How to Answer the “How Do You Solve Technical Challenges?” Product Manager Interview Question

How would you solve technical challenges you have never encountered before? Is a classic question for the technical round of Product Manager interviews, so you can bet on it coming up, especially if you’re a first-time PM. 

But don’t get worked up about your lack of technical knowledge. Remember this: The role of a Product Manager is to determine what to build, not how to build it — even if you are coming from a software engineering background. Keep that in mind and you can successfully answer the question without letting it intimidate you. 

Here’s a breakdown of a great answer template to use, including tips on how to answer from our interview coaches. 

When to Expect This Question 

Technical questions come up in Round Three of the interview, where you will most likely face a panel that includes stakeholders from product, engineering, design, project, mobile, and data. 

For this question, you should direct your answers to engineers and the Head or VP of Product. They are the ones who would be most involved if a technical challenge came up. 

“How Do You Solve Technical Challenges?”: An Answer Template  

Here’s an answer template our interview coaches recommend: 

That really depends. First I would communicate with my engineering lead about the best possible solutions before doing anything on my own.

When I encountered technical challenges in the past, the solutions to the problem were either a quick fix or a new skill I would have to learn as a Product Manager. Regardless of the solution, it’s important for me to take full ownership and consult with my engineering lead first.

These types of conversations come easy and natural when you make an effort and take the time to get to know your engineering lead and the rest of the technical team. 

There’s a lot going on in the answer above. Let’s dissect it. 

Answer Template Breakdown 

No matter their level of experience, every Product Manager encounters technical challenges that they don’t know how to solve. The difference is in what they do with the challenges when they come across them. Answering your question with an answer similar to the template above communicates that you are a competent PM with the right product management skills

Let’s look at it in parts:

The Opening

That depends… 

Starting your answer like this creates a safety net for you to fall back on because you’re not solidifying your point of view. If the interviewer has a drastically different opinion, it gives you the flexibility to adapt your answer to fit their viewpoint.

First I would communicate with my engineering lead about the best possible solutions before doing anything on my own. 

The technical team would rather you communicate if there’s a problem instead of trying to solve it on your own. Yes, they may be slightly annoyed if you’re contacting them all the time, but they would rather be bothered than have to clean up a bigger mess later on. 

Then, Elaborate

When I encountered technical challenges in the past, the solutions to the problem were either a quick fix or a new skill I would have to learn as a Product Manager. 

Here you can add examples of how long it took you to fix a past problem, “It didn’t last more than 20 to 45 minutes…”, and highlight that you’re always happy to learn new things as a PM. 

And Show Your Leadership Skills

Regardless of the solution, it’s important for me to take full ownership and consult with my engineering lead first.

This shows that you take ownership of a situation, regardless of what it is. The technical team often takes the heat when something goes wrong, so they will appreciate working with a PM who steps up to the plate and does not play the blame game. 

These types of conversations come easy and natural when you make an effort and take the time to get to know your engineering lead and the rest of the technical team. 

This goes to show that you foster good relationships with people. This is important in a team because it promotes openness and collaboration. People are less likely to hide mistakes or problems from the rest because they know they have their back. They will also be more comfortable coming to you, the Product Manager, with their challenges. 

Bonus Tips 

Here are some helpful things to remember when going into the technical round of your next interview. 

  • The role of the Product Managers is to determine what to build and why. It’s not your job to determine how to build something. 
  • The role of the software engineer is to determine how to build the thing: Leave it to them. 
  • Don’t focus on technical Product Manager jobs if you are not technical. Focus on your natural strengths and where you can add the most value. 
  • There are a lot of roles that are more strategy and growth-based that are a better fit for non-technical PMs. Look for roles in which you’ll solve challenges and problems that you are inspired and engaged to do. 
  • Don’t cram information. Mine your experience for answers when answering interview questions. 
  • The wrong tech leads can be your worst nightmare. If they’re difficult in the interview, they’re going to be even more difficult when they’re on the job. 
  • Take ownership of and follow up with companies on questions you failed. This shows ownership and willingness to learn. Give your interviewer a response like, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but, I’m going to get back to you with an answer in [set date or time]”. 

Want to learn more on this technical question? Watch our co-founder Rich Chen, who is a former PM recruiter in California, breakdown the answer in-depth below: 

Master the Technical Product Manager Interview 

Want more coaching on how to deliver the perfect answers to technical Product Manager interview questions? Schedule a free call with us.

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