How to answer the product vision question in an interview

How to answer the product vision question in an interview

When it comes to interview questions for product managers, there are usually a few different themes that they follow:

  • Analytical or estimations
  • Product design or vision
  • Behaviour or execution
  • Technical understanding
  • Strategic vision

What do we mean by a product vision or design question?

These are the questions that are intended to show that you can think through what a product really exists for and then take that on to the next level.Here are some example questions:

  • If you were the CEO of Instagram what would you do next?
  • What's your favourite Google product? What do you like or not like about it?
  • What's your favourite mobile app and how would you improve it?

We've all got opinions on products that we know of and use, and this question is intended to find out whether you can consider the product from the business and the customer perspective, not just your own personal viewpoint.

How do you approach answering the question?

As with the analytical question I looked at in this post there is a way to go about answering this question, which typically involves:

  • Determining the business objective of the thing being discussed
  • Generate solutions to the question being asked
  • Discuss the solutions
  • Draw a conclusion

Let’s pick the example, “What's your favourite mobile app and how would you improve it? ”

For me, I use the Medium app a lot, so I'll pick that.

Determine the business objective

Why does Medium exist? 

If you check their website they say that they are "For readers, writers, and the insatiably curious." Their business model is to make it free for publishers to create great content, provide limited access to this content to readers for free, but provide all of this content for paid subscribers. The income from the paid subscribers then gets divided up among the writers, providing a valuable income stream for the content creators.

So when it comes to who uses the app we have two audiences: readers and writers. The more people write, the more content there is for people to read. The better quality, relevant, engaging content there is, then the more readers will pay the $5 a month to subscribe.

When it comes to the questions you're asked in an interview, if it is a little more ambiguous, say, "If you were the CEO of Instagram what would you do next?", there's nothing wrong in clarifying it with the interviewer. "Do you mean in terms of how the app itself works, or do you mean in a wider strategic sense?". 

Better to be safe than sorry. You don't want to go off answering something that the interviewer didn't want you to.

Generate the solutions

Once you've got your business objectives in place, then you're looking to find the gaps that could provide opportunities for more engagement, more value, more revenue, and ultimately, more success.

As a reader, the app is pretty well tuned. The homepage surfaces new content for you to digest. You can see story titles, images, authors and read times to allow you to easily pick the content that interests you. An unlimited scroll makes all this content available, whilst quick links to saved stories lets you find the things you've already expressed an interest in. When reading, the clean design makes reading on a mobile device a pleasant one, and it's simple to interact with story.

As a writer on the other hand, you may have access to functions that really aren't required within a mobile device, and no access to some that are key.

I'd be interested in seeing the numbers of writers who actually write an entire long form article on a mobile device. It certainly can't be a nice experience writing 1000 words on a tiny keyboard, let alone then editing it to a point where it becomes the valuable, interesting, and engaging content that we expect to see as a reader.

For me, writing might be done on a larger device, but what is done on a mobile is monitoring of my income from the articles I've published, and the entire Medium Partner Programme functionality that allows you to see which article is delivering what income is missing from the app.

If you dive through the story stats you can get an individual story-by-story view on income, but that's tedious when you might have twenty stories that are generating income. A simple dashboard should be made available to connect the writer with their income stream would be a place I'd look to improve.

For writers who have stories that aren't performing so well, introducing suggestions on how to improve their performance and get more from their hard written words might be beneficial. Suggested publications for their stories, easily accessible sharing tools, tips on the best time for interacting, would all be easy, on the move activities aimed at delivering a better result for the writer.

Remember the business objectives, getting writers to make engaging content available for readers to consume.  This would all help the writers make their content more easily available.

I've been able to come up with these solutions because I had the question about my favourite app, but if you're asked about an area that you don't know so much about then do some brainstorming based on the business objective you've determined. 

Which ways can you deliver on the first objective you determined? How do you ensure that the second objective can be met? What do users want that will make more of them want to use it? What does the business need to achieve to drive its revenues?

Discuss the solutions

Now we've mentioned a few of the solutions to improve the app, the discussion gets opened with the interviewer and you get to determine what other information you might need in order to arrive at your preferred improvement.

As I've said, I'd be interested in understanding the devices used by writers in the creation of their content, to see if my hunch about not writing on small devices was true. 

I'd also be interested to understand the number of writers who are making money from their writing, to see if the writer's dashboard idea has any value. It certainly would be of value to me, but as something in the region of 5% of writers are making $100 or more from the site, maybe there just isn't enough of an audience for this to be worthwhile.

Writer action suggestions is definitely something that would have benefits to a wider audience, as more relevant or shared stories drive readership, which drives revenues, which drives income for writers. The question here would be around what information we'd need in order to drive the suggestions. Do we already have it, or do we need to start gathering it in order to power this suggestions engine at a later date.

Make your conclusion

Now you've worked through the process, pick the area that you think might be the one that will deliver the best result for the business. 

You're recapping the thought process, you're confirming how the solution meets the objective, and you're stating where you'd start to look to get the solution in place or determine what the risk of delivering it might be.

What has all this proved?

Through all of this, you're illustrating your ability to understand the need, identify ways to meet the need, and then ways in which you can deliver on the need or dismiss the solution.The solutions may never see the light of day, but you've illuminated the interviewer into your skills in this area.

Top tips for handling a question like this

  • Get a clear understanding of the question
  • Work out what the objectives to be met are
  • Work on ideas that will meet these objectives
  • Whilst discussing you can rule out ideas as well as rule them in
  • Provide solid reasoning for the direction you've chosen