Voice of the Customer

Agile Principle #1: Satisfy the Customer


Agile Principle #1 states “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions.”

Principle #1 is #1 for a reason!  Every team, group or organization has a customer, whether it’s an internal customer, an external customer or both.  The utmost concern for our team must be that we are providing value and satisfying our customer, for without that nothing else really matters.  In almost all cases, satisfying the customer is economically driven and teams have limited people and resources in doing so.  We relatively rank our items to address our most important and valuable items first.  This may be easy and quick for a simple “to do” list or we may have to spend more time for a list of more complex initiatives, always with a watchful eye on expending just enough effort to do so and no more.

Peter Drucker stated “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.  Working on the right thing is important and we can increase our success by adhering to best practice relative ranking exercises.  Even in doing so, we can still fall prey to failure. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing.  Much is learned by failure, but if we are going to fail we want to expend the least amount of effort to do so – in other words, “fail fast” to learn.  By failing fast, we can quickly pivot or pick up something new that will provide customer value.

“Through early and continuous delivery” is a phrase in principle #1 that amplifies two significant points which are “leveraging feedback loops” and “maximizing value”.  Feedback is the cornerstone of Agile. Feedback loops are akin to a sailboat tacking to its final destination.  The tighter the feedback loop the better we can adjust and stay on line, but also the more effort we expend on the checking process.  Determine how long you want to sail along before checking your course.  Early and frequent feedback loops with the customer enable us to adapt, pivot and fail fast.

Releasing early and continuously allows us to also maximize value.  If we have 20 things prioritized, we then identify the smallest number of those things that will be of acceptable use to the customer and provide maximum value.  As an example, if we were building the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and we wanted the machine to “Withdraw Cash”, “Deposit Funds” and “Inquire on Balance” would it be wise to wait until all three features were available before delivering it to the customer?  Would it be wise to wait for the ATM to be able to remember what your most common withdrawal amounts were and proactively offer those choices?  Or would it be wiser to deliver the ATM as soon as possible without certain features?  These are decisions that you need to make, but the point is that the longer you wait to deliver value to the customer the longer you wait to receive the economic rewards which in turn is losing you money, along with depriving you of essential customer feedback as they use the solution.  So why not deliver the smallest number of features that provides the most economic value and then adhere to Principle #1’s phrase of “through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions” by then delivering subsequent prioritized features continuously throughout the life of the effort.

Through some of the outlined and other practices we can deliver value to our customers continuously.  Continuously Providing Value = Happy Customer!  🙂

The CAGE Model

The CAGE Model can assist us in understanding where we are lacking in gaining the Voice of the Customer (VOC).  It visually depicts the critical areas where we must attain information so that the features of our product align with customer needs and that we provide innovation in our product.  Most product failures are due to lack of understanding the customers’ priority needs, believing and implementing everything the customer asks for and absence of any innovative or quality features that differentiate your product from the competition.

Below we will show and explain the CAGE Model.


The CAGE Model has three areas.

The first area is represented in yellow on the diagram and refers to what the product team believes the needs of the customer are before they begin to communicate with the customer in gaining their voice.  Unfortunately, there are a good number of teams which stop here and develop a product based on what they feel the customers need.

The second area is represented in blue and refers to the needs that the customer has told us after gaining the VOC using elicitation techniques.  The product team’s initial understanding (yellow) and the customer’s articulated needs (blue) can overlap differently depending on organization, elicitation techniques, product team knowledge, etc.

The third area is represented in green on the diagram and refers to the “sweet spot” of needs that will make this a great product.  It is comprised of the features that will provide the customer with the needed value and innovation to make the product a “win” in the marketplace.

CAGE Model 2

Outside of the green “sweet spot” lie three areas which identify incorrect requirements.

Area D are the needs that the product team got wrong.  This could have happened by any number of reasons such as having poor knowledge, bad assumptions, etc.

Area B is what the customers got wrong.  Let’s face it customers do not always articulate their needs well and are only human, so may have political motives behind requests that will not necessarily increase product value.  They may also be asking for out of scope features.

Area F is what both the project team and the customer got wrong.  This should not be a great deal of features, but it can happen.

CAGE Model 3

Inside the green “sweet spot” are the requirements and features that will produce a winning product.

Area C represents the customer insights that were not initially recognized by the product team.  The product team needs to use elicitation techniques in order to acquire these.  What techniques and how much to spend needs to be weighed by the team and the organization.  Email surveys cost little and on the other end of the spectrum is ethnographic methods of observing the customer which could have a much higher cost.  This is where your elicitation expertise and practices will make the difference.

Area A is pretty easy – everybody found and agrees that these features are needed.  The project team uncovered them and the customers validated the need.  The customers will definitely be looking for these features in the product.  These features are usually classified as “One Dimensional” (see Kano Model post) and will sway the customer in proportion to how well they have been implemented to customer expectation and competitive product comparison.

Area G are the features the project team identified, but were not voiced by the customer.  In most cases these are the “Must Be” requirement classification type (see post on Kano Model).  These requirements are just so obvious that the customer doesn’t even request them.  For instance if a customer was asking you to build a car for them they probably would not tell you “Now remember, I need a steering wheel” – it just goes without saying.

Area E is the innovative requirements.  These are the “WOW” factor that make your product unique and are a differentiator.  These are the toughest features to uncover, but will make your customer extremely satisfied.

CAGE Model 4

Depending on your team, customers, experimentation and elicitation techniques, to mention a few, you can end up with different CAGE Model overlays.  Practice good elicitation/feedback techniques and maximize your “sweet spot” while minimizing the bad requirements B, D and F areas to gain the Voice of the Customer and create a winning product for your organization!

Kano Model – Not All Features Affect Customer Satisfaction Equally

I delivered a presentation to the Tampa Bay Agile Meetup Group regarding the Voice of the Customer along with two models and two elicitation techniques.  The model and elicitation technique that seemed to spark the most interest was the Kano Model and Kano Survey.


The Kano Model was developed by Dr. Kano in Japan in 1984.  Kano’s assertion was that not all features affected the customer’s satisfaction equally and that customer loyalty correlates to the customer’s emotional response to the features.  Whether a customer buys your product, or not, depends on their emotional response to it.  Different features invoke different responses and it is all based on the perception of the customer.  Value attracts customers, quality builds loyalty and innovation is necessary to differentiate your product and compete in the marketplace.

The model depicts “level of execution” on the X-axis (poor – well) and depicts the “customer satisfaction level” on the Y-axis (very dissatisfied – very satisfied). There are 3 main classifications and 2 additional for a total of 5 in the model.  I will first review the 3 main classifications of “Must Be”, “One Dimensional” and “Attractive” (these are the original labels that Kano assigned, but people have substituted others).

Kano Model

Must Be:  The first classification is “Must Be” (also referred to as the “Must Have”, “Basic”, “Essential”).  This is the type of feature that if not present will make the customer very dissatisfied, but at the same time the fact that the feature is there does not overly satisfy the customer.  An example, might be “soap” in a hotel room.  If a customer does not have any soap in their hotel room they will be very displeased.  These product features are usually so obvious that if you are interviewing a customer they may not even mention them.  The more or better the feature the less displeased the customer will be, but there will be a point where improving on the feature will not make the customer any more satisfied.  In our “soap” example, it would be dissatisfying for a customer if they ran out of soap. So, if you had one or two extra bars of soap then this would keep the customer from becoming dissatisfied,  but having 50 bars of soap in the room would not push their satisfaction level any higher than if you had those couple of extra soap bars.  “Must Be” features do not result in product differentiation and are expected by the customer.

