How to Solve PM Case Studies in Less Time

Product Management is situational and contextual. No product development lifecycle is going to be seamlessly executed every single time for every single product. Similarly, during the interview process, the same answer for similar questions will not always be correct. These answers change based on who is asking and context behind the questions they are asking – specifically, for the case study based questions.

This article assumes that you have a basic grasp of Product Management 101 concepts. Here are four steps to take while doing a case study to minimize the amount of time spent working on it. 

 

What is the right method to tackle these Product Management Interview Questions?

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that an e-commerce furniture company wants to implement a feature: free returns. How would you go about implementing this?

Take a minute to think about this question. What is your first step?

If your first step is to start building requirements, talking with design partners, and writing user stories for your engineers, you’ve made a fatal mistake.

Step 1: Evaluate the Need – Why are we doing this?

How did the company come up with this feature? Was it suggested by executives or customers? Is the goal of this feature to drive revenue or increase loyalty? Are we assuming that leadership has already signed on board to this feature? Or are we assuming that this is just a small product that we have been given to test?

Essentially, you need to figure out the bounds and constraints of this question. You may not be an industry expert on the business that your interviewer is in or you may lack that domain knowledge, so in order to create an informed answer, you have to know what your answer is NOT.

Step 2: Validate the Need –  Should we do this?

You have to start on the pre-question. You’re asking yourself what your assumptions are, what is known or unknown, and where there is data or not. If there is data, is it any good?

So what are my assumptions? Free returns. Do we know how many people already trying to return? Do we have data on this and is the data good?

Are there specific types of products that we know customers return? What do we not know? Are there some parts of the world where customers expect free returns? Do we have data on that? The company isn’t going to necessarily know that from the data because customers might not provide that feedback.

What am I assuming about free returns? Am I assuming it’s going to have a limit on weight? Am I assuming that it’s going to be released to only customers in a certain region? Am I assuming that I will have a big budget for this?

When you focus on these unknowns, what you’re really focusing on is time and resources. This gets into the business side of asking questions.

So if you are not a domain expert in furniture e-commerce or you are not familiar with their business model to give a nuanced response, what are these Product Managers looking for in your response?

The main thing that Product Managers are looking to see is whether or not you can communicate competency in evaluating whether the product or feature should be launched.

Step 3: What should the goal of this feature be?

In this specific case, you want to focus on time and resources, which is money. This specifically means profitability. What are all the areas that might factor into profitability? Some questions to consider would be:

  • How much is it going to cost and how do you evaluate that cost?
  • Will priorities in regards to other features change?
  • Would we have to focus on other resources?
  • Would we have to deal with interstate laws based on shipping?
  • How about shipping internationally or shipping interstate? Will it be taxed?

Step 4: Decision-Making

The rabbit hole of questions can go as far as how you want to evaluate these unknowns based on the business requirements. You may need to spend these resources and push back the engineering deadline. Is the company okay with that?

It depends also on how you communicate “Yes” or “No” answers. If you say, “Yes, I want to prioritize this feature,” then know your reasons why, which could include:

  • Because the manager has signed off on the strategy.
  • I know who the customers are.
  • I have the data to back it up.
  • I have the stakeholder consensus to do it.
  •  I have a timeline that I feel confident executing on.

Or, if you say “No,” have your reasons why to address the same areas:

  • No, I don’t have a clear strategy from management.
  • No, the manager wants me to validate this before we spend extra resources on it.
  • No, we don’t have enough engineers or resources for this.
  • No, we have to use the sales cycle for another feature – if we try to implement this now, we are going to lose the seasonal sales cycle.

These are all moving parts that you want to evaluate and then communicate to the Product Manager interviewing you. The best thing to do when you are asking these questions is to try and use specific examples of times where you had to make these decisions yourself based on these factors.

Summary

Remember to communicate competency on how you evaluate whether or not you implement a feature. Ask questions to create constraints and boundaries to the case study, and control its scope. Once you have this information, you will know how to best approach the questions based on the Product Management knowledge you possess.

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