What is this question about?
This question tests your skills as a product manager to develop a product from ideation to launch. As a product manager, you will lead a team in developing a product. As part of that process, a product manager needs to convince stakeholders about the business motivation for building a product, set a vision for a product, help identify the best audience for the product and the most important problem to solve, and manage the development of an innovative product. This question tests all these skills.
What is the interviewer looking for?
The interviewer is looking for all these signals across these areas:
Motivation: Do you understand or can you infer why the company is interested in building the product?
Segments: Can you identify possible target segments? Do you have an effective way of prioritizing the audience to build for?
Problems: Do you identify a set of possible problems to solve for the target segment? Can you prioritize the most important problem(s) to solve?
Solution: Do you propose creative solutions? Do you prioritize a solution with clear criteria?
Communication: Do you communicate your approach and decision-making clearly? Are you structured and succinct? Do you take in new information from the interviewer and use it?
How to structure your answer
Here is a summary of a framework to answer the product design question that fits the evaluation criteria. A detailed description follows:
- Clarify: Ask questions to disambiguate the problem statement or clarify any assumptions you could be making.
- Motivation: Give your opinion of why the company may want to build the product.
- Segmentation: List possible target audiences for the product and prioritize one.
- Pain points: For the target audience, list possible pain points and prioritize one or list a theme of pain points that you think are worth solving.
- Solutions: Ideate creative solutions and prioritize one you think is worth building.
- Risks: Comment on possible risks that your solution could carry.
To illustrate how to apply the framework, we will use the following product design question: Design a fridge for the office.
Ask the interviewer anything ambiguous about the question. It is essential to ask any questions to clarify any assumptions you could be making. If you don’t ask questions, you are probably making assumptions.
Typical questions you should ask are:
- Who is making the product? An existing company or a startup?
- What is the expected launch time?
- What budget or resources do you have?
Who is making the product? An existing company or a startup? You need to ask this question because knowing the company may help you narrow down what type of product to build.
You may know its mission and product line if it is a well-known company. This information can help you infer the business motivation.
What is the expected launch time? Knowing the timeline will help you decide whether to leverage existing technologies or rely on future technologies..
What budget or resources do you have? Knowing resources and budget will help you narrow down the choices of solutions that meet those requirements.
Infer the company’s business reason for building the product and state a high-level goal that aligns with it. Setting a high-level goal for the product at this stage will help you narrow and prioritize options. For example, when considering segments and problems to solve, you can use the goal as a prioritization criterion.
Below are steps to infer the business motivation and define a high-level goal.
You should consider the company’s mission (if known), product line (if known), market trends, technology trends, the competitive landscape, and any other factors that can help you infer the company’s motivation.
For example, if the question were: “Design a fridge for the office” and Google wants to make this product, you can carry the following analysis:
This product fits with the Nest smart appliances line of products, except that it targets office space instead of home space. By introducing this product, one can infer that Google is interested in expanding the Nest line into the office market.
A goal that aligns with this business reason would be penetrating the office market and achieving initial adoption.
Think of user groups that would benefit or be impacted by the product. Find these groups by using different segmentation criteria. Select a cross-segment that paints a holistic picture of the persona most motivated to use the product, representing a large market.
Follow these steps to do this:
- Segment by different criteria.
- Pick a large-size segment or cross-segment that would benefit the most.
Segment by Different Criteria
Segmenting by job role, pay grade level or motivation for using the product. Other criteria typically used are stage in life, the urgency of need, frequency of use, etc. Use whichever criteria make more sense to you.
In this example, we could segment by:
- Job role: employees, cleaners
- Pay grade level: executives vs. regular employees
- Motivation: store leftovers from lunch or get something fresh to eat
Pick a Segment
Pick a large-size segment or cross-segment that would benefit the most. In this example, we could choose regular employees that want to store takeout or lunch food.
Regular employees tend to:
- bring a lunch box from home, or
- go out for lunch and bring leftovers back to the office.
Regular employees use a refrigerator to keep their leftovers fresh until they go home. Therefore, this is the best target segment because they would benefit the most from the product, and it is the largest group.
Think of at least three problems the particular segment you chose has relative to the question statement. You could use either of two methods or both to find pain points. Method 1 uses scenarios and method 2 uses a journey. Or, you could use both, a scenario inside a journey stage or a journey inside a scenario.
Scenario, Journey, and Pain Points
A scenario is a situation you describe by answering the when, where, and what the user is doing when they need the product. You use a scenario to describe the context within which the user may have a pain point.
The following are scenarios and associated pain points:
- An employee returns to the office from lunch break and wants to store leftovers in the fridge (SCENARIO), but there is no space (PAIN POINT).
- An employee is going home (SCENARIO) but cannot find their food in the office refrigerator because the fridge is crammed with old and new food (PAIN POINT).
