Kano Prioritization Model - Definition, Origins, How it works

Find out all about the Kano Prioritization model. Learn what it is, how it came into being and how the model works in detail.

What is the Kano Prioritization model?

The Kano prioritization model is a method to prioritize pending tasks based on how much they will satisfy customers. The product backlog is bound to have a large number of items. However, not every one of them needs to be accomplished fast to make a good product. When using Kano, teams add items to their product roadmap depending on the expected degree of satisfaction and the cost.

Using the Kano prioritization model, teams can decide which initiatives to take up with ease. The customer's satisfaction is kept as the main priority in this case. A lot of product managers group product features into categories and prioritize them using the Kano model. Usually, they place features in many buckets such as the ones customers will love and those that would disappoint them.

Not many other models consider the customer's satisfaction as the main deciding factor. This makes the Kano model quite unique in comparison. Although there are others which consider customer satisfaction as one of the factors, only the Kano model gives it so much priority.

History of the Kano Model

So, how did the Kano model come into being? Well over 30 years ago, in 1984, Dr. Noriaki Kano invented this model. A Professor of Quality Management at the Tokyo University of Sciences, he came up with this while researching the factors that affect customer satisfaction.

Some people believe that the more features a product has, the happier a customer is bound to be. However, Dr. Kano said that it's not the case. The Kano prioritization shows that some features will never have a positive impact on customers. There were also others, which don't make much of a difference to the customer's satisfaction if present, but their absence was felt strongly. These were the 'basic' features.

Similarly, the Kano model identifies five different categories of customer satisfaction. The product managers take up features depending on this. Let's understand what these are and how exactly the Kano model works below.

How the Kano prioritization model works

Teams prioritize features based on the customer satisfaction levels and cost while using this model. A set of potential new features which will take up space on the product roadmap are listed together. These are then weighed based on the basis of the satisfaction and cost, the two criteria. In a way, the Kano model is an approach to measure the customer delight vs the investment in implementation.

The customer satisfaction, when using the Kano model, ranges from total satisfaction to total dissatisfaction. Total satisfaction is also called delight or excitement. Total dissatisfaction, as you may have figured out, is also called frustration. The exact five categories are:

  1. Delighted
  2. Satisfied
  3. Neutral
  4. Dissatisfied
  5. Frustrated

The other parameter used for weighing is the functionality. This is also known as investment, implementation or sophistication.

Functionality is also classified in the following five categories:

  1. None
  2. Some
  3. Basic
  4. Good
  5. Best

Now, given that some functions may be absolutely necessary but not impress customers, the scale isn't always linear.

Let's understand what we mean by this, and how to apply these criteria, below.

Four Feature Categories of the Kano model

The graph of satisfaction vs functionality below shows how the model applies in prioritization. The horizontal axis shows the level of functionality whereas the vertical one shows the satisfaction level. Functionality ranges from None to Best, going from Left to Right. Satisfaction goes from Delighted at the top to Frustrated at the bottom.

kano prioritization

The model classifies initiatives into the following four categories. This is based on where they lie on the satisfaction vs implementation scale.

1. Linear, Performance or One-Dimensional features

As the name suggests, these are features where the satisfaction and functionality align with each other. The more features you provide, the more satisfied your customers will be. For example, the gas mileage when buying a new car or the speed of your internet connection. The better these are, the more satisfied your customers. It means that these are worth the investment you put into them. Hence, these form a straight diagonal line on the graph.

2. Must-be or Basic

These are the features which the customer simply expects to be there. Lack of these results in the product being drab and results in customer dissatisfaction. However, they also don't make the customers particularly happy or increase satisfaction if they are there. Take something like car brakes, for example.

For these features, the satisfaction curve shows that even a little investment has a great effect. But, satisfaction also doesn't reach the positive side, so there's no way of making the customer 'more' satisfied with it. You also don't have to keep investing in these features which is a plus.

3. Attractive, Exciting or Delightful

These are features which aren't expected, but increase customer satisfaction. Everything from mild to absolutely attractive features fall in this category. You can consider the improvements made to smartphones over time as an example.

With some level of increase in functionality, the satisfaction rises a lot for these. It also means that you can stop after a certain point as any new additions would simply be overkill.

4. Indifferent or Neutral

These are features whose presence or lack thereof doesn't make a difference to the customer reaction. In the graph, these are the ones which lie along the horizontal axis. No matter how much investment you make in them, they don't make a difference to the users at all. On the other hand, they are a loss of investment, so you should avoid putting money into them.


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