How to Solve a Product Manager Case Study in 4 Simple Steps

We cannot emphasize the importance of Product Manager case studies in interviews enough. Companies rely heavily on this step to assess your critical thinking and problem-solving skills as it closely mirrors the day-to-day activities. However, you don’t have to be a Product Manager with years of experience to come up with impressive case studies that will get you hired. Like the job itself, a Product Manager case study should be situational and contextual—getting it right is about tailoring your answer to the company you are interviewing for and the context behind the question. 

So, how do you make sure you hit the nail on the head? There are four steps to solving the Product Manager case study. Our case study instructors recommend the following: 

  1. Evaluate the need 
  2. Validate the need 
  3. Set a goal for the feature
  4. Decision making

From startup case studies to whiteboarding questions, this guide will take you through everything you need to know about tackling the notorious product management case study using these simple steps. Practice this approach with the various examples we provide and you should be ready to ace your next Product Manager case study interview.

Table of Contents

How to Approach the Product Manager Case Study 

Let’s say that an e-commerce furniture company wants to implement a feature: free returns. Take a minute to think about this case study question. How would you go about implementing this? What is your first step?

If there’s one thing we know from working with thousands of aspiring Product Managers, it’s that more than 90% of the candidates fail the product manager case study interview one way or another. And not because the candidates lacked the required skills! Like we mentioned above, a successful case study is tailored to the situation and context. 

Before we dive in, here are some pointers you should remember to get you into the right frame of mind as you tackle the case study assignment you are given. 

Ask Questions 

This is where to start: Always approach a case study assignment with the assumption that you know nothing. Never dive into solving the problem with little to no information on it. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer everything you need to: 

  • Determine the user of the product 
  • Narrow down and identify which problem to solve 
  • Find out the specifics of the question to establish your edge cases 

Making assumptions could lead you down the wrong path, but on the other hand, remember that being a Product Manager involves solving ambiguous real-life issues. Keep calm and creatively and strategically acquire more information for clarity of the situation. You’ll be one step ahead of fellow candidates.

Prepare for Anything 

Many novice candidates believe that the case study round always involves a take-home assignment, which would allow them to do extensive research on the question at hand. But while take-home assignments do come up often enough, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Prepare for your case study interview to involve on-the-go questions. You should also expect to whiteboard and solve problems on the fly during the interview. When that’s the case you’ll have only seconds — or minutes if you’re lucky — instead of days to tackle the problem.

There Is More Than One Correct Answer

The Product Manager case study interview is a way for companies to evaluate your problem-solving skills. They want to see how you identify product users, measure product performance, navigate technical aspects, and so on. You can demonstrate these competencies with a variety of answers.

Don’t Spend More Time Than You Need To

The take-home Product Manager case study can be especially time-consuming and you might spend all your time working on these assignments if you don’t have support. Remember that job hunting is a numbers game and allocate your time and effort accordingly.

Need more time to prepare for your next case study interview? Take your prep to the next level with this video by Product Gym co-founder Cody Chang:

How to Solve Any Product Manager Case Study in 4 Simple Steps

Without further ado, here are the four steps you need to follow to solve your Product Manager case study:

Step 1: Evaluate the Need

To understand the need in the Product Manager case study, you need to ask a series of questions. Here are a few of them to get you started:

  • How did the company come up with this feature?
  • Was it suggested by executives, or by 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

You have to start on the pre-question. Let’s take the example of a furniture e-commerce company.

Some of the questions you would ask yourself are: 

  • What are your assumptions, knowns and unknowns, and where is the data? 
  • Do we have data on this, and is the data right? 
  • On free returns, do we know how many people already trying to return?
  • Are there specific types of products that we know customers return? 
  • 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 do we not know? 

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

The company you are interviewing with is likely operating in another domain that you are not familiar with. That’s okay. As long as you can lay out the roadmap for your product with sound reasoning, you’ll be good to go.

Step 3: Set a Goal for the Feature

In this specific example, you want to focus on time and resources, which is money. This means explicitly profitability. What are all the areas that might factor into profitability? Here are some questions to consider:

  • 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?

