One Post You’ll Need to Crack the Most Dreaded Product Design Interview.

Product management interviews are currently the trendiest and most exciting kind of interviews, but have you wondered why they are most dreaded? You would know if you were preparing for one or if you had attempted one or more such interviews. This post will help you prepare for your product manager interviews and focus more on the design type of questions.

There are several ways you could attempt to answer these kinds of questions, but I thought I could share my views as I am a product management enthusiast as well.

I do not want to keep dragging before telling you what I have learned or know; let me get to the point and not beat around the bush. You would have read several articles or blogs about how to answer and also how not to answer. This one would provide you with details on how to present your answer in a proper framework so that your interviewer could follow along and also save you from many questions being thrown towards you.

The one most common question: “What is your favorite product? And why?”

If you directly tell them you love the product because it looks cool, stylish, and you love the brand or because you think it is blah blah blah… you are answering more like a person who is a general user and not a product manager!!!! Cause when you give your answer based on your fascination with the product and not looking at why the product was made, what problem it solves, why is it different, etc., then you might get caught with the next question “How would you improve it?” or “Why do you think they designed it the way it is?”, “What could you change in the product and why?” ….

So how do we present them? This would still attract a decent number of follow-up questions, but you would be in a position to handle it better because you know what you are talking about when you follow a proper FRAMEWORK.

Before presenting your answer, think as to why you love the product?

1. Is the product innovative?

2. How useful is the product to you?

3. Is it easy to use?

4. Is it a legitimate and honest one?

The most important reason why any product is created in the first place is that it solves a problem, so empathize with your customers and their pain points. We cannot force-fit a customer’s solution and say it solves a problem they do not experience or care about. What is their problem? And what solution are they expecting? Now, think about why you like the product you have in mind.

Principles of a Good Product Design

One of the common and most loved frameworks by-product management people is the “CIRCLES” framework.

Circles Framework for Designing Products

Comprehend the Situation:

The first step of the CIRCLES method is to comprehend the situation; whenever we comprehend the situation, it is essential to understand three things:

1. Context

2. Goals and metrics

3. Constraints, Risks, and Assumptions

Context is clarifying the following questions:

a) What is the product about?

b) Who are our target customers?

c) What problems are they facing?

d) Why do they need a solution?

e) Is there an alternative solution to it?

f) Does your product idea have competitors in the market?

g) How different can your product be?

Goals and Metrics are critical to deciding before designing any product cause without having a vision of the end product; you would land nowhere or not where you want to be.

a) Are you trying to maximize revenue?

b) Is user acquisition our goal?

c) Trying to retain users?

d) Expanding market share?

e) Trying to improve customer experience or satisfaction?

f) Increase conversation rate?

Ask these questions if you are asked to improve a product, as to what the goal of the company is.

Constraints, Risks, and Assumptions can be different for each product category and type. Some of the common considerations are:

a) Overutilization of resources.

b) How many funds and resources are available?

c) Lack of backup plan for product development.

d) Lack of information and improper communication.

e) What platform is the product going to use?

f) Are there geographical constraints?

Identify the Customers:

Once the comprehension step is completed, the second step is to identify your product’s target customers and then decide upon the persona based on several segmentations. For interviews, focus on a persona with few attributes and traits.

The target customers are grouped based on their characteristics and attributes derived from these segmentation categories. It gives a detailed analysis of the type of products they use, the brand, occasion of buying, intent behind the purchase, the price range and their readiness to purchase a product, etc.

There is no “One size fits all” strategy that will develop a compelling product strategy because segmentation addresses a particular market and caters to the target customers' needs, which provides a greater ROI. But for interviews, we need not go deep into these; rather, pick one from each category, list few attributes for your persona, and tell your interviewer about the pain points and why you are designing the product the way you do. Also, mention the limitations and other factors that are taken into assumption.

Listed below are the main categories of segmentation types:

Segmentation Types

After identifying the target customers based on the segmentation, it is important to create a persona with a real image and a name. The identified segment attributes are listed along with the goals associated with the persona. This fictional character you create will represent the user type for whom the product is created. Using a persona template helps to list all the details related to the persona, their goals, and pain points, and share it with all the team members working on the product development.

Roman’s Pichler persona is one of the famous persona template models with a simple and easy to design template, where the goals and pain points are listed along with the image. This persona model can be used during your interview to instantly design a base template to list all the identified features and attributes. However, you could use other detailed templates could be used to go more in detail to illustrate the likes and dislikes, motivations, personality traits, etc., of a persona. Still, they wouldn’t help you during the interview due to time constraints.

Roman’s Persona Template
Other Persona Template

Report Customer Needs

The third important step is identifying the customer needs, requirements, use cases, stories, pain points.

