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Using the Kano Model in product development

When is Kano useful?

1. Generally, Kano is useful before you build loads of stuff. For example, when you're in the scoping phase of a Minimum Viable Product, or maybe a major overhaul of your product that will have significant changes, or maybe a large feature with sub-components that you could treat independently.

Kano is a way of assessing the potential features and understanding how users will perceive them - this helps you decide what to include and what to leave out. It goes hand in hand with other prioritisation techniques that help with sequencing.

You want to make sure you're covering the basics (ie not leaving anyone disappointed because the essentials are lacking), while also giving people something to get excited about.

2. If you're already got a product that's OK too! You can run a Kano survey now to test your current featureset and understand your current balance. You will be able to see which category of features you're missing out on, and which ones you're over-indexing on.

You can repeat these surveys over time to see how attitudes and perceptions drift over time. What was once a Delighter will one day be a Must-have.

3. You can also run a survey about features that competitors have so you can see how they're appealing to your market. Perhaps they have a feature that you've always ignored but it turns out to be a Must-have: that's hugely valuable insight to have.

How should I respond to the difference categories?

  • Must-haves: these are pretty simple - you must have them! These are things that will block your customers from using your product. However it's probably a little more nuanced than that - some must-haves will only apply to certain segments of your audience rather than everyone.

    Generally you should build as many of these as is suitable for your segment of the market, to a reasonable degree of performance - if you can find a more lightweight way of achieving the same outcome for users, or some sort of workaround you can explore those too.

  • Performance: the value of these should correlate with the quality of the execution of the feature. This means you'll need a way of measuring how well your version of the feature is being received by users. This could be usage metrics, repeat usage / retention metrics or separate qualitative surveys like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT).

    If your product has no performance features, it will appear to users as a 'barebones' tool, a basic and simple thing that should probably be cheap. Performance features are where users can see the value in what they're paying for.

  • Delighters: these are the icing on the cake. They can trigger "wow" moments in your users that can drive conversions and word of mouth referrals. These should give you an insight into the things that are not required for your product to be useful, but this is what your market really enjoys. Some of these things will be simple and cheap to implement, some will be a serious investment. Your investment in delighters will be partly driven by your marketing strategy, and your brand's tone of voice.

  • Indifferent: you can ignore these. Users don't care if you have these features or not. For some reason users are not seeing the value in these features. They probably don't solve any core problems.

  • Reverse: you should tread carefully with reverse features. If you add them some people will explicitly dislike them and it may spoil the overall perception of your product. Generally this applies to how a particular feature is implemented vs the actual user outcome that it achieves. However there might be some features that are too separate from the core purpose of the product and it gives users the wrong impression, or makes them worry about the future direction of the product.

    The final consideration is that it may not be all users that dislike a feature, it might just be a particular segment that is used to something different.

  • Unknown: this is where the answers don't make sense and so all we can really get from this category is that the feature needs further refinement so that users really understand the proposition and the value.

What should I actually build?

Don't just build only the Must-haves, or your product won't be very exciting.

Similarly, don't just build only the Delighters or your product won't meet your customers' basic expectations. Delight is only possible after the product has done what the user expects it to (which is usually what they're paying for!).

You can safely ignore Unknown, Indifferent and Reverse features, which leaves Must-haves, Performance and Delighters.

Start with the Must-haves. You've got to have a decent selection that meets the core needs for a particular segment of your market. It could be a small segment, so the list of must-haves could be very short. That's fine. You can always expand it later. Lean / Agile product develop suggests starting small and validating before you expand to include more functionality. Choosing these features might be simple because you've already got your market positioning sorted, or this could be how you decide on where you're going to play in the market and who your competitors will be.

Next is performance and delighter features. These things drive the differentiation from your competitors. They convey your brand and underpin the value in the product. Almost all differentiation falls along three broad axes: cheaper, faster, or better (and you usually can't have more than two at the same time!). Look at your competitors (as defined by your must-haves), and look at where they are weak and you can be strong.

Performance features underpin the value in the product. This is the "faster", "better" part of differentiation. Think of these as variable must-haves: if they're not there, that's the same as being there but being very low quality - users will be unhappy. You may want to raise the level of performance to meet your competitors, or exceed them (to steal customers or charge a higher price), or even beneath your competitors as part of a cheaper pricing strategy.

Delighter features make the product fun to use, memorable and shareable. Almost by definition your competitors won't have these - if they do then the features are slipping into 'must-have' territory. Use these as opportunities for retention and growth. If your brand is playful and not serious you can go all out.


  1. Build enough must-haves to meet the needs of your target market

  2. Build performance features to the level that justifies your price

  3. Build delighters to convey your brand and differentiate from competitors

The choice of which features to include is ultimately about balancing your investment, the type of product you want to build and how you want to position it in the market. Read more about using Kano to design your minimum viable product.