One-Dimensional:  The second classification is “One-Dimensional” (also referred to as “Performance”).  This feature is measured by the customer and the better the measurement is received by the customer then the better the satisfaction and fulfillment level of the feature.  This type of feature is on the mind of the customer when purchasing and if you are ahead of your competitors then you will gain customers.  This feature is usually the easiest to attain/elicit and the customer will most always pay more if you are better than your competitors in this area.  An example of these types of features would be the battery life, disk space and processing power of a laptop computer.  Exceeding your competitors for these features will proportionally grow customer satisfaction.

Attractive:  The third classification is “Attractive” (also referred to as “Exciter”, “Delighter”, “Innovative”, “WOW!”).  These features are unexpected by the customer and contribute to the uniqueness of your product.  These features are innovative and contribute to very high customer satisfaction levels.  They “WOW!” the customer.  These features are difficult to attain/elicit, but have great impact.  Attractive features may diminish over time and eventually even become “Must Be”.  An Attractive feature for my son when he got his new mobile phone was “swipe texting”.  At one time flat screens on a TV were Attractive features, but they are long since expected (“Must Be”) now.

Kano Model - Over Time

The two additional classifications are “Indifferent” and “Reverse”.

Kano Model - Indifferent

Indifferent:  The classification of “Indifferent” relates to features which do not sway the customer’s satisfaction much in either direction whether the feature was executed poorly or well.

Reverse:  The classification of “Reverse” relates to features that dissatisfy the customer if they are present.  An example may be an annoying pop-up message.

In summary, utilize the Kano model to classify your features customer satisfaction levels and deliver a product that meets the basic “Must Be”, maximizes the “One-Dimensional” and includes as many “Attractive” features as possible at a cost the market will bear.  Also, take a look at the Kano Survey below which will explain how to conduct the survey and assess your feature’s customer satisfaction types.


The Kano Survey goes hand and hand with the Kano Model and is the technique used to ascertain the customer satisfaction classification of a feature.  The survey is fairly simple and consists of pairs of questions that are asked to the customer.

Kano Survey

For each feature we ask a pair of questions.  One is positive and one is negative.

Positive:  If you could … how would you feel?
Negative:  If you could not … how would you feel?

The customer answers each question with one of five answers.  They “1-Like”, “2-Expect”, “are 3-Neutral”, “can 4-Live With” or “5-Dislike” it.  For each pair of questions, we take the value of their answers and match them on the survey matrix.  If the customer answered “1-Like” to the feature’s positive question and they answered “5-Dislike” to the feature’s negative question then we would follow the positive column of “1-Like” down until it met the negative column of “5-Dislike” and find that the color at this intersection is blue.  According to the key, blue represents a “One-Dimensional” customer satisfaction type (see Kano Model post for what this means).

If you were a producer of toothpaste a feature of your product might be “easily dispense your toothpaste”.  To attain the customer satisfaction type we would survey customers and aggregate the findings for the following pair of questions.

Positive:  If you could “easily dispense your toothpaste” how would you feel?
Negative:  If you could not “easily dispense your toothpaste” how would you feel?

In conducting the survey your number of responses need to be at a certain level for the survey to meet your needs.  For those mathematically inclined the calculation to determine the minimum survey responses needed is listed below.

Sample Size = (Z-score)² – StdDev*(1-StdDev) / (margin of error)²
Adjusted Sample Size = (SS) / (1 + ((SS – 1) / population))

Population = total number of people represented in your selected universe
Margin of error = willingness for error (ex: +- 5%)
StdDev = standard deviation; how much variance do you expect in responses; (if no preference then use .5)
Z-score – corresponds to confidence level (90%=1.645, 95%=1.96, 99%=2.326)

Example Sample Size:
SS=((1.96)² x .5(.5)) / (.05)²
SS=(3.8416 x .25) / .0025
SS=.9604 / .0025
So, 385 respondents are needed

If you know your population you can then adjust accordingly:
SSadjusted = (SS) / [1 + ((SS – 1) / population)]

Have fun utilizing this technique to gain the Voice of the Customer!