Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Kano Diagram Applied to Cycling Products and Services

Dr. Steve Shooter is a professional and practicing engineer at Bucknell University. He focuses on topics in product design and development and some of his videos on You tube are just fantastic material.

Here, he explains the Kano Diagram, a model used to measure how well a product or service meets customer requirements. This concept is a basic topic in engineering design courses, but you don't necessarily have to be one to understand it. Its simple to assimilate; there's no math or funky equations.

Let's try and apply this to the bicycling arena, referring at each step to the Kano Diagram.


BASIC FEATURES (Shouldn't They All Have Them?!)

All mortals need brakes!

When one goes out to shop for a bicycle (depending on what is really wanted), certain basic features are expected. Certainly when one sits down to even think of buying a bicycle, something like the picture on the left pops up on mind.

It must have brakes, pedals, reliable wheels and tires for the job at hand, a rack, a bell, a basket or a tote and of course, comfort seating and posture wise. No big scrutiny takes place as far as all the other nuts and bolts of the system are concerned. Its expected to be there and to work properly during operation. Likewise, this idea can be extended to other cycling products, like helmets or jerseys and shoes. Generally, I would also think a certain amount of durability of product can also be an expected feature.

A cyclo-cross frame is expected to provide clearance for wider tires and mud, some also expect higher bottom brackets but this is disputed with the coming of low profile clipless pedals

Certain folks expect reflectors somewhere on the bicycle

Jerseys are expected to have 2 or 3 pockets (..but you're not expected to see this guy's face)

All tubes are to have some kind of valve, a device that regulates flow of air

Shoes are expected to fit snugly off the bike and during use. Be it state of the art or even a basic pair, compatibility is an expected feature, so if it won't take your favorite set of clip less pedals, someone is going to be upset

Color, shape and style all apart, bicycle helmets are made to protect vital regions from a crash

The absence or failure of any of these basics is going to leave someone at low satisfaction levels. On the other hand, since one expected these attributes, their presence isn't really something out of this world, if you will. The consumer will be happy but somewhat indifferent towards it, as the Kano diagram tells us.

It is to be noted here that basic features vary upon what is really desired. A track bike is different from a cross bike, just as a set of platform pedals for leisurely street riding once or twice a month is different from a clip less pair of pedals for commuting or racing. A racing caliber climber's road bike is expected to be within a .50lb tolerance of 15 pounds, while all good mountain bikes will have some suspension system for comfort and vibration dampening off-road.

Basic features vary with application.


The Kano diagram says that the performance curve with respect to implementation is essentially linear. No performance whatsoever is deeply upsetting while fully implemented performance is a very satisfying experience, both for the user and manufacturer of the good or service.

The compact oxford dictionary defines performance, among other definitions, as : the capabilities of a machine or product.

I like the definition because it is general for one thing, and the other is that it reflects what the product can or will achieve during the rigors of operation. The meaning behind the showy advertisement or for every dollar of the 5 grand you poured on the carbon Cervelo P3 or that superlight Ghisallo is to be found right here. Veteran users will immediately come to know whether the bicycle achieves what they desire. A simple 15 second sprint or a 1 hour test ride on a favorite climb will differentiate the fakers from the real stuff.

Performance, like I said, is also quite general and its meaning is different for different people.

Performance, as far as a bicycle is concerned, could any or a combination of the following :

1) A rigid framework with stable ride and cornering.

2) Some like it fast and aerodynamic.

3) Some love super light everything.

4) Some need the extra stiffness for hills and sprints.

5) There's a fair percentage of the crowd who loves a lively, pin-point accurate ride akin to a laser guided missile.

6) Comfort on long rides, cobble stones, road potholes you name it.

With above average diameter tubing, the Cannondale Caad 8 is plenty stiff during power transfer

Few companies spend more time in wind tunnels as BlackWell Research. Their products are a testimony to time worthy design, testing and performance

Who doesn't want a cool head? With a whopping 26 vents, the '07 Woman's Giro Atmos delivers hot air out while keeping the cool in, something vital for racing extremes.

Shoes with ultra lightness, extra stiffness and a durable synthetic material of construction like Lorica are all performance oriented

With on the cutting edge racing performance, an athlete can't go wrong with Zipps on race day

Cane Creek Headsets are "Engineered to Last"

The funny thing is, no one product may be able to achieve each and everything and there is some compromise to be met in the end. There is no perfect design like Henry Petroski will tell you, and it may also be an issue of money.

But generally, the more performance features you can pack into one product, the better it is and happier is the customer.


Did you ever go "wow!" standing in a bike shop or watching a cycling commerical! Well, I did too many times (it gives me a characteristic pain in the mouth, which could be a reason behind stopping visits to shops and watching too much TV).

Often there are things that the customer never expected to be present in the system. Hence, there is an excitement to learn that it is indeed present. The features may be just there for aesthetic reasons, or it might have a solid performance reason behind it.

Curvy-licious and contraversial Pinarello's always get seconds stares and a fair share of "wow's"

With a paint job like this, bicycle comes art (Naked Bicycles)

At some point in history, the internal cable routing system was a wow. Slowly, its magic melted over time

The Argon 18 E-112 Time Trial Bike features horizontal rear dropouts. Regardless of tire size, the wheel can be optimally positioned.

The beautiful lacing systems on Specialized's shoes always gets a wow from my side, even if I don't use them!

The much talked about Cervellum digital bike computer, with rear view video capture and cross functionality modules, is undoubtedly WOW!

I don't have to go on since I'm sure you could throw in many many wow features into the list here without much looking.

A fair share of excitement features are patented to certain companies. But many of them are common place, offer performance benefits and over time, what happens is that due to market forces, these features begin to be expected by people. So as time passes, excitement features can shift to become performance and then basic features as shown by the Pink Arrow in the Kano representation below.

Another point to note is that wow features are not just limited to products, but also to services.

I'm sure you can think of that special bike shop that threw in extra goodies with your first bike purchase for free, the one-to-one service between you and your custom frame builder, all those unbelievable discounts and fast shipping from retailers like Nashbar or Performance Bikes, or even the sweet warranties and rare carbon fiber repair services like those of Calfee's or the X-Ray analysis of Colnago's.

The Kano model offers a very elegant model of what prompts customers to select one product or service over another. The model implicitly suggests that those things that ‘excite’ customers hold the key to what will be successful versus what will not. Its a combination of all these things that get people to dream and innovate, that moves products out the door, and what ultimately makes people buy things!

On a lighthearted note, you can apply the Kano diagram in your jobs (as talked about in Dr. Shooter's video), get that badly needed raise and start buying all the cycling stuff you lusted after!

1 comment:

Will said...

Hi Ron,

This is a really well done, interesting, fun post.

I would guess that the elasticity of these curves are dramatically affected by the passion of the consumer.

For example, in cycling, fanatics are willing to spend a fortune for marginal exciters - I love my carbon water bottle holder (haha but true) . While casual riders would barely notice and the basics will suffice.


Well done