Check out these guides to help you determine the essential metrics for your company’s business and the product you are developing:

Step 4: Decision-Making

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

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

  • 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 will lose the seasonal sales cycle.

These are all moving parts that you want to evaluate and then communicate to the PM interviewing you in the Product Manager case study. The best thing to do when you ask these questions is to get specific. Use examples of times when you had to make these decisions yourself based on these factors.

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.

What to Expect from a Product Manager Case Study at a Startup 

The type of company you are interviewing for is a key consideration when determining the context for your case study. It’s highly likely that you will interview for a Product Manager position at a startup—there were 30.7 million startups in the US in 2019, and the numbers will only keep growing.

No doubt, the expectations, and responsibilities differ immensely in a startup role as compared to being an enterprise PM.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when interviewing for a PM position with a startup: 

  • Product Managers are expected to wear multiple hats: Startups, especially early-stage ones, don’t have all the resources they need. Because of this, your responsibilities may include roles away from the standard PM job description. It’s also likely that you will be responsible for more than one product.
  • Be ready for some confusion: Many of these companies don’t have a recruiting team or a full-fledged HR strategy, and therefore chances are they are also exploring interviewing as they go. 
  • Prepare for niche markets: If the startup operates in a niche market, you might have little to no knowledge and resources for understanding the competitive landscape and creating a useful product. Our case study prep guide can help you sound like a seasoned expert no matter your background in such cases. 

So how do you show your interviewer that you are ready to take on the challenge?

1. Demonstrate Fast Execution

First and foremost, you should show that you are quick when making decisions and taking action. Unlike established companies, you will not have many tools or practices to help you make decisions and organize your and your team’s tasks. You should be comfortable with communicating decisions and last-minute action items with the rest of your team.

2. Be Ready to Take Risks

Executing decisions takes a sense of responsibility and ownership, which brings us to our second point. As a Product Manager, you should be a leader who isn’t afraid of taking risks. When needed, you should be ready to take the driver’s seat. There is no doubt that your responsibility will exceed a single product, and you will soon be expected to come up with ideas that will impact the whole company.

3. Prove You Can Multitask

Limited resources mean you may find yourself wearing different hats. For example, you might not have a UX designer and end up designing the wireframes yourself. Regardless of the situation, get ready to prove to them that you can multitask. How do you show this skill in your Product Manager case study? 

  • By thinking about how this company can make money — or in Product Gym terms, by becoming a wartime Product Manager. Think about how the product in question will contribute to the company’s short-term and long-term goals. 
  • Many startups are still in the funding stage, so any work you design should generate revenue with minimal costs. 
  • Think about all the ways you can create a product that the market currently needs and lacks. 
  • Include wireframes in your case study presentation to show them that you already thought about how the product should look. 
  • In your documentation and presentation, describe the resources you will need and how you budget this product.

4. Learn About the Company

A case study assignment is a simulation of the real job, especially in startup interviews. Leverage it to learn as much about the company as possible. Assess how they treat you and try to figure out how the company culture is.

Are they ignoring your emails and acting like you don’t exist? Or are they making a genuine effort to make the interview work for you despite the lack of resources? Are you expected to solve a complex case study on the go during an interview?

Answering these questions can give you a good feel of your possible future employer.

5. Prioritize, Prioritize, and Prioritize

As we mentioned, startup companies operate with minimal resources and are under a lot of stress. So, remember to focus on the essential features needed to create a fully functional MVP ready for the market in the least amount of time.

Make some realistic estimations and come up with numbers to help your interviewers with the budget, resources, and time you need to create this product. Roadmap the steps required to get to the MVP and clearly define everybody’s responsibilities to build it.

How to Solve Whiteboarding Case Study Questions in 4 Steps

Along with the commonly assigned take-home assignment and the presentation that follows, the product management case study is notorious for its technical and whiteboarding interview questions. Here are four simple steps our instructors developed to help you master the dreaded whiteboarding interview questions in your case study round.

Step 1: Keep Calm and Embrace the Fact that You Know Nothing

Most aspiring PMs fail the Product Manager case study not because they do not have experience, but because they panic over a lack of information. 

