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Building a Product Management Flywheel: Guidelines to Assess PM Skills

Jitender Aswani
Feb 6, 2019 · 5 min read

Establishing a product management flywheel is a non-trivial task and requires overcoming organizational, structural and philosophical challenges. I took a crack at it by establishing a set of principles to build alignment and guidelines to hire great PMs. (This is part of a series. Check out part I and part III as well!)

In part I of this series, I discussed the guidelines I compiled to seek organizational alignment and to standardize hiring approach to scale up the product flywheel. In this post, I am sharing a set of questions and case-studies I have complied over the years to tease out just the right information to assess PM skills.

Guidelines and Questions for Assessing Product Sense

Candidate should be able :

  • echo concerns about our product — they’re UI shortcomings, missing features, or architecture flaws that need to be addressed. They’re things you know need to be fixed. “yeah, I know — that’s been driving us crazy too.”
  • teach us something new about our product Did we learn something new from a candidate?

Two things will come out — (1) they’re not afraid to speak critically, and (2) they’re probably smarter than their boss. I want to see both of these traits in a product manager.

  • Tell me about a great product you’ve encountered recently. Why do you like it?
  • What’s made that product successful?
  • What do you dislike about that product? How would you improve it?
  • What problems {company X} is going to encounter in a year? Two years? Five years?
  • How do you know a product is well designed?
  • What’s one of the best ideas you’ve ever had?
  • What is one of the worst?
  • How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?
  • What lessons have you learned about user interface design?
  • How do you decide what not to build?
  • What was your biggest product mistake?
  • What aspects of product management do you find the least interesting and why?
  • Do you consider yourself creative?

Guidelines and Questions for Assessing Technical Background

Use this interview questions for gauging how well a technical PM has adapted to the role and their ability to work with engineers:

  • Why did you decide to move from engineering to product management?
  • What is the biggest advantage of having a technical background?
  • What is the biggest disadvantage?
  • What was the biggest lesson you learned when you moved from engineering to product management?
  • What do you wish you’d known when you were an engineer?
  • How do you earn the respect of the engineering team?

Guidelines and Questions for Assessing Cross-Functional Collaboration Skills

  • How have you learned to work with sales?
  • What is the best way to interface with customers?
  • What makes marketing tick?
  • How do you know when design is on the right track?
  • How should a product manager support business development?
  • What have you learned about managing up?
  • What’s the best way to work with the executives?

Sample PM Case Study (Long — ~45 mins)

You are a Product Manager responsible for Growth at a young and upcoming social network company? You have a very clear measurable goal — grow active users to 10M MAU. Think about this problem for 3–4 mins and let’s dive in when you are ready.

Candidate might ask you to provide more details on the type of social network? (Buying/Selling antiques) What is the value-prop? (Large and trusted communities with a network of experts who will verify antique goods authenticity?)

  • What is the persona of users that are on the community?
  • What is the MAU # today (500K MAU, 200K DAU )?
  • What is the demo/geo breakdown (US, Canada, UK)?
  • What are the engagement levels? (We don’t know, we don’t know the metrics?)
  • Are we talking new users or resurrections as well? (You tell us, shall we focus on both)

If the candidate didn’t ask follow up questions listed above and started answering your question. You need to lead the candidate: Smart and curious candidates will ask LOTS OF QUESTIONS and will make ASSUMPTIONS in the absence of knowledge

  • Ask candidate what assumptions did he/she make around the product, features, target segment, active users?
  • What is the definition of active users?

Question: At a very high-level, what channel strategies would you explore to increase top-of-the-funnel activities?

Most common answers: Ad campaign (print and digital) to attract new users.

Follow up — Any ad campaign? Or Targeted? If targeted — how will you identify segments and the channels to target those segments of users?

Bonus Answer — Run a campaign asking existing users to import address book to find friends and send invite on existing user’s behalf

II Bonus Answer — Will ask for country or gender specific goals? Most importantly, will ask for historical data on existing users and will identify forces/drivers/trends to identify country specific goals. For example, the e-commerce and social network concept in countries like Brazil is pretty strong, let’s run some experiments on Brazil. Lets not focus on Russia due to high number of frauds and home-grown competition.

Question: What do you think some of the challenges existing users are facing and potential users might face before signing up?

  • Fraud? (Counterfeit good and misidentification /mis-pricing of antiques)
  • Take e-commerce of the platform)
  • Product Friction
  • Sign-up (Funnel Analysis)
  • Login,
  • Listing products,
  • Displaying of the product in the user’s feed
  • Contact challenges (Contact Seller related)

Question: What strategies would you consider for bringing churned users back?

  • Notifications related to interest the users has expressed
  • New features in the product

Question: What new features we should think about adding to our product to drive more users and increase engagement?

  • greenfield — as long as the candidate is able to logically explain the motivation for each feature, the intended benefit and strategies to measure the impact.

Other product strategies the candidate might come with:

  • Funnel Analysis
  • Strategies around certified sellers;
  • Profiles of antique experts who will verify and set pricing
  • Content / Listing / Blogs on how to list/getting certified
  • Internationalization?

Mini Case Study (30 mins)

Acme has over 150 customer for its Talent Management cloud app. We have heard that one of our smaller competitor has very strong / feature-rich AI-based “Talent Effectiveness Assessment ” use case. Our sales team and other members of the XFN team have asked product team to look into it? What shall we do?

Follow up

  • Should we be listening to sales team, customers, competitors, engineers — all of the above?
  • How do we go about validating and identifying low-hanging fruits?
  • Identify business drivers: Market Size, Lost Opportunity, Revenue Impact and Growth Rate. How repeatable is the usecase?
  • Customer Research -> Roleplay and see if the candidate asks open ended question.

Follow up — I hate me-too products. Will this be a me-too strategy or do you think that these are tables stakes in the market we are in and to protect our market-share, we have to react? Thoughts?

What is MDP (Minimum Delightable Product)? (Cover Feasibility, Desirability and Viability)

These guidelines and corresponding set of questions were broadly shared in the organization to allow everyone feel invested in the process and helping us with hiring of multipliers!

In part III of this blog, I share a list of shared principles that, in hindsight, could have helped in achieving greater momentum for developing the flywheel.

If you liked this blog, please comment and share your thoughts allowing me and others to learn from your leadership experiences.

Leadership and Life Experiences

Jitender Aswani

Written by

Leadership & Technology; Running Data Analytics for Cloud Security and Infrastructure at Netflix; Previously data analytics @ Facebook

Leadership and Life Experiences

Author have had amazing leadership experiences at many fast-growing tech companies including Netflix, Facebook, