How To Answer A Product Design Question The Right Way

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I was recently interviewed for a Product Manager role. Part of my preparation was to make sure I knew how to answer a design thinking question. If you’re hiring a Product Manager or you’re a Product Manager preparing for an interview, knowing how to answer a product design question is critical as is one of the more common questions to be asked in a Product Manager interview. This question is designed to find out how you think and your approach for designing products or features. For simplicity, I’ve written this blog focusing on the Product Manager who is preparing for an interview.

The most common style of question is “Walk me through how you would design X product” or “Help me design X for Y.” The example I’ll use is “help me design a new patient portal for people who visit doctors” because that’s what the company was building.

Ask Clarifying Questions

The most important things to demonstrate are clear and logical way of thinking through the question and to make sure you understand what is being asked. If you launch into solution mode straight away without asking clarifying questions you’re going to make huge assumptions about the question being asked and most likely come up with an inaccurate answer. Jumping straight into solution mode suggests that a Product Manager is more likely to build a solution they think is right as opposed to a solution that is right for the customer. Below is how I’d break the question down:

help: Do you want just my help? Do you want me to create a team for the project? Do you want me to embed in your team? What do the deliverables, budget and timeline look like?

me: Who is “me?” Is it only the person that asked the question? Is it the person and their team/department? Is it a customer of theirs? Is it the organisation they are working for?

design: What should be designed; the product management process, the front-end, the customer experience, processes, procedures, the product, the product features?

a new: What does “new” mean in the context of creating the product. Does this mean brand spanking new? Will it be a new product built on existing infrastructure? Will it be a new product in a new market? Will it be a new product in an existing market?

patient portal: What does this solution look like to you, your customer/user? Who are your direct and indirect competitors? What do they look like? What are their value propositions? How can you compete? Do you have a wireframe/mock-up/prototype/MPV?

for people: Who are your customers? Who are your users? Do you have Avatars? What are their pains, gains, jobs to be done (jtbd)? Do you have paying/non-paying customers? Do you have internal/external quantitative/qualitative data on your customer’s behaviour?

who visit: How are said customers visiting doctors now? What’s their customer experience and customer journey? How will the product fix/improve this experience?

doctors: Will the product serve all types of doctors or a specific type i.e. only GPs? Is it only Australia based or is this a product for the global market?

Communicate Your Answer Outline

As you can see above, the question appears fairly simple on the surface but in reality, there are a bunch of assumptions and unanswered questions that need to be worked through. In an interview, you have a very limited amount of time to demonstrate how you think as a Product Manager. If you provide an unstructured, incoherent answer that makes it difficult for the interviewer to follow, they are most likely going to put it in the “too hard basket” and move on to the next candidate. If, on the other hand, you deliver a clear, logical succinct answer it will demonstrate your ability to think through complex problems and stay on point while under pressure. Along with the clarified question, this is how you should structure your answer:

Business goals: Make sure you understand the organisations business strategy and how that is being translated into the product strategy

Customers: Understand the customer segments, their pains, gains and jtbd.

Possible solutions: brainstorm a list of possible features and double check them to make sure they align with the organisational goals and the customer needs

Pros and Cons: Outline the pros and cons of each possible solution

Recommendations: Recommend one solution based on sound logic and reasoning

Identify Users And Their Use Cases

You will have touched on this while asking clarifying questions however it’s important to dig a little deeper when it comes to customers as they are pivotal to the creation of the product. It’s important to determine who your customers are, who your users are and each of their use cases.

Identify Gaps In The Use Cases

Here, it’s time to talk about how existing products in the market address the customer’s pains, gains, jtbd and whether or not you can create and compete with a unique value proposition. I wrote a blog some time ago “Project ProofPop – Research Phase: Part: 1.” It goes into a lot of detail about how I researched a market before building anything to see if a) there was a market b) it was big enough and growing and c) if I could determine a unique value proposition if I chose to compete.

Brainstorm Features And Improvements

If you’re able to find a gap in the market and come up with a unique value proposition, the next step is to brainstorm features or products that meet the needs for the customers while also delivering on your unique value proposition.

Prioratise And Identify Trade-Offs

One of the main tasks of a Product Manager is to work with their team and organisation to determine which is the next most valuable feature to ship. This decision requires the weighing up of User Stories and making trade-offs. This decision making process should not be arbitrary. It should be aligned with your goals, the goals of the team, release, product roadmap, product strategy, business strategy and, of course, the needs of the customers. The decision should also have solid reasoning about why a specific feature was chosen over another and the benefits and/or trade-offs. This shows the interviewer that you have the ability to think narrowly, critically, make an informed decision as opposed to implementing your idea because you think it’s best. It also shows that you’re able to take a step back and take an unbiased view of the situation and make the right decision for all parties while leaving your ego on the sideline.  

Your Recommendation

Summaries your thought process about how you got to the decision you came to and how the decision solves the problems of the customer.

Conclusion

The design thinking question is one of the most common questions in the Product Management interview. It’s extremely easy to mess up by jumping straight into solution mode. It’s also an excellent way to set yourself apart from other candidates by demonstrating the way you approach the problem and your though process throughout. Hopefully, the information provided in this blog has been beneficial in helping you structure your design thinking answer.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or leave a comment below.

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