In practice, Product Managers rarely have enough information about the problem they were asked to solve. Having seen many candidates interview, we can confirm that interviewees often disqualify themselves by showing the interviewer that they are not ready to tackle ambiguous real-life issues.

So, remember to keep calm and accept the fact that you have insufficient information about the problem that’s thrown at you.

Step 2: Try to Understand What the Question Wants You to Achieve

Companies ask whiteboarding interview questions to see if you can create or improve a product that can accomplish a specific goal. When you take on any product management case study question, start by taking a step back. Think about what the question wants you to accomplish.

In most cases, you should be able to divine the purpose of the question from how the interviewer forms it. Our case study instructors have identified four specific purposes: 

  • Prioritization
  • Product Design
  • Target Market Identification
  • Product Launch 

Determining the purpose behind vague questions and finding the right approach to address them requires a lot of focused practice with real case study questions.

Step 3: Narrow Down the Question as Much as Possible

You need to narrow down the case study questions as much as possible to come up with some real and data-driven conclusions. Given that you have little to no resources available to you, you have to make some realistic estimations. Accurate estimations are only possible if you get to the heart of the question.

Think it through and ask as many questions as you need.

Step 4: Keep the Conversation Alive

Communication is an essential part of the case study interview: you should keep your interviewer informed about every aspect of your thought process. After you identify the whiteboarding question’s purpose, clearly inform your interviewer what direction you want to take and your reasoning.

Check your reasoning with your interviewer by asking them if this is something on their mind or if this is something they would consider. In most cases, they would either have an answer key or a direction on their mind and would be able to help you.

Once you agree on the direction you take, ask more specific questions to extract as much information as possible and get a confidence vote from the interviewer that you are on the right track.

Last but not least, make your interviewer’s life easier by suggesting options and giving details while asking questions.
See how we used these four steps to work through a Facebook Product Manager Case Study question: Should Facebook enter the dating market?

Product Manager Case Study Presentation Best Practices

You have worked hard and finally finished your Product Manager case study assignment, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax—your case study presentation is as vital as solving the question.

Not only is it the time to demonstrate your excellent communication skills, but a good presentation shows your interviewers how you collaborate. Here’s a breakdown of how to give a winning presentation:

  1. Design and Brand Your Presentation Materials: The best way to prove that you are a big fan of the company and have the spirit to join the team is to use company colors, logos, and any media related to them. A good design always draws attention, and you want to grab as much attention as you can.
  2. Have the Right Amount of Content: Have just enough content to ensure that people know enough about your product to be convinced that it has potential. Include all the relevant details about the fundamental aspects of the product. But, leave them curious about the finer details. This will keep them engaged throughout the presentation.
  3. Include Visuals and Media to Spark Feedback from the Audience: Activating the brain’s visual cortex will keep your interviewers engaged throughout your presentation. The best way to ensure that everybody understands your product is to include wireframes and preliminary designs in your presentation.
  4. Make Sure Everyone Has a Positive Experience With Your Presentation: A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can explain your product to a five-year-old and a Ph.D. simultaneously. Start simple and allow the audience to ask questions as you progress. Allocate a considerable amount of time to go over your designs and ask the interviewer for feedback: Ask them questions, see what they think, and learn about the things they would have done differently. 
  5. Paint a Clear Picture of the Product With Your Wireframes: When you are sketching wireframes for your product management case study, be sure to include anything you can explain in terms of functionality. Given that many of the products are digital, it’s crucial to explain the transitions between one screen to another. For example, you should explain what happens when a user clicks on something and which screen comes next. If the next screen is an integral part of the feature, you should include it in your case study deliverables.

List of Product Manager Case Study Question Examples

Before we dive into the most common examples of Product Manager case study interview questions, let’s solve one together. Check out how our Case Study Instructor, Roman Kolosovski, tackles the popular FAANG case study question “How would you build a product for pet owners?”:

1. Product Design Case Study Questions

These are the most common types of questions. They range from designing a product from scratch to improving an existing product. Some questions will explicitly tell you to focus on a specific OKR, while others will leave everything ambiguous to challenge you to think more.

