Prioritizing User Stories and Features Using the Kano Model

How to prioritize what to build next?

Figuring out what to build first or next for a digital product is not always easy – especially when various stakeholders are discussing them and there are conflicting personal preferences, gut feelings, and political agendas.

So how to prioritize what to build next?

In this article, I’ll explain how to get a stakeholder consensus on epic prioritization in a “Prioritization Workshop” using a method I call “Kano voting”.

What You’ll Need Beforehand

Before you can hold a prioritization workshop, you’ll need

  • a prioritized list of the top business objectives for the product or project
  • a clear picture of who you’re building for (i.e. personas, customer segments)
  • a general understanding of what the target group’s needs or pains are
  • a rough backlog of user stories (in digital or analog form)
  • A projector
  • A whiteboard, markers and magnets; or flipcharts, markers and tape
  • A set of six differently colored cards for each participant marked with the following labels:
Kano Voting Cards
Kano Voting Cards

Workshop participants vote on how to prioritize a user story by holding up a card, each of which represents a different category based on the Kano modell: a) “basis”, b) “performance”, c) “exciter/delighter”, d) “neutral” and e) “anti-feature”.

1. Round up the decision-makers

Get all stakeholders together in a room for a half-day “Prioritization Workshop”. When inviting them, tell them that their expertise and opinions are important to the product development, and that you want to get a consensus on what’s most important for the customer.

If possible, somewhere nice offsite with snacks and other goodies. That helps people temporarily get in a different frame of mind and frees them to explore other perspectives.

2. Set a clear goal at the start of the workshop

During the workshop introduction (15 – 20 minutes), explain that the goal of your meeting is to get a consensus on what work has the most potential value for the customer. Explain that the output of the workshop will be a prioritized list of user stories, which capture the essence of who wants what and why.

Then go over the business goals and needs of the target group, and draw a Venn diagram on a flipchart to emphasize that, optimally, you as a group can identify the user stories are in the best interest for the business and for the customer:

Venn diagram of business and customer needs overlapping
Look for common interests or pain points between a) the company and b) the target group

2. Explain how Kano voting works

Explain how the Kano method can help you can evaluate the probable influence of product features on a customer’s satisfaction. In striving to make your customers happy (or at least less annoyed), you are providing value that can be translated into dollars and cents.

According to the Kano model, features can be grouped into one of the following categories:

  • Expected: Expected features are must-haves. If they’re missing from a product, customers are dissatisfied. But if it has them, they have no real effect on satisfaction.
  • Performance: The quality of performance features corresponds to customer satisfaction. The better the feature, the more positively it affects satisfaction. When done poorly, it causes dissatisfaction proportionally.
  • Exciter/Delighter: A feature in this category is not expected. If it is missing from the product, customers wouldn’t notice. But if it’s there, customers feel excited or delighted.
  • Neutral: Neutral features have no positive or negative impact on satisfaction – but they may be necessary in order to keep the product intact.
  • Anti-Feature: Anti-Features cause dissatisfaction when present – and satisfaction when absent.

In workshops, I usually add a category:

  • Controversial: With controversial features, their impact on satisfaction is not apparent. Perhaps more information is needed; perhaps the feature needs some refining; perhaps more customer insights are needed.

Then hand out the sets of voting cards if you haven’t done so, pointing out that each color stands for one of the above categories.

3. Read and Vote

A good chunk of time – e.g. three 45-minute sessions – should be devoted to this part: reading user stories out loud and voting.

During this part, you read a user story aloud and project it in large type so everyone can follow. After each story, ask the participants to raise a card for which category they feel it falls into.

The goal of your meeting is to get a consensus on what work has the most potential value for the customer.

If everyone agrees upon a category, then you note it in your spreadsheet and continue to the next story.

If there are mixed votes, you can ask for a round of arguments in favor of the different categories, then call for a re-vote. If there are still mixed votes, you mark the story “controversial” and then go on to the next story. Don’t discuss one story for too long; the point of the exercise is to get a consensus on what work has the most potential value for the customer.

Once you’ve gone through all the user stories or reached the end of your time box, go back to the “controversial” stories and discuss them briefly before getting a re-vote. Once participants have an overview of all the stories usually helps to put a specific controversial topic into context.

Sometimes participants jump the gun and assume that stories categorized as “exciter/delighter” or “neutral” are going to have a low priority. Assure them that providing value for a customer means taking a mix of categories into consideration.

4. Prioritize the results

Now, sort your list of stories by Kano category. Make sure you have a column for “priority”. Briefly run through the list of stories, starting with the “expected” ones. Rank each story sequentially so that you only have one “priority 1” item, one “priority 2” item and so forth.

The result is a prioritized backlog of “basis”, “performance”, “exciter/delighter”, “neutral” and “anti” features.

Published: Nov 15, 2017

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