Get Users Hooked by Applying the Hooked Model to Release Slices

hooked model
Last Updated: August 6, 2023


“Hooked.” It’s more than a book. It’s a way to make your product stick. Nir Eyal wrote the manual on it. 

Now, think about this. What if we took that model off the bookshelf and plugged it into Agile and Scrum release planning? That’s where we’re going. 

Curious? Good. Let’s dive in and see what happens when we get our release planning ‘hooked’.


What is the Hooked Model

Alright, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the Hooked model. It’s not rocket science, but it’s just as fascinating. 

The Hooked model is a four-step dance: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment. It’s a loop, a cycle, a circuit that keeps users coming back for more. 

First up, the Trigger. It’s the starting gun, the green light. It’s what prompts the user to act. Triggers can be external, like a notification or an email. But the real magic happens when these external triggers become internal ones. When the user instinctively reaches for your product at a specific time or place, you’ve hit the trigger jackpot.

Next, we have the Action. This is the user doing something in response to the trigger. It could be opening an app, clicking a button, posting a comment. The key here is to make the action as easy as possible. The less friction, the better.

Then comes the Variable Reward. This is where you surprise and delight the user. It’s not just about giving a reward, but about varying it. The unpredictability keeps things interesting and keeps the user coming back.

Finally, there’s the Investment. This is when the user puts something into the product. It could be time, data, effort, social capital. The more the user invests, the more they value the product. It’s a virtuous cycle.


Where did the Hooked Model come from?

The Hooked model is deeply rooted in behavioral design research. It’s a culmination of years of study into human behavior and psychology. The model draws from the work of B.F. Skinner, a renowned psychologist known for his research on operant conditioning, a learning process through which behavior is influenced by rewards or punishments.

It’s also influenced by the research of Stanford professor BJ Fogg, who developed the Fogg Behavior Model. This model suggests that for a behavior to occur, three elements must converge: motivation, ability, and a prompt.

The Hooked model takes these principles and applies them to product design. It’s about understanding how people act and why. Then, it’s about designing your product to tap into those behaviors. It’s not about manipulation, but about creating a product that users genuinely want to use, a product that fits naturally and beneficially into their lives. 


Real-World Examples of the Hooked Model

Let’s bring the Hooked model to life with some real-world examples. You’re probably familiar with some of these products. They’ve mastered the art of the Hooked model, whether you’ve realized it or not.


Take Facebook, for instance. It’s a textbook example of the Hooked model in action. The external Trigger could be a notification about a friend’s new post. The Action? You open the app and start scrolling. The Variable Reward comes when you stumble upon an interesting update or get likes on your post. And the Investment happens when you post content, comment, or engage in any way that personalizes your experience.


Or consider Slack, the team collaboration tool. The Trigger is often a notification of a new message. The Action is simple – you open Slack to read it. The Variable Reward? It could be a useful piece of information, a funny GIF from a colleague, or a problem solved. The Investment comes when you contribute to the conversation, customizing channels, or integrating other tools, making Slack your go-to communication hub.


Jira is another example of the Hooked model in action. The Trigger for Jira users is often a notification about a task update or a new assignment. This prompts the user to open Jira to check the details. The Action is the user interacting with the task – maybe updating a task status, adding a comment, or creating a new task. The Variable Reward comes in the form of task completion, progress in a project, or feedback from colleagues. It could also be the satisfaction of clearing a task from your to-do list or seeing a project move forward.

The Investment phase happens when users spend time organizing their tasks, customizing their boards, or detailing their projects in Jira. The more effort they put into structuring their work in Jira, the more valuable the tool becomes to them, as it becomes a comprehensive reflection of their projects and tasks.

These examples show how the Hooked model can be applied across different types of products. It’s not about the product itself, but about the user experience. It’s about creating a loop that keeps users engaged and coming back for more. And as we’ll see next, it’s a model that can be incredibly useful when planning your product releases.


Release Planning with the Hooked Model

Now, let’s talk about applying the Hooked model to release planning. It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. In fact, it can add a whole new dimension to how you prioritize features and plan your releases.

Think about it. The Hooked model is all about user engagement. It’s about creating a product that users not only love but feel compelled to use. Isn’t that what we want when we release a new feature or update?

So, how do we do it? How do we incorporate the Hooked model into Agile release planning?


Start with the Trigger. When planning a release, consider what will prompt users to engage with your new feature. Is it intuitive? Does it naturally fit into their workflow? If not, how can you make it so?

Next, consider the Action. How easy is it for users to use the new feature? Is it a smooth, frictionless experience? The easier the action, the more likely users are to do it.

Then, think about the Variable Reward. What do users get out of using your new feature? How can you make that reward variable to keep users engaged and interested?

Finally, consider the Investment. How does the new feature encourage users to invest in your product? Does it allow them to personalize their experience or contribute in some way?

By considering each phase of the Hooked model when planning your releases, you can prioritize features that not only solve users’ problems but also engage them on a deeper level. It’s about creating a product that users want to use, again and again. That’s the power of the Hooked model in release planning.


The Hooked Model and User Story Mapping

Now, let’s bring user story mapping into the mix. If you’re not familiar, user story mapping is a visual exercise that helps Agile teams organize and prioritize user stories. It’s a way to see the big picture, understand the user journey, and plan releases that deliver value incrementally.

But what if we added a twist to our user story map? What if we used the Hooked model to inform our release slices?

Here’s the thing. Some elements of the Hooked model might not seem high priority in isolation. A variable reward or an investment opportunity might not seem as crucial as a core functionality. But remember, the Hooked model is about the user experience as a whole. It’s about creating a product that users want to use, not just need to use.

So, when planning your release slices, consider the Hooked model. How does each slice contribute to the Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment? How does each slice engage the user and keep them coming back?

This is where a tool like CardBoard comes in handy. With CardBoard, you can create a user story map that not only outlines your user stories but also reflects the principles of the Hooked model. You can visualize how each release slice contributes to the overall user experience, and plan your releases accordingly.

By integrating the Hooked model into your user story mapping, you can plan releases that not only deliver value but also engage your users in a meaningful way. It’s about building a product that users love, one release slice at a time.



And there you have it. The Hooked model isn’t just for designing addictive products. It’s a powerful tool that you can use in your Agile release planning. By considering Triggers, Actions, Variable Rewards, and Investments, you can create releases that not only deliver value but also engage your users in a meaningful way.

But don’t just take my word for it. Give it a try. The next time you’re planning a release, consider the Hooked model. See how it changes your perspective and influences your decisions. You might be surprised by the results.

And if you’re ready to take your release planning to the next level, why not give CardBoard a try? With CardBoard, you can create user story maps that reflect the principles of the Hooked model, helping you plan releases that truly resonate with your users. Sign up for a free trial today and see the difference it can make in your Agile process.

Remember, it’s not just about building a product. It’s about creating an experience that users want to return to, again and again. That’s the power of the Hooked model. And it’s a power you can harness in your release planning. So go ahead, get hooked on better release planning.