If you dig through the last 60 years of industry research, you’ll find the reasons for product failures are heavily influenced by customer “fit” issues. That means there is a mismatch between what the customer wants and what the product offers. The pricing might be wrong. Or the product might lack clear differentiation. Or it might lack an important feature, or be too difficult to use. While it is true that products fail for a lot of reasons, it is also true that most products fail simply because customers don’t see value in them. The value proposition is weak or non-existent.
When something is “viable,” it is capable of not only germinating, but growing. In product development terms, viability means that a product not only gets purchased, but it performs well enough to be recommended to others. Its popularity spreads organically, or virally. You want a product that both initiates a sale and generates word of mouth.
There are formal research tools designed to get at the issue of viability, with familiar names like concept testing, prototype testing, test markets, and focus groups, but they can be complex, expensive and time-consuming.
There are also Agile teams. One of the hallmarks of an Agile team is regular and direct customer interaction by developers themselves. This is principle number one in the Agile Manifesto, and third-party research is rarely a good substitute.
In the Agile world, after team members interact with customers they bring back what they learned to the group, implications are discussed collectively, and product enhancement decisions are made very quickly. This sets the stage for yet another round of iteration. This decision cycle moves at what I call “Agile Time,” (read: fast) and any supporting tools or techniques have to conform to or accelerate the process. These decisions are made using “soft” data, and mostly gut instinct. They are not easy to monitor.