Influencing product strategy as a UX researcher – a 3-step guide

The insights from UX research tend to fit into one of two categories:

  • We’re building the thing wrong
  • We’re building the wrong thing

When insight tells us that ‘we’re building the thing wrong,’ it’s usually simple to fix. Research results often identify issues such as ‘buttons don’t look clickable’, ‘error messages aren’t helpful’ or ‘content is not understood’. Simple design changes usually rectify these issues, and teams are typically empowered to make decisions at this level independently.

If the insight tells us ‘we’re building the wrong thing,’ that’s more challenging to resolve. The design and engineering teams are often not empowered to fix these issues. The root of the problem lies in the product strategy. Influencing product strategy is often more challenging because it involves a broader group of stakeholders, competing priorities, and the breadth of the strategic landscape.

In this article, I’ll explore a quick and simple 3-step process for influencing product strategy as a UX researcher using the Kano Model. Since it has worked for me multiple times now, I’d like to share this with you.

A quick introduction to the Kano Model

The Kano model was pioneered in the 1980s by Dr Noriaki Kano (pronounced “Kah-no”), a Tokyo University of Science professor. His approach revolutionised how we think about modelling customer satisfaction.

Dr Kano championed focusing on the likelihood of satisfying users with product features. He identified that not all product aspects will drive equal satisfaction levels. Some essential features will create little satisfaction, while others will achieve greater levels. He also concluded that there is not always a direct correlation between the level of investment in a feature and the level of customer satisfaction it creates.

Kano model with 5 categories: Basic expectations, satisfiers, delighters, Indifferent, dissatisfiers

To use the Kano model, simply estimate the level of investment required to deliver a product feature and the level of satisfaction it will generate for users. After mapping, you’ll find each feature falls into one of five categories

  • Basic expectations
  • Satisfiers
  • Delighters
  • Indifferent
  • Dissatisfiers

Basic expectations

If you’re looking for an initial minimum viable product (MVP) definition, this category is it. Basic expectations should include all the features that the product wouldn’t work without. Releasing the product without these features would lead users to think it’s broken or unfinished.

These aren’t features that customers will compare or even ask about. When you buy a car, you don’t ask about the windscreen wipers. When you choose a hotel, you don’t ask if the taps have hot water in them. You just expect these features. But you would be very dissatisfied if you bought a car without windscreen wipers or checked into a hotel without hot water.

A little investment in basic expectation features can deliver good satisfaction levels, but these features will never be why a customer chooses one product over another.


Satisfier features are the aspects of a product that customers are most likely to compare products against. There’s a direct correlation between the level of investment in the feature and the amount of satisfaction it will deliver.

One of the top considerations when buying an electric car is the range; customers will compare the range of different cars to help decide which one to choose. As car manufacturers invest more in extending the range, satisfaction with the vehicle equally rises. With the hotel example, customers will compare hotel amenities such as restaurants, bars, spa and gym facilities. Hotels investing more in these facilities will likely achieve higher satisfaction ratings and be chosen more often by more customers.

The satisfier features will be what you shout about in your marketing and compare against competitors.


You wouldn’t miss a deligher feature if it weren’t there. These are not features that customers ask for or expect. However, they create the highest levels of satisfaction. They take the most investment to implement, and your competitors won’t tend to focus on these because satisfiers and basic expectations have a much more direct link to satisfaction.

Fresh flowers in your hotel room or chocolate on your pillow would be great examples. While these items cost less than the TV or bed, ensuring they are always fresh and placed at the right time creates a high operational investment. Customers won’t be looking for these hotel room features, and they won’t choose one hotel over another because they put chocolates on the pillow. However, the delight generated from these features can achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction.


For some features, customers just won’t care if they are there. It’s good to note these features as they come up to validate with users later.

My gym recently updated its treadmills to have a screen which includes the Amazon shopping app. I don’t need access to Amazon while running, and I can’t imagine who does. No one will choose a gym because the treadmills have access to Amazon, and equally, satisfaction with the gym isn’t impacted by the ability to shop on the treadmill. But someone, somewhere, spent time and effort putting the Amazon app on a treadmill screen. It is a classic example of an indifferent feature.


Dissatisfier features are the exact opposite of satisfier features. The more investment in these, the more dissatisfaction clients experience.

An example would be a street map that loads every street on the planet before showing the road you are currently standing on. The loading time would be immense for no customer benefit at all.

How to use the Kano model for influencing product strategy

As a UX researcher, I’ve often struggled to help teams solve the problem of ‘we’re building the wrong thing’. Conducting research and presenting the findings is easy. Actually achieving influence over product strategy is something I’ve often failed at in the past. I would witness these kinds of research findings go ignored.

I tried something different, and it’s worked a couple of times now, so I’m sharing it in this article in the hope that it might help others.

The model has 3 steps:

  1. Kano model workshop: Gather stakeholders and align on what the product should do and what we believe will satisfy customers.
  2. Feature desirability survey: Evaluate stakeholder assumptions with users through a feature desirability survey.
  3. In-depth research: Explain the difference between stakeholder assumptions and the feature desirability survey.

The key to influencing product strategy is bringing stakeholders together. Making everyone feel that they’ve been listened to, contributed to and involved in the process.