Product Design Question Examples

  • Design a product to help users find doctors on Facebook
  • How would you improve Google Maps? 
  • You’re a part of the Google Search webspam team: How would you detect duplicate websites? 
  • Name any product you love and any product you despise and explain your reasoning for both cases. (Amazon)
  • You’re the Product Manager of a team that focuses on financial products for our Uber drivers. You’re tasked with designing a financial product (or suite of products) that addresses our drivers’ needs in Brazil.

2. Product Strategy Questions 

Unlike product design questions, strategy questions require you to think about the bigger picture. You’ll either be asked to find ways to make a product better—and hence define success for the product, or to complete the overall organization more successfully. 

To solve these questions, you need to be well informed about the company and its products or services. Consider the company’s business model, competitors, and the recent developments in that industry. The essential skill you need to demonstrate here is analytical thinking.

Product Strategy Question Examples

  • If you were Google’s CEO, would you be concerned about Microsoft? 
  • How would you improve Google Maps? (Google)
  • How would you set goals and measure success for Facebook notifications? 
  • How would you monetize Facebook messenger? 
  • How would you determine the right price and method to promote product XYZ, and why? (Amazon)

3. Estimation and Analysis Questions 

These are used by interviewers to measure how comfortable you are making decisions with limited data, so show them how you use data to derive the KPIs you need for your product. These questions are mostly asked during the interview. To solve them without internet access is only possible by learning the fundamental values of the company beforehand. This includes the revenue it makes or the approximate number of users it has. You should also be able to calculate their critical KPIs.

Estimation and Analysis Case Study Question Examples

  • How many queries per second does Gmail get? 
  • As the Product Manager for Google Glass ‘Enterprise Edition’, which metrics would you track? How do you know if the product is successful? 
  • How much revenue does YouTube make per day?
  • How would you go about estimating the number of gas stations in the USA? 
  • How would you track user engagement in an app, and what KPIs would you use to improve it?

4. Scheduling/Operational Questions 

These types of case study interview questions are few and far between. Interviewers ask these questions to assess the candidates’ ability to turn ideas into deliverable tasks. Note that for most operational Product Manager case study questions, the interviewer will require you to write a detailed delivery schedule and write user stories and tasks.

Scheduling/Operational Case Study Question Examples

  • Write the Jira ticket(s) for engineering for the idea you want to execute. (Upwork)
  • Outline a brief (1-2 page) launch plan that would cover the activities and tasks needed to launch the feature successfully. Be sure to touch on both internal and external stakeholders, and include potential launch goals. (Stitch Data)

Product Manager Case Study FAQs

Do I need to include wireframes in my case study presentation? 

The short answer is yes. You should always have a couple of screen designs ready for your case study interview. Why? It’s probably the best way to spark any reaction from the interviewing committee. Plus, it’s also way more comfortable for your audience to understand what your product looks like with a solid prototype. 

Should I use low-fidelity or high-fidelity wireframes in my case study? 

Given that it’s not your job to develop the actual design, low fidelity seems more appropriate. That being said, the bar for low fidelity designs has been relatively high over the past couple of years. So, low fidelity designs are more than pen and paper sketches: they are expected to be digital.

How should I structure my Product Manager case study presentation? 

Detail the solution you came up with a presentation that states: 
Here is what the solution is.
Here is what the solution looks like.
Here is how a user would go through the process within this solution.

What types of PM case study questions are there? 

There are four common types of Product Manager case study questions: 
Product design questions 
Product strategy questions 
Estimation and analysis questions
Scheduling/operational questions

What’s the difference between a case study assignment at a startup vs an established company?

Unlike larger companies, startups do not have as many tools and resources at their disposal. This means that not many will have a recruiting team or a full-fledged HR strategy and are interviewing as they go. Many Product Gym members that have taken the startup route have noted how disorganized the Product Manager interview process can get at a startup, so prepare for some confusion. No matter the size of the company, be sure to assess how they treat you and try to figure out how the company culture is in the process.

Put Your Product Manager Case Study Skills to the Test

Put your case study skills to the test with our free online training course. Access to instructor-led whiteboarding sessions with real FAANG interview questions to take your prep to the next level.

Don’t forget to call us for free career coaching to learn more about how Product Gym can help you land the Product Manager job of your dreams!

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