Product Roadmap Shapes

The incremental pyramid trap

Product roadmaps typically need to have three important categories of initiatives:

  • Work that helps to Keep the Lights On (KTLO) - tech debt, keeping existing features and functionalities up and running, fixing bugs, etc fall under this category. This is the bread and butter part of your roadmap. 

  • Short term investments - incremental improvements in existing functionalities and building new features that move the needle on your most important metrics in the short term 

  • Moonshots/ Big Hairy Audacious Goals/ Bold Beats - investments that can lead to massive step-function jumps in existing functionalities or help build completely new tentpoles for your product 

The proportion of your team that spends time on each of these above categories is dependent on (a) the stage of your existence, and (b) the size of your team. 

When you are an early-stage company, your product roadmap looks like an inverted pyramid:

The lights haven’t been turned on yet. You are building a brand new product and it is a massive undertaking. You’ve still not found product-market fit. Everything is a moonshot. 

Over time, as you achieve PMF and your team expands, your roadmap appears to be a cylinder:

The lights need to be kept on, and both short and long-term product investments are a must. You are a growth-stage company. 

As a large company (both in terms of employees, revenue and other metrics), your product roadmap resembles a pyramid:

Maybe only 10% of your large team is involved in moonshots - but that is still a massive investment of resources and firepower. KTLO takes up most of your team’s time and focus. 

The mistake that companies make, is that they start considering themselves a large organization, even though they are in the growth stage. They organize their team and product roadmap like a pyramid when they should be doubling down on an equal distribution of resources - a cylinder. They overemphasize incremental short term investments and ignore moonshots. In fact, there are a lot of incremental initiatives disguised as moonshots (product redesigns, overhauls, rebranding, etc). This is the beginning of the end for such companies. 

The truly path-breaking companies try and keep themselves in the cylindrical phase for as long as possible and even when practicality dictates that they become a pyramid, they reorganize every few quarters/ years and do an equal distribution of their team’s focus. 

The shape of your product roadmap matters.