Identifying who to involve in the process is critical. Don’t sit in an echo chamber of designers and researchers. The product strategy has to work for the entire organisation, not just the people thinking about customer satisfaction. Ensure you include teams responsible for commercial, compliance, finance, risk, legal, product, engineering, architecture, etc.

Step 1 – Kano model workshop

The Kano model workshop is all about bringing everyone together. Include every stakeholder who is interested in the product, not just researchers and designers.

The workshop aims for everyone to agree on what the product will do, how it will satisfy users and how much investment is needed to generate satisfaction. At a high level, we’re asking stakeholders to estimate what will satisfy users.

Once everyone is in a room (or virtual meeting), get yourself a blank sheet and draw the two axes of the Kano model. The next step is simply to ideate as a group around the features the product will need and where each should be plotted on the map.

Pro Tip: Defining ‘investment’ can lead you down a not-helpful rabbit hole. Pick an easy and sensible measure for your context and go with it. Don’t overthink this process. There is just as much value in the process as there is in the output.

At the end of the workshop, aim to have a fully completed Kano model and a group of stakeholders who are in agreement about what the product will do and how it will generate satisfaction.

Practical example
The model below presents the Kano model applied to a rental e-scooter app. Features such as starting and ending a ride are basic expectations. The app simply wouldn’t work if you couldn’t do this. The ability to find a parking spot, plan a route, and sign up for monthly subscriptions would be the satisfiers. Delighters would include a graph showing your environmental impact, animations when finishing a ride, and even free rides!

The Kano model filled out with e-scooter features

Step 2 – Feature desirability survey

Now it’s time for user research! The feature desirability survey is a quick and complementary research piece that evaluates the assumptions from the stakeholder workshop.

The question set needs to be straightforward, with the answers to choose from requiring as little thought as possible. Remember, we’re not aiming to create in-depth, detailed insights, just high-level evaluations of stakeholder assumptions.

The simplest and most effective question type for the feature desirability survey is the Likert scale. It uses a straightforward question such as “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?” and then lists features as statements.

An example for the e-scooter app would be:
I want to plan a journey with an e-scooter app.
Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree.

Analysing the feature desirability data is quick and simple, and the results are easy for stakeholders to understand. For each feature, calculate the number of survey participants who said they wanted it, the number who were neutral, and the number who didn’t want it.

To present the data, show each feature in a table, with the most desirable feature at the top and the least desirable at the bottom.

Feature desirability survey

Comparing the Kano model with feature desirability data

Presenting survey data alongside the Kano model output brings the story to life. The Kano model shows what we thought users would want, while the survey provides an early insight into what users might actually want. The survey isn’t designed to definitively determine whether the stakeholders were right or wrong, and it is also not intended to create a directly comparable relationship to the Kano model output. We don’t want to get into who was right and who was wrong; we aim to inspire continuous research discovery.

Comparison between Feature desirability survey and filled out Kano model for e-scooter features

The conversation’s narrative should be, “We thought feature X was going to be really valuable. We’ve done some research, and it looks like maybe we should focus on features Y and Z initially.” This process demonstrates the value of continuing research delivery and building a picture of user needs through a mixed-methods approach over time.

The natural question that comes up next is, ‘Why is there a difference between user and stakeholder thoughts?’ The aim is for stakeholders to ask this question. It means they’re brought into the research discovery process and want to learn more to help shape the product strategy.

If this happens, congratulations, you’re starting to influence product strategy.

Step 3 – In-depth research

In-depth research is the natural next step to answering the question, ‘Why is there a difference between user and stakeholder thoughts?’

Getting approval for in-depth interviews or ethnographic research can be challenging. By involving stakeholders from the beginning, modelling their opinions and evaluating them, stakeholders are much more likely to invest in further research to continue building an understanding of user needs and wants. Involving stakeholders in the process makes conversations around resources needed for in-depth research much easier.

The exact type of research you should use depends on the context you’re working within, what you already know, and what you want to understand.

Some final thoughts

In this process, I’ve talked a lot about gathering insight quickly; it’s vital that the quality of the insight isn’t reduced so much that stakeholders start to think of it as unreliable. Finding the line is a careful balancing act, depending on the context you’re working in.

You may need to work through trial and error to find the point you and your stakeholders are happy with. Once you reach the in-depth research phase, stakeholders should be involved much more, and the need to deliver quick insights will start to decrease, and your focus on reliability can increase.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, I’ve tried this model a couple of times to elevate the influence of my research on product strategy, in which I’ve succeeded. It’s all about using our skills as researchers and being more strategic with them. Facilitate environments that bring people together, give everyone a voice, and use mixed-methods research to provide timely and relevant insight. And you might just get your insights noticed, appreciated and no longer ignored 😉

The model was presented at the UXinsight Festival 2023 as a poster, which you can download here:

Poster of Influence product strategy with UX research made by Jack Holmes for UXinsight Festival 2023

Cover photo by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

Jack Holmes

Jack Holmes is an independent UX researcher and designer from Bristol, UK. He’s been helping organizations understand customers and build better products for over 10 years. Most recently he’s researching and designing tools that people use for work and in B2B enviroments. He loves discussing how UX research can shape product and organisational strategy.


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