Saturday, April 20, 2019

PM Interview: Product sense/product design questions

A product manager’s core responsibilities include working with a team to design, build, ship, and continuously improve a product. During product manager interviews, most companies love to hone in on your ability to execute against these responsibilities by asking how you might think about designing a product.
The popular product design question usually takes shape in the form of something like:
“Walk me through how you would design X product for Y user”
Some common example questions we’ve frequently heard include:

  • How would you design a grocery store for elderly people
  • Design an alarm clock for blinds
  • Design a bookcase for children 

When you answer these types of product design questions as part of the product manager interview, you should always approach them with a framework in mind. Below is one that we highly recommend:
1) Ask Clarifying Questions
Remember, there is no point continuing with an answer if you haven’t fully grasped the situation.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked a simple product design question to a candidate who then proceeded to give me a lengthy five minute answer before I realized that the candidate had never used the product before.
If I asked a candidate to walk me through how he/she might design a alarm clock for blind, I expect the candidate to first ask clarifying questions such as "should I design a physical clock, is the user totally blind or color blind
Remember, product managers don’t just dive headfirst into launching a product without first understanding the whole situation and the business goals.
A candidate who doesn’t ask clarifying questions is a big red flag and tells me that he/she would design products without understanding what a user truly needs.

2) Communicate Your Answer Outline
There is nothing worse for an interviewer than trying to follow a candidate’s unstructured train of thought when responding to a product question.
It’s crucial to demonstrate that you have taken time to comprehend the situation and then lay out some groundwork on how you plan to answer this question.
Showing that you are organized by structuring out your answers to these questions will put your interviewer at ease and keep your thoughts in line so that you don’t ramble or go off on tangents.
An example of how you might approach this is to say “Now that I’ve understood the scope of this product, I’d like to lay out how I might approach this design question.
First, I’m going to re-iterate what my business goals are.
Second, I’ll identify my customer base and their use cases.
Third, I’m going to brainstorm some features and evaluate these features against the business goals I’ve listed.
Lastly, I’ll discuss trade-offs and summarize my recommendation.”

3) Identify the Users / Customers and their Use Cases
Although you might have lightly touched upon this while asking some clarifying questions, this step is crucial to locking down exactly who the product’s customers and users are and their use cases. 
Remember that for certain products, the customer and the user of the product may be different people. For example, in the educational app/games market, parents are often the customers who buy these apps / games for their children to use.
I would recommend drawing a 2-column table on a whiteboard or piece of paper with: your users/customers on the left column, and their respective use cases on the right column (users/customers may each have multiple use cases so leave some room on the right side to account for that). You can then expand the column as you move fwd (see image).

For example, going back to the better wallet, a user might be a working adult who uses a wallet to store their cash and critical cards (i.e. license, debit/credit cards/business cards).
At this point, it would be great to ask more clarifying questions to your interviewer about whether or not they want to focus on a particular user/customer to save time.

4) Identify Gaps in the Use Cases
Now that you’ve compiled a list of various use cases, it’s time to start thinking about how current products/solutions in the market address these use cases and whether or not there are any gaps or room for improvement.
Taking a step back, it’s good to look down your left column of users/customers and think about the qualities that are special to each one of them.
Like a true product manager / customer advocate, put yourself in their shoes and think about their limitations and values.
This will help you to better identify weak spots in current product offerings. If you want, you can add a third column next to each use case to help structure the obvious gaps that you identify.

5) Brainstorm Features / Improvements
Now that you’ve figured out the gaps that current products are missing to address user/customer needs, it’s time to break out that thinking cap and brainstorm solutions to address these gaps.
Make sure that your features / improvements match the use cases that you’ve listed. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer if you are on the right track or if they prefer you to focus on one or two of your ideas. 

6) Prioritize and Identify Trade-offs 
With this shiny list of brainstormed features and improvements, it’s time to prioritize which of these you might focus on and what the trade-offs would be with each solution.
When you prioritize your ideas, it’s important to use some sort of decision framework. If you are focusing on business goals like revenue, it might be important to evaluate each feature by the ratio of potential revenue generated vs. the time & cost it would take to develop.
One simple way is to take the (potential revenue generated – cost to develop ) / time to develop and sorting your list from top down values.
Once you’ve come up with this list, think about the pros/cons and trade-offs of choosing to implement each solution. This lets you automatically play devil’s advocate to your own ideas to show your interviewer that you are thinking about all facets of the solution including edge cases and potential negatives.
As an interviewer, I love to see candidates critically think about their own ideas and tell me the trade-offs proactively.

