“How Would You Manage the Backlog?”: How to Answer Product Manager Technical Interview Questions

The question “how would you manage the backlog?” in a Product Manager interview is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate the value you would bring to a company. As general as it may seem, it’s one of the technical Product Manager interview questions that the engineers on the interview panel care most about. 

If you’re looking for the perfect response, keep reading. We’ve crafted a template you can use in your next Product Manager interview, including a breakdown highlighting the key traits you should illustrate in your answer. 

What Round of the Interview Should You Expect This Question? 

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of backlog is some sort of storage compartment filled with piles of stuff. The same goes in the Product Manager context, where you will have a list of things you want to do, but never get around to it because the tasks are not urgent or important. 

A daunting backlog can pose a problem in all kinds of product teams. Companies want to hire a PM who can take on the challenge. The topic of the product backlog will usually come up in round three of the interview, where Product Manager technical interview questions are asked. 

In this stage, you are most likely going to face a panel that includes stakeholders from product, engineering, design, project, mobile, and data. Direct your response to the engineers. They are the ones most concerned with the backlog because a big chunk of the tasks involves them. 

How Would You Manage the Backlog?: An Answer Template 

Without further ado, here’s the answer template our interview coaches recommend: 

That depends because every team does this differently, even within the same company. 

I usually review the backlog on my slowest day, which is Friday afternoon. I prioritize tasks into two lists and catalog a list of items that we never use to ask the team about them. I keep everything else and try my best not to add any additional tasks unless we plan to do them soon. 

This is why having consistent, open, and structured communication with engineering team members is so important, in my opinion. 

How do you guys manage the backlog here? 

Answer Template Pro Tips: 

  • Starting your answer with, “that depends” 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.
  • Always throw it back to your interviewer with a follow-up question. This engages the interviewer in dialogue and gives you more insight into the company. The more information you have, the more value you can conjure to add to the organization in helping them meet their goals. 

Why This Answer? 

Answering your question with an answer similar to the template above communicates these important product management skills

Effective Time Management  

Simply saying you review your backlog every week is not enough to convince your interviewer. Everybody would like to do it as consistently, but few people follow through. Specifying that you do it on your slowest day, which is a Friday afternoon, shows that you can manage your time effectively. 

Prioritization Skills 

Managing a backlog is not the most important or urgent task you have on your list of deliverables, so it makes sense to deal with it during a slow day. At the same time, explaining your cataloging of items into lists shows that you can organize and prioritize tasks according to importance. 

Empathy

Having empathy for your end-user and your team is a big part of being a Product Manager. Explaining that you catalogue, prioritize tasks, and avoid adding new tasks shows the engineer that you will be mindful of their heavy workload. 

Communication and Collaboration 

A good PM is always looking to build a collaborative relationship among team members. This is especially important in a team of both technical and non-technical parties. The last part of your answer demonstrates to the engineers that you value open and structured communication with them. 

Learn more about this answer in our video breakdown of the product management backlog question below: 

Get More Technical Product Manager Interview Questions and Answers 

We hope that this answer template is helpful for you as you prepare for your next technical interview round! Always remember that at the heart of technical product management questions is an engineer or designer gauging how easy or hard it would be to work with you. You will get their endorsement if you show them that you are someone who understands the process and won’t complicate their life.

Want to learn more about how Product Gym’s job hunting strategies can help you kickstart your PM career? Schedule a free call with us and let us answer any questions you may still have.

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