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The Kano Model Applied to the MVP

The Kano model, developed by Noriaki Kano in the 1980s, is an excellent tool for breaking down product features and understanding customer satisfaction. Briefly, the Kano Model breaks product features down into five categories and demonstrates how they relate to customer satisfaction.

Basic (must-be) qualities

Basic qualities are the core qualities your product must have or the customer will be dissatisfied. This would include appropriate security and user permissions for a software product or brakes on a car.

Performance (one-dimensional) qualities

These are promised attributes and are a key part of competition. If you don't fulfill your promise, customers will be dissatisfied. Performance qualities are often where companies compete to offer a higher performing product. In a software product this might be faster load times, for a car it might be more horse power or better fuel efficiency.

Delightful (Attractive) qualities

These are the unexpected qualities that delight customers. They are not expected, so if they are unfulfilled, they do not disappoint, but when customers discover the feature it greatly increases customer satisfaction. In software this might be a customizable feature or social interaction that wasn't expected, for a car it would be new features such as active park assist.

Hidden (Indifferent) qualities

These are qualities that the customer is not aware of and which lead to neither satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Often these are under the hood such as metrics to monitor usage or repair instructions for a mechanic.

Reverse qualities

These are qualities which when fulfilled lead to dissatisfaction. It would seem obvious to limit these, but reverse qualities account for customer differences. For instance you might add high-tech features to a simple product such as an ice cream scoop to delight users, however this high-tech approach may put off some customers who are not looking for technology in an ice cream scoop. For a car, you might consider automatic transmission a reverse quality for enthusiast looking for a manual transmission. Reverse qualities are often about limiting a market to focus on a solution and are not often used in discussions on Minimum Viable Products (MVP), pricing or competitiveness.

Of these five, the first three; Basic, Performers and Delighters are most often sited for product development. Professor Kano uses these qualities to make two predictions about product success. First you can predict customer satisfaction based on the category and how well it is implemented. This is often shown in the two-axis chart below.

In terms of customer satisfaction, basic qualities suffer from diminishing returns and will be unable to satisfy customers even when all of them are completely implemented. Performance qualities offer an even return on effort vs customer satisfaction and delightful qualities offer exponential returns for effort.

The Kano model also makes a second prediction, that as time progresses delightful qualities will become performance qualities and eventually basic qualities. This is where we see the need for continual innovation in product development or the customer expectations will shift and competition will catch up.

The Kano model is useful for analyzing any product for customer satisfaction and the eventual value the product can achieve, however, it can be particularly useful for defining a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP, of course, is used to test a business model as well as how well a solution matches a customer problem. MVPs vary from product to product and market to market, however most MVPs are looking to test some unique solution for a market. This solution must be either a delighter or a performance quality or it is not a new and unique solution. In order to test the MVP, it must also have enough of the basic qualities to satisfy the customer expectations. To launch an MVP as soon as possible then, the goal is to limit your market by reducing the time spent on basic qualities.

An ideal MVP would include at least one delighter or one performance quality which is significantly better than alternatives. It would also include all the basic qualities necessary to serve the smallest portion of the market which will yield statistically significant results. Finally it will have the hidden qualities which allow you to learn and iterate new solutions (such as metrics and analytics).

Your final vision may include many delighters and performers, but the MVP is only the first step to test the basic premise, once its launched you can begin including more basic qualities to expand your market reach and add additional delighters to fulfill your vision.