Imagine you were hired as the product manager of Facebook Events. What goals would you set for the product? And, how would you set those goals?
What is this question about?
This ‘goal’ question is about testing to see if you have an effective way of setting goals for a product team. Since setting goals is a significant function of a product manager, this is a question you are most likely to get asked in an interview.
What is the interviewer looking for?
The interviewer is evaluating you on the following:
- Have you set goals for a product in the past and, therefore, already know how to do it?
- Do you define metrics to set goals?
- Do you explain how you prioritize different metrics?
- Do you consider the stage of the product in its product cycle? And use this to determine which stages in the funnel to focus on?
- Do you evaluate your choices of metrics and talk about tradeoffs?
What does the interviewer mean by setting goals?
Probably the first question that goes through your mind is, what does the interviewer mean by ‘setting goals?’
The interviewer is asking you to define metrics, targets, and a timeframe to achieve these targets. For example, if you find that a metric you want to improve for Facebook Events is the ‘number of public events published,’ then you could set a goal as ‘increase the number of public events by 10% in the next quarter.’ So here the metric is ‘the number of public events,’ the target is ‘10%,’ and the timeframe is ‘next quarter.’
To find which metrics to improve, you need to:
- know what business goal you want to achieve, and
- which user activity is indicating that your product is achieving the business goal, then
- define metrics to measure if those activities are affecting the business goal.
If the product is brand new, then your business goal is likely be to improve adoption. And, you will need to define metrics that indicate users are adopting the product. If the product is an existing product that you want to grow, and your business goal is to increase engagement, then you will need to define metrics that indicate users are engaging with the product.
In either case, you need to define metrics systematically by going through the different stages in the user experience funnel (e.g., acquisition, conversion, engagement, retention, and monetization). And for each stage, identify the relevant user activities to measure and define a metric to measure it.
Since there could be several metrics to choose from, you will also need to decide which metrics to prioritize. One criterion is to prioritize metrics that provide a more direct and broad signal of whether the product is achieving the business goal.
How to structure your answer?
We suggest structuring your answer in the following way:
- Clarify. If something is unclear, ask the interviewer to clarify.
- Describe the product. Confirm your understanding of what the product does.
- State your approach for setting goals. For example, if the product is new, and your business goal is user adoption, you will focus on metrics that measure adoption. If the product is an existing product in the growth stage, and your business goal is engagement, then you will focus on metrics that indicate users are engaging with the product.
- State the stage of the product. State where you think the product is in the product life cycle. Explain how you would use that information when defining metrics.
- Define the product goal. State clearly what you think the user problem is and, subsequently, what the product goal is (e.g., what user problem it solves). Stating the product goal becomes important when defining the North Star, the most important metric they will ask you to define.
- Define the metrics. Go through the user experience funnel stages and start defining the metrics. You may also want to organize your metrics by themes.
- Prioritize the metrics. Pick metrics that are direct and broad indicators that your product is achieving the business goal.
- Criticize your metrics. State why your metrics are not perfect or do not give the full picture. Talk about the tradeoffs of choosing one vs. another metric.
Clarify & Describe the Product
INTERVIEWER: Welcome to Facebook. Let’s begin. Are you familiar with Facebook Events?
INTERVIEWEE: Yes. I think Facebook Events is the feature that appears on the left sidebar on the desktop browser, and it displays events created by friends as well as public events around your area. I have also seen posts in my feed, letting me know that a friend is going to a particular public event.
INTERVIEWER: That is right. Okay, great. Then imagine you are the product manager of Facebook Events. How would you set goals for your team?
INTERVIEWEE: Sure. But before we begin, I want to clarify what you mean by setting goals. Setting product goals to me means defining key metrics to measure success and setting targets for those metrics within a timeframe. Is this what you mean?
INTERVIEWEE: Okay. Let’s start by sharing my general approach to setting goals, and then show how I would apply it to Facebook Events. How does that sound?
INTERVIEWER: Sounds good.
State Your Approach for Setting Goals
INTERVIEWEE: So, the first thing I do is determine which stage of the life cycle the product is at. Knowing the product stage helps me identify which part of the user experience funnel to focus on (acquisition, conversion, engagement, retention, monetization). Then for each funnel stage, I define metrics to measure user activity that indicates movement towards achieving the business goal.
For example, if the product is brand new, and the business goal is adoption, then I would focus on acquisition, conversion, and engagement metrics instead of retention metrics. But if the product is in the growth stage and the business goal is to increase engagement, then I would define metrics in the acquisition, conversion, engagement, and retention funnel stages that show me we are moving towards that goal. And, I prioritize those that more directly indicate an impact on the business goal.
I also think that defining a North Star or primary metric that indicates whether the product is solving the user problem and impacting the business is important. It is the most important metric because it proves that the business is extracting value by addressing the user problem, which should be the end goal of any product.
Finally, I set targets for each metric for a given timeframe, which in my experience usually is every quarter, depending on the company’s performance review cadence.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, that sounds good. How would you apply your approach to setting goals for Facebook Events?
State the Stage of the Product
INTERVIEWEE: Facebook Events is not a new product. It has been around for a while, probably 7+ years. And based on my usage, it appears to be growing. There are more public events listed, and I see more friends using it to organize private events, like parties. But there is still room to grow public and private events.
