Product Timescales

Product Timescales

08 May 2020

I am learning to be a product manager. I have thought a lot about delivering products for many years, and now I am actually responsible for product delivery.

I learn best when I start with an overall framework into which I can organize information as I absorb it. What follows is an attempt to organize the different timescales of product developement.

Blue Sky is the long-term vision of the product. It has roughly no impact on the next 2-3 months of work, but is the key driver for long-term success. Next is about collecting and defining actionable changes to the product. In Development is the work of improving and maintaining the product - this is where the bulk of the product spend is. Released is what happens after your product leaves home. It is the second largest cost, a key driver of user satisfaction and a very useful avenue to collect comments and ideas that can feed back into Blue Sky and Next timelines.

The work in each of these timescales has a different pace, urgency and rythm. Clearly identifying each one makes it easier for me to switch between the different mental and emotional states required to excel in each one!

Comments and critiques are welcome on twitter! I expect I will revisit this after I have worked with it for 6-12 months.

Blue Sky

This timescale is all about disruptive ideas and changes in direction.


  • What will obsolete the entire product?
  • What other work / products can our product make obsolete?
  • What shifts in outlook, perspective or paradigm will
    • radically simplify our product?
    • increase the user’s capabilities?
    • reduce our costs to deliver?
    • integrate with industry-wide shifts and trends?

Measures of Success

  • The product is still relevant in 10 years
  • The product vision is clear and consistent over time

Support Team & Stakeholders

  • Artists
  • Philosophers
  • Creative thinkers
  • Hackers (you know which kind I mean)

Message, Brand and Audience

  • Focused on your organization’s outlook, not the product specifically
  • Position your brand as a reliable indicator of future trends
  • Audience is not just your potential users, but also their clients

Financial Considerations

  • You’ve got to do some of this, but don’t let it become of total time sink (unless you have funding for a PhD!)


This timescale is about collecting vague ideas, bringing them into focus and organizing them for effective decision making.


  • Identifying opportunities (e.g. needs, barriers, possibilities) far enough ahead of time to be able to respond properly (ahead of time relative to the moment when the lack of a feature has a negative effect on the product’s usefulness)
  • Sorting and prioritizing opportunities
  • Engaging with stakeholders, users, collaborators, competitors, artists, thinkers to identify these opportunities
  • For each opportunity, clearly stating its aims, value and impact on the product.

Measure of Success

  • Clearly defined paths that the product can follow
  • Plans in place to quickly develop new product capabilities
  • Comprehensive and clear vision of the product’s future
  • Stakeholders can easily interact with and react to possible product future states

Support Team

  • Business Analysts
  • Product Evangelists
  • Corporate Ethnographers
  • Enthusiastic early adopters

Message, Brand and Audience

  • Audience are enthusiastic users (who push the limits of the product), ‘cranky’ users who want the product to do more, and new types of users
  • Message is a balance between hyping the potential for the product, and not promising more than it can deliver today.
  • There is a negative aspect as well: explicitly calling out features or capabilities that will not be developed

Financial Considerations

  • This effort needs to be maintained at all times, but should not be a significant portion of the team’s overall spend (5% ish???)

In Development

This timescale is all about execution: delivering quality on a regular basis.

There is a transition between Next items and In Development items. The transition starts when a Next idea is identified as next in line for development. The transition ends when it is scoped and a definition of “done” is agreed.


  • Scoped items ready for / in process of developement

Measures of Success

  • Velocity of new features released
  • Quality of new features released
  • Relevance and uptake of new features released

Support team

  • Developers
  • Designers / Business Analysts / UX designers
  • Documentation writers
  • Alpha / Beta testers

Message, Brand and Audience

  • Focus message to the development team on the product vision, user goals, constraints and preferences, and the tactical goals of each feature.
  • Message to beta testers and clients is limited to commited features that arrive soon (definitions of ‘soon’ will vary…)

Finacial considerations

  • stable and competitive cost per new feature
  • connection of new features to maintaining or increasing revenue


This timescale is all about keeping the operation running. It is the shortest timescale, with the most urgency.

It is also the most public - all the features and capabilities here are ready for use and can be pitched to users for adoption today!


  • features in use by users / clients

Measures of success

  • reliable service to end users
  • quick turn around of support queries
  • enthusiastic users
  • marginal profit

Support team

  • Customer support team
  • Training team
  • Product and service maintenance (developers)

Message, Brand and Audience

  • Focus message on the value of the current feature set
  • Provide assurance that the product will a. remain available b. stay up to date with external dependencies c. improve
  • Target audience is current and potential users

Financial Considerations

  • Ongoing costs to run the service, provide support & training, and marketing
  • This is where the cash comes in: the marginal profit needs to be high so that the ongoing development can be maintained!