- An employee wants to store their lunch box in the office fridge (SCENARIO) but feels disgusted by the dirtiness and smell of spoiled food (PAIN POINT).
In the above bullet points, the phrase before the “but” conjunction describes the scenario. And the phrase after the “but” conjunction describes the pain point.
An example of a journey is the description of a process from beginning to end. For example, the journey of someone wanting to eat out at a restaurant could be:
- Find a restaurant.
- Book a table.
- Drive to the restaurant.
- Order meals.
- Get attention from a server.
- Ask the server questions.
- Pay the bill.
In each of these steps, you can find user pain points.
Prioritize a Pain Point
Once you have listed the pain points, prioritize one. If the pain point is too small, group them under a theme. The first pain point is about not finding space in the fridge; the second is about the user not finding their food in the refrigerator, and the third is about the user feeling disgusted and desisting from using the fridge because it smells and is dirty. You can prioritize the most important pain point to solve by using one two or all of these criterions:
- frequency and
- alignment with the goal.
The third pain point is the most severe since it would deter someone from using the fridge. And it is the most frequent pain point because people often forget to remove their food from the refrigerator.
After you prioritized the pain point to solve, restate it as a goal. There are two reasons for doing this:
- To show the interviewer how you took a very open-ended question and narrowed it down systematically to a concrete product goal.
- To be extremely clear about the key problem the product will solve.
For this example, the pain point we chose, an employee wants to store their lunch box in the office fridge but feels disgusted by the dirtiness and smell of spoiled food, can be reframed as a goal to solve the pain point, like this: “the goal of the product is to create an office refrigerator that stays clean at all times.”
The interviewer will generally want to see how creative you are, so think of three different solutions to the problem. Sometimes, however, the problem may entail an entire process with a start, middle and end. And in that case, it is okay to come up with one solution with multiple features. To help you develop creative solutions, think of current, trending, or future technologies you could leverage and productize. Keep track of trending technologies and revisit them to keep them top of mind when you need to think creatively.
Below are steps to help generate creative solutions and how to deliver them.
Brainstorm solutions: Take a minute to think of three different solutions, from a simple one to a more sophisticated one. Think of current, trending, or future technologies you could productize to solve the problem.
Assign catchy names: Give your solutions a catchy name. Catchy names help you refer to them and make your solution sound like a real product.
High-level description: Describe your solutions at a high level. Mention what it is (e.g., a hardware device, an app, etc.), what it does, and why it solves the problem.
Prioritize a solution: Pick a solution based on two criteria: (1) impact on the user and (2) cost (or complexity). Explain what “impact to the user” means to you, for example, ease of use or affordability.
Describe the user experience: Describe how the user will use the product from start to end. Wireframe the solution if you have time to help the interviewer visualize it.
Below is an example of how to talk about solutions with the goal of creating an office refrigerator that always stays clean.
Possible technology solutions are cameras, spoiled food sensors, and high-pressure water sprayers. Then you could say:
I am thinking of three products.
The first one I will call the Box it and Take it Fridge. It is a fridge with compartmentalized recyclable boxes for people to put their food in. Employees store their food in a box and throw the box away or take the box home when they pick up their food. The fridge stays clean because there are no boxes to clean.
A second product is the Spoiled Food Detector Fridge. It is a connected fridge with internal sensors and cameras that can identify which foods to throw away before they start smelling nasty. The refrigerator would notify fridge users, requesting they dispose of their food or it gets thrown away by cleaners.
A third solution is the Store and Pick Up Fridge. A connected fridge with cameras, an RFID badge reader to read an employee’s id, an internal clock, water spray, and a drying mechanism to clean the refrigerator. Cameras inside the fridge detect food left by employees, and the fridge sends notifications to employees to pick up their food before some scheduled time every day. If they don’t pick up their food, it gets thrown away to empty it. And the refrigerator uses a cleaning mechanism similar to a car wash to clean itself.
I would prioritize the Store and Pick Up Fridge because it provides the cleanest solution. It would be the most expensive solution, but it would save costs in manual cleaning labor in the long run.
The user experience would be something like this:
When the user returns from their lunch break and needs to store their food in the fridge, they use their badge to open the door and leave their food. The kitchen manager would have programmed the fridge via an app to notify people to pick up their food before a certain time during the day. At that time, the cleaner in charge would get a notification to remove the boxes left in the fridge. Once the refrigerator is empty, the cleaning cycle starts. Like a car wash, a water + soap cleaning system begins washing the fridge, so it’s ready for the next day.
End your answer by mentioning the possible risks of your solution. For example, one risk could be that forgetful employees may feel embarrassed if it is known that they forget to pick up their food sometimes and cleaners have to remove their food from the fridge. And therefore end up not using the fridge.