Let’s start by defining the North Star, the key metric that tells us whether we are solving the user problem and impacting the business. Facebook makes revenue via ads, and ad revenue is directly proportional to the engagement of users on the platform. Therefore, ‘impacting the business’ to me, means increasing user engagement. Would you agree?
Define the Product Goal
INTERVIEWEE: Okay. So, Facebook Events deals with two different types of events: public and private. In the private case, Facebook Events solves the user problem of needing help with organizing offline social gatherings with friends. This solution certainly aligns with Facebook’s mission of building community and bringing the world closer together. So, the product goal of Facebook Events concerning the private use case is to help users enjoy each other and strengthen their friendships by enabling them to create and attend each other’s private events.
For the public event case, Facebook Events solves the user problem of finding interesting or exciting events, like a concert, for the user to attend with their friends or alone. So the product goal is to help users find events offline to go with friends or alone.
In these two use cases, the organizer of the events is different. In the private use case, the organizer is a Facebook user. In the public event use case, the organizer is a business. In the private event use case, the goal is to help people who are already friends or acquaintances strengthen their friendships. While in the public event use case, the goal is to help individuals find interesting things to do alone or with friends. The goals are different for private and public events.
Therefore, we need to define two North Star metrics for this product. For the private event use case, I would define its North Star metric as the fraction of friends that RSVP and communicate with each other about the event. By ‘communicate,’ I mean, all the different ways users can interact on Facebook, such as sharing, commenting, and reacting. This metric is an indicator of user value, represented by the fraction of friends who RSVP, and an indicator of business value, represented by engagement from comments, shares, and reactions they add to an event post. If this metric grows, we know that a larger number of friends invited to a private event are attending and socializing on the platform about it. And, that is good for users because they are enjoying their friendships. It is also good for the business because more engagement on the platform means more ad impression opportunities.
I should note that no metric is perfect. There is always something a metric may not be covering. For example, in this instance, we don’t know if the total number of events is growing. And I will define other metrics to fix this gap. Nevertheless, this North Star metric satisfies the purpose of telling us if the product is solving the user problem and having an impact on the business.
For the public event use case, I would define the North star metric as the number of users that RSVP per public event. This metric is an indicator of user value and business value. The number of users that RSVP per event means that users found an event that interests them, indicating user value. And if the users are coming to Facebook to search for events and RSVP to public events, that means users are likely engaging with other Facebook features when they search for events, indicating business impact.
Helping users with organizing private events seems like a more effective way to foster and increase engagement between friends than assisting users in finding public events. Private events are more personal, and therefore more meaningful for friends than going together to some public event, like going to a concert.
Since increasing engagement is a critical business goal to monetize ads, then all things being equal, I would prioritize improving private event metrics over public event metrics.
Would you like me to consider both private and public events, or should I proceed in defining metrics for private events?
INTERVIEWER: Let’s continue with defining metrics for private events.
INTERVIEWEE: Okay. Since Facebook Events is still in the growth stage, I want to focus on metrics related to acquisition, conversion, and engagement. The reason for this is that if we’re going to meet the goal of increasing user engagement on the platform, then we should expect user activity across these three funnel stages. And the metrics we define for each of these three stages should tell us if users are moving across the funnel towards engagement.
To bring clarity about what the metrics tell us, I want to organize them in two groups: by users and by events. And by that, I mean metrics based on users and metrics based on events. For each group, I will define metrics across the funnel stages I just talked about, acquisition, conversion, and retention.
I will also prioritize the ones that more directly indicate an impact on the business goal, engagement.
Prioritize the Metrics
Now for each stage, I will prioritize metrics that are direct and broad indicators that the user is moving towards increasing engagement.
For acquisition, I will prioritize two metrics:
- The total number of users that created or RSVP an event. (1)
- The number of events created. (7)
These metrics tell us if the volume of users and events is increasing, which is a broad indicator of whether the user base is growing. And this is a requirement for us to be able to increase engagement with the feature.
For conversion, I will prioritize one metric:
- The percent of events viewed that were RSVP’d by at least one person. (9)
This metric is a direct and broad indicator of whether events are successful in converting at least one of the invitees to attend. Engagement cannot increase without this conversion.
For engagement, I will prioritize:
- The number of communications per event. (10)
The more communications between people, the more engaged users are with the feature.
The other metrics provide low-level detail or incomplete information about the success of user engagement. So I did not prioritize them.
Now, to set the targets for each metric, I would look at the history of past performance achieving the same goal. I would set targets that are more ambitious than the previous targets, assuming the team has remained the same and has not been reduced or augmented. I think that setting the bar higher is a way to motivate the team, especially when meeting targets is commensurate with compensation.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see any problems with these metrics?
Criticize Your Metrics
INTERVIEWEE: I do. If we take the percent of events RSVP’d at face value, we could be misleading ourselves. People tend to RSVP to parties, but only a fraction of the RSVPs actually show up.
INTERVIEWER: So how can you avoid this problem?
INTERVIEWEE: That is hard. We cannot know for sure how many people that RSVP’d actually went to a private event. Our best indicator would be to see how many invitees interacted about the event on the event page after it happened. But this could also be misleading because not everyone will comment or react.
INTERVIEWEE: Since it is not possible to confirm if people went, then I still think that using RSVPs is useful because it tells us about people’s intentions. And for the creator of the event, seeing more RSVPs is a good experience and will most likely encourage him or her to use the feature for future events.
INTERVIEWER: I agree. Well, we have run out of time. Thank you for your thorough answer, and good luck with the rest of your interviews.