A Conceptual Model for Describing User Value

Gains — Pains — Time

As a Product Owner I normally try to create valuable things. I try to craft User Value and to be as much as empathic as I can. But it is so easy to fall in love with a solution/feature and to stop thinking about value at all.

What exactly is this thing called User Value?

I like to share some thoughts on that topic that helped me (1) to better understand the user, (2) to explain my thoughts and insights to others and (3) to see business opportunities.


Three Dimensions

Let’s describe User Value in the three dimensions: (1) positive value, (2) negative value and (3) time.

1. Positive Value or Gains

On the positive side I split value into four customer satisfaction categories:

  1. Basic needs: Mandatory things, a fridge or a login form. There might also be a standard expected by your users you have to meet e.g. a trusted shops badge on your e-commerce site or https-secured online banking.
  2. Expected: Typically delivered by your product and the competition. E.g. 16 megapixels buying a new camera.
  3. Desired: The user wants this, but normally nobody is delivering for the price the customer is willing to pay. For example a 1st class flight.
  4. Unanticipated: User does not ask for but would value a lot. Excitement! This is about innovation or creating a new desire. For example Swatch proved that people want to own five watches instead of just one. Customers even want to shop watches like clothes (when a new collection arrives). The Sony Walkman would be another great example.
Value emerges as the relation between user needs and attributes of your product. You could also call this effect product performance.

2. Negative Value or Pains

On the negative side it is about costs a customer may experience. Costs are not only about money but can also be described as risk and effort.

  1. Risk: Is there something insecure or frightening using a service?
  2. Effort: Do users have to take big efforts to achieve something?
  3. Price: Is it too expensive for the promised customer satisfaction?
Can you do something about user costs? Can you create value by preventing or relieving those pains?

3. Time

The 3rd dimension is about the customer’s process and touch points with your product or service over time: the customer journey and your role in it.

There may be multiple situations where your product is involved in the customer’s journey. Can you create value improving the user experience for those touch points?

Modeling value-based satisfaction into the customer journey

When mapping the positive and negative experiences into time we can see quite clearly where users are struggling in the process or where there is room for improvement. A whole strategy might emerge out of this picture:

Example strategy: 1. uplift/eleminate negative experiences and 2. over-deliver on a given touch point

Some guiding questions which may help when looking at your map:

  • Can we improve user experience at a given touch point?
  • Can we uplift a pain into gain?
  • Are there situations of risk we can mitigate?
  • Can we eliminate pricing issues?
  • Can we think about an excitement feature and over-deliver at a given touch point?

Takeaways for Product Managers

Mapping the four positive and negative user value dimensions to a time axis can help to understand the user and the involved products. It is good for explaining things to others. Also we may be able to see hidden business opportunities.


Jan is an Entrepreneur and Product Guy living with his family in Hamburg, Germany. As a Consultant he helps companies with Lean Product Management and SEO. He is looking forward to connect!