Product ManagementRiviRoadmaps

Roadmap Planning as a Zero Sum Game

By Rivi Aspler

gameIn game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant.

When planning a roadmap, one can easily resemble the different stakeholders to participants of such a zero sum game, where the roadmap days are the gains that everyone wants and the discussion-room is some kind of a poker table, on which development-days are exchanging hands just like poker chips.

The fact that everyone is working for the same company and want the same best for it doesn’t contradict the fact that each of the stakeholders has a different way to reach that same objective…

  • R&D – want to invest in infrastructure or re-write products that are written in outdated technologies.
  • Professional Services teams – want more parameters in the software that will help them setup new customers in less time and help them better accommodate the product for different customers’ needs.
  • Sales people – want exactly the set of features that will help them, close the next deals.
  • Marketing teams – want that new set of features that everyone is talking about (but that very few customers are willing to pay for, just yet).
  • And certainly you as a product person (be honest with yourself) – want to invest more than a few roadmap days in what you think would bring more value to the customers.

Understanding that roadmap planning is a zero sum game requires you to:

  • Try and get as much mathematics into the analysis of where roadmap days should be invested. Getting people to agree on numbers is always better than getting people to agree on some cool PowerPoint slides.
  • Accept the fact that each stakeholder will do their best to prove that more roadmap days should be dedicated to their goal. For example, sales people will ask for lower quotas if their requests don’t get enough roadmap days or R&D teams that will threaten you that products will crash if you keep on using that outdated technology.
  • Accept the fact that a choice must be made and hence, some stakeholders will like the decisions and some will be disappointed.
  • And last but not least, try and enjoy the process as much as you can.

At the end of the day roadmap planning is not that different from chess. Try to do your best to win the game but be ready you lose respectfully.


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Rivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.