7) Summarize your Recommendation
Whew, you’re almost done with your product manager interview! Let your interviewer know what your final choice is and feel free to review how you came to the solution and why it satisfies a user / customer’s needs.
If you haven’t elaborated enough already, feel free to reiterate why you chose this solution over the others on your brainstormed list.

Friday, April 05, 2019

The career path of a product manager

Building a career as a PM is like building a product - you must actively manage and direct the process. It won't happen magically by itself.

Product Management entry points

There are no hard and fast rule, but there are three common entry points:
  1. New graduate hire . (APM/PM role)
  2. Switch from near PM roles (Project Manager, MBA, Product Marketing)
  3. Former entrepreneurs

The PM Career ladder (directional guidance)

Warning! This is a straw man career ladder to provide directional guidance. Below, we've enumerated the key drivers of variance (e.g., company size, equity compensation).
TitleTenure (yrs)Salary ($)Responsibilities
Associate Product Manager2 - 3$80K - $100K
  • Launching small features
  • Collecting user feedback
  • Analyzing usage data
Product Manager2 - 3$100K - $160K
  • Launching features
  • Managing product roadmaps
  • Driving inter-team collaboration
Senior Product Manager2 - 4$160K - $200K
  • Leading a sizable product line(s)
  • Acting authority on his/her product
  • Interfacing with company execs
Group Product Manager2 - 6$200K - $250K
  • Managing a few PMs
  • Managing a few products (via team)
  • Owning large parts of company roadmap
Director / VP of Product Managementn/a$250K+
  • Managing multiple PM teams
  • Managing multiple product lines
  • Helping define company strategy
  • Representing company externally

Drivers of variance in the PM career ladder

  1. Equity (Equity percentage)
  2. Responsibility set (startup vs big companies.. usually one level is adjusted)
  3. Promotion Cycle (hard and longer cycle of promotion in big companies.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The PM reading list

The "must-read" list to learn about the art of product management.

Caveat: This list is a work-in-progress, and the list will be ever growing.

The 10 best posts on product management.
The PM role

Good PM, Bad PM (Ben Horowitz, Andreesen Horowitz)

Remains one of the most succinct, insightful posts on the varied, crazy and challenging role of product management.

How to hire a PM (Ken Norton, Google Ventures)

Worth reading because many hiring PMs have some version of the criteria Ken laid out here in their mind when doing interviews.


A 10-step plan for working engineers (Ken Norton, Google Ventures)

A funny, memorable post that illustrates how should work with engineers by calling out the 10 things you definitely should not do.

How to work with designers: a cheat sheet for PMs (Julie Zhuo, Facebook)

No non-sense, informative post on how to work with designers from a VP of Design at Facebook who used to work as a PM and an engineer.


Product thinking: behind our new Messenger home screen (Brian Donohue, Intercom)

A detailed look at how the Intercom team went about re-designing their Messaenger home screen with tactical details on goals, mocks and outcomes.

A bad product decision (Brandon Chu, Shopify)

An in-depth overview of how one poor product assumption decision derailed an entire product launch. While painful to read, it's a great post that shows the importance of getting the details right.


Experiments at Airbnb (Jan Overgoor, Airbnb)

A thorough and analytically sound post on one of the most important aspects of modern day product management: running and analyzing experiments.

The Dangerous Seduction of the LTV formula (Bill Gurley, Benchmark Capital)

By far the best post on the critical topic of LTV, including an overview of the correct way to calculate it and all the pitfalls you need to watch out for.

Product strategy

Amazon's annual shareholder letters (Jeff Bezos, Amazon)

Great example of clarity of thought in product strategy and execution at a high level. All of them are worth reading, but a solid, recent one is the 2016 annual results letter.

The only thing that matters (Marc Andreesen, Andreesen Horowitz)

The seminal blog post on product market fit and why it's the "the only thing that matters" when launching a new company (or a new product).

Want to read more?

