If you work in a startup, a really effective way of thinking about your product roadmap is over three timelines: the next 6 years, next 6 months, and next 6 weeks.
When I worked as a product manager at Facebook, some people in the team used to advocate thinking in two timelines: the next 6 months, and the next 20 years. 20 years was your vision, 6 months was your plan.
I loved this, but for most startups, 20 years is too long for the vision, and 6 months is too long for the concrete plan. Running the product team at Intercom, I’ve long been an advocate of thinking in three timelines when planning what to build.
The next 6 years
Your mind’s eye view of the world 6 years from now, taking into account how it will have changed because of the change you enacted, and how it will have changed based on plotting today’s existing trends in a straight/exponential line into the future.
The next 6 months
Your plan for building things that will make a significant impact on your journey towards the change you want to enact in the world. When you look at what you will build within 6 months time you think “we’re making great progress”. This however, is subject to change. 6 months from now about 50–75% might be built, and the other 25% is things you hadn’t thought of before. This is a rolling timeline that is updated every couple of months.
The next 6 weeks
These are very concrete. This is your immediate plan. This is what your team know intimately. You know exactly what’s being built. Design work is well underway. This is a rolling timeline that is updated every week or two.
As an aside, I think 2 years is the worst timeline to work towards, and 18 months isn’t much better. It isn’t far enough into the future to see significant change in how the world works, but it’s far enough such that it is highly unpredictable e.g. it’s two new versions of iOS and Android away.
Finally, it turns out aligning the name of your product roadmap process with the devil has lots of humorous side benefits. :)