Learn what product creation questions are, how to approach them, and how to excel at them. Explore real-world examples.
- Product creation questions are common in the product management interview process, sometimes referred to as product vision or product design questions. These questions usually take the format of: "Tell me about how you'd design X for Y?" They can also take the form of an interviewer asking you what your favorite product is, why, and how you could improve it. These questions can seem intimidating at first, and actually, they're meant to be. By asking you to design something you have no experience in, the interviewer gets a sense of whether or not you can think through the problem in-depth, gain the proper context, think outside the box, and present solutions in a way that shows you're aware of the assumptions that you're making, all while under pressure.
A while back, an interviewer asked me to design a better elevator system for the office building we were in. I obviously knew nothing about elevator systems, and very little about the building, so the first thing I did was ask what was wrong with the current elevator system. They told me that there was a large line at the elevators every morning at the beginning of work. Next I asked some more questions, like how many people worked at the building, how big the building was, how many elevators there were currently, how many companies were in the building and on which floors, et cetera...
I wrote everything down on the whiteboard as I gained this insight. If there were any questions that the interviewer couldn't answer because they didn't have that data, I would make an educated guess and note on the whiteboard that this data was an assumption. After I had asked all the questions I could think of, I took some time to think, making sure I explained my thoughts to the interviewer. Eventually, I wrote out and described about five potential solutions, ranging from simple things like making certain elevators only go to certain floors, all the way to advanced solutions like an entirely different elevator algorithm.
I even asked about any unused vertical space and proposed that a staircase might be built for people to go between floors owned by the same companies. I concluded by recommending a simple change in which elevators go to which floors would be the easiest first step to implement and watch for improvements in waiting time, which was the metric I picked to measure my solution by. In the end, I passed the interview, but it wasn't because I had succeeded in developing a better elevator system, instead it was because I demonstrated that I could think through the problem in a logical way.
Here's four steps you can keep in mind to approach these types of problem, like I did: Understand, brainstorm, prioritize, and explain. Let's talk a bit more about each. The first step is to understand the problem, the user, and the user's needs. This means you need to ask clarifying questions, just like I did. Don't be afraid to ask the interviewer questions, because they're actually looking for you to do this. The quickest way to fail this test is to blurt out an answer without fully understanding the problem. Be sure to write down all of the data you get and note when you're making an assumption.
The second step is simple; just brainstorm as many possibly solutions as you can, and estimate what kind of effort it'd take to implement. Don't be afraid to get crazy and write down some really far-fetched solutions. Write all of them down and remember, more is better. As you write down all of these potential solutions, you'll naturally begin to order them in your head by how effective they might be versus how much effort they would take. Put stars next to ones you think look the most promising, and don't be afraid to ask the interviewer what they think of a particular idea.
After all, collaboration is a huge part of any PM job. The last step is to explain to the interviewer your various ideas, which ones you'd probably try first, and why. Do not be embarrassed by the solutions you come up with, because remember, that's not what they're looking for. Instead, focus on explaining to them how these solutions solve the real problem and how you arrived at that conclusion. Sometimes solving the real user problem might mean the best solution is a very simple one, and not some complex undertaking.
So, that's it, it's actually a really simple process to answer these sorts of questions. If you're a nerd like me, you'll actually have a lot of fun in these interviews. It takes a lot of pressure off of you to know that the interviewer doesn't actually care whether or not your solution is correct. Just keep in mind that they want to see how you think. Remember these steps and you'll not only do well, but I'm betting you'll have some fun in the process.