Aggregation theory (Ben Thompson, Stratechery)
Many leading consumer technology companies, e.g., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, etc., have built up an incredibly strong position for themselves and Ben's post lays out convincing argument for the systematic and predictable ways this happens.
The origins of Product Hunt (Ryan Hoover, ProductHunt)
This is about as good as it gets for a tactical memoir of how a modern tech product was born. Covers everything from the email-first experiment to web app v1, including snippets of email conversations, early mocks and tweets.
Climbing the wrong hill (Chris Dixon, Andreesen Horowitz)
Great, general career advice from a former PM and founder. For anyone embarking on a PM career, it's worth reading to this make sure you're thinking about your job finding algorithm in the best possible way.
Maker's schedule, manager's schedule (Paul Graham, YC)
In a company, PMs are managers, not makers. While they do manage the product, they do not write the code, design the mocks, write the marketing copy, etc. As a result, the type of schedule they keep and the type of schedule their teammates keep will necessarily vary dramatically. This post explains why.
Get one thing right (Andy Dunn, Bonobos)
PMs are often tempted to build robust, fully-featured products that can solve every problem under the sun. The challenge is that doing everything well out of the gate is a recipe for failure. Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos, explains why getting one thing right is the critical first step.
The DNA of product management (Hunter Walk, Google, Homebrew VC)
Product management is a job of "many hats." Hunter Walk, an early Second Life, Google and YouTube PM, details what those "hats" a PM must wear are and why they matter so much.
Advice from 17 product managers (First Round Review)
A nice collection of tactical advice from seventeen different product managers covering everything from driving decisions with data to the best way to communicate with stakeholders.
The next feature fallacy (Andrew Chen, Uber, Andreesen Horowitz)
The TLDR: It's often tempting for PMs to think the next feature they launch will magically fix the product. The reality, almost always, is that it won't.
Writing is thinking (Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft, Andreesen Horowitz)
One of the core tools of the PM role is writing specs (or PRDs - project requirement documents) that define what a feature is, who it's for, and how it should be built. Given that, writing well is a key skill for PMs.

Benchmarks: World's key facts and figures

Benchmarks are super helpful when you are prepping for an interview or planning and proposing a new product in your company. I worked on building Benchmarks products at ServiceNow and love the insights they provide to have meaningful conversations.

Without a doubt, your business judgment and quantitative skills will be the workhorses in market sizing drills. But there is a key "spark plug" that will help get things started: a good bank of key facts and figures. Earlier, we referred to this as a super power. That's true for three specific reasons: 1) it provides good starting points 2) good data points for proxies and 3) good data for running quick sanity checks.
For example, consider a case where someone asks you to size the dental floss market in China, or India or the United States. If you have no idea of the rough populations of those countries, you're going to be off to a rough start. While firms won't expect you know to esoteric facts, there are a key set of figures that you should know because they'll be helpful as stating points and baselines for sanity checking your estimates.
Let's review some of the key data sets.
Country populations
  • China: 1,393M
  • India: 1,267M
  • US: 322M
  • Indonesia: 252M
  • Brazil: 202M
Number of house holds (HHs)
  • China: 445M
  • India: 263M
  • US: 122M
  • Indonesia: 62.5M
  • Brazil: 61.2M
Regional populations
  • The world: 7.2B
  • Asia Pacific: 4.5B
  • Africa: 1.2B
  • North America: 580M
  • The European Union: 511M
  • South America: 422M
Global economic data
Gross domestic product (in $USD)
  • Global GDP: $73.1T
  • US GDP: $17.4T
  • China GDP: $10.4T
  • Japan GDP: $4.6T
  • Germany GDP: $3.8T
  • UK GDP: $2.99T
Largest exporters (% of world total)
  • European Union: 16.3%
  • US: 11.7%
  • China: 9.9%
  • Germany: 7.5%
  • Japan: 4.1%
Number of businesses
  • US: ~40M1
  • EU: ~22M2
Health and wellness
Life expectancies (in years)
  • Canada: 82.6 (16th in World)
  • Germany: 81.5 (27th in World)
  • US: 79.6 (49th in World)
  • China: 75.9 (below top 50)
  • India: 68.3 (below top 50)
Percent of GDP spent on healthcare
  • US: 17.1% (Highest in world)
  • Germany: 11.3% (6th highest in world)
  • Canada: 10.4% (15th highest in world)
Oil production (thousands of barrels per day)
  • US: 12,704
  • Saudi Arabia: 12,014
  • Russia: 10,980
  • Canada: 4,385
  • China: 4,309
Biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (in million tonnes per year)
  • China: 8,100
  • US: 5,270
  • India: 1,830
  • Russia: 1,780
  • Japan: 1,259
Fun facts
Busiest airports (total passengers per year)
  • Atlanta, Hartsfield: 101.5M
  • Beijing: 89.9M
  • Dubai, Intl: 78.0M
  • Chicago, O'Hare: 76.9M
  • Tokyo, Haneda: 75.3M
Cinema attendance (per year)
  • India: 2,117M
  • US: 1,270M
  • China: 830M
  • Mexico: 257M
  • South Korea: 215M
Beer drinkers (liters per person per year)
  • Czech Republic: 147
  • Germany: 113
  • Austria: 107
  • Estonia: 103
  • Poland: 99