How product managers prioritize features (and why your idea isn’t getting built anytime soon)

One of the most important skills a product manager must have is the ability to prioritize. PMs work with nearly every group in a company, and each group has a million things to do but only time and people to do a handful of them. And when you can’t do everything, it’s really important to do the right thing.

If you’ve ever made a feature request for a product and never seen it built, its because it didn’t survive some product manager’s ruthless prioritization gauntlet. PMs are prioritizing machines and have an always-updating situational awareness so they can quickly decide whether something is worth doing, not doing, or revisiting later. PMs hold in their heads a hierarchy of short- and long-term goals of the organization and it's teams; areas of opportunity for their product; the org's strengths and weaknesses; resources available; and even team members’ individual career goals in case something they’d be perfectly suited for comes up. If an idea doesn’t make it through this complex gauntlet, it doesn’t get prioritized.

Distilled down to a single question: “Why this, why now?”

Below is a flowchart I shared with my team to de-mystify what happens to a new idea when it drops into a PMs brain. It doesn’t account for all the variables mentioned above, but it helps explain why that thing they suggested isn’t getting built anytime soon, and what types of ideas are more likely to make it through at this moment.

Becoming a PMMark Rabo