We will cover more about the use cases and stories in a separate post; for interviews, let us keep this short and crisp with what is required to clearing the interview process, provided we have only limited time.

A user story is a way to capture and translate your customer’s needs, but it does not describe how the solution works. Refer to the image below to create an effective user story.

User Story Format

INVEST Guideline for User Story Writing

Write a good user story with INVEST guidelines created by Bill Wake, which is used to identify and build a good quality product.

Independent: A good product should be distinct and should be released on its own, and it should be possible to have incremental value.

Negotiable: Though the end goal can be clearly and well described, it should be one where the methods to reach the goal should be negotiable. The product manager, development team, and the other stakeholders should be able to negotiable and discuss the functionalities and how to build them.

Valuable: The story should immediately recognize its business value and should represent the specific user type.

Estimable: A proper and enough information should be available to plan the work.

Small: Each user story should be small enough to be completed within one sprint.

Testable: All team members should be clear of the result and should be able to verify if the user story is completed.

INVEST Guideline by Bill Wake

The 3C’s of User Story

3 C’s for User Story

Cut Through Prioritization

Once you have written down your solutions, it is essential to prioritize the solutions you can list out as the features that need to be built first. This prioritization should be made considering the following factors:

· Strategic Importance

· Probability of Success

· Work Around Availability

Additionally, a simple matrix can prioritize the features based on the risk and business value. Draw a simple 2x2 matrix with risk against value on a range high to low. Now add the solutions to each of the quadrants based on the risk in developing the product and its business value. First, implement the features with high value and high risk. Second, work on those features with high value and low risk.

Priority Risk Value Matrix

The decision you make is your opportunity to show the interviewer your ability to prioritize the features, assessing the tradeoffs, competitor analysis, analyzing the pros and cons, and make decisions. There will be a list of product backlog items in real-time, whereas as a product manager, you will have to decide which items go through the sprint. The product managers need to think strategically and articulate the importance behind each decision made. When you think through the process, which one would you give the priority? Revenue or customer satisfaction?

If you are looking for a framework to decide on the go and no-go or a method to prioritize, you could use the RICE acronym.

Calculate the RICE Score for each feature, and then based on the scores, the priorities are decided.

RICE Score = (Reach * Impact * Confidence)/ Effort Involved

RICE Framework

Also, there are other famous frameworks to decide the feature priority, like:

· Kano Model

· Pareto Management Principle

· Moscow

List Solutions

Step 5 of the CIRCLES method is to list your solutions to the interviewer. Now that you have decided upon the solutions and prioritized them, mention a few to the interviewer cause going into detail about each of the solutions would be time-consuming. The best way to do this is:

1. Think big because interviewers evaluate your creativity and vision in foreseeing future trends. The best way you could handle this is to read tech blogs about how big companies are progressing and launching new products.

2. Write down 8 to 10 solutions; this will help you push your limits and think beyond what you knew you could. Then mention the top three you think would be worth mentioning. Please do not waste your time going beyond 10, as you will get deviated from what is important and may not complete it within the given time limit.

3. Now, compare your solution to what is existing in the current market, are there competitive companies who provide similar solutions? If yes, then how could your solution be different? What is the market positioning your product would have? Why do you think customers should purchase your product and not the one from the competitor company? When you think of a solution to this, you will come up with better answers.

Evaluate the Tradeoffs

Next, step 6 in the CIRCLES method evaluates the tradeoffs of the selected top three solutions. Discuss with your interviewer the pros and cons, why your product would stand out in the market, and list any innovative features currently not existing in the market.

By evaluating the tradeoffs, you get more analytical and thoughtful. You think not just about the market elasticity and competitiveness, but you also evaluate the customer’s and vendors’ bargaining power. The more unique and innovative your ideas are, you project yourself in front of the interviewer as a thinker who could vision the market trends and make an analysis based on them. Also, include customer satisfaction, the level of difficulty in implementing the feature, and its revenue.

Summarize

The CIRCLES method’s final step summarizes your ideas, and you could skip this if you are running out of time. But if you have some more time left, you could summarize the solution and ideas and finally suggest one or two top decisions about your final solution to the interviewer.

Tell him/her about the feature you recommend, and why it would benefit the user, and how it could solve the pain point. Also, state why you preferred this over the rest and how different this is compared to the competitors.

** This post is created to shared my learning/work experience, and I would greatly appreciate and welcome any suggestions you would like to provide. I strongly believe in “Knowledge shared is knowledge squared…” So share your views, or if you think I might be wrong somewhere, you are welcome to provide your insights, feedback, or anything that would add more value.

Product management enthusiast, product management consultant, poet, cook, and a mom. I love to share what I read and know... Please share your comments..

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