or your room wasn’t ready – those circumstances could be very disappointing.  Conversely if they recognize you when you walk in and you are greeted with speed and efficiency, then you might be pleasantly surprised, heading towards delighted.

The orange line, the Delight line, is altogether different.  These are the true competitive differentiators – the things that are unexpected.  If you return to your hotel tonight and you are greeted with warm cookies and a cold glass of milk, that is pretty cool and wouldn’t be expected from the regular hotel experience.  Because this is unexpected, it really doesn’t matter if the cookies don’t taste great – meaning the hotel didn’t do it very well – because you are still surprised so you are still more satisfied than if the cookies hadn’t been delivered at all.  And if the cookies are fantastic, well, then you are wonderfully satisfied and your delight will probably result in repeat visits to this hotel and loads of free advertising by you telling your friends about it.

How does the Kano model impact a Product Roadmap?  Because Product Managers continually strive to have the right balance between Basic Needs, Performance Needs and Excitement Needs.  If you spend all of your time on the basic needs so everything works but there is no pizazz, then you have nothing to separate you from the competition.  Conversely, if you spent all of your resources on Delight items, but your basic needs aren’t covered, then you have an eye-catching platform that doesn’t really work.  A good Product Manager will always focus on every aspect of Delight, striving to find the perfect balance between all of the needs.

The Kano Evolution

One final word about the Kano model – Delighters become basic needs over time.  As competition catches up, things that were once unique and appealing become expected.  As an example, think back to the very first iPad you saw.  The swipe capability was awe-inspiring.  People would just flip pages on their iPad because it was so cool.  It was a true delighter.  Now, if you buy a tablet and it doesn’t have swiping, you are immediately dissatisfied because it has become a basic need.  This speaks to the need for continuous innovation.  Product Managers must always seek something better, more unique and more innovative to capture the market’s attention.


Prioritization can be tricky and many teams struggle with this critical aspect of allocating resources.  This blog series is dedicated to sharing different tips and tricks to help you and your team make the best decisions possible.  We hope that the information is helpful.  Thanks so much for reading!


One Response to Prioritization – Part 3: The Kano Model

  1. Whether it be spreadsheets or Kano analysis, feature prioritization can be tricky. I call them “left brain” approaches to product decisions. The highest “rated” features may actually be terrible choices for including in your product.

    The main reason is that a product – and every feature in it – needs to embody a coherent value proposition. Evaluating a feature in isolation doesn’t take this factor into account. For example, for a word processing app, I might find through Kano analysis that a new feature that sings a selected line of text would surprise and delight users. But what if the product is positioned as a serious enterprise tool? While the feature might surprise and delight, it would undermine the value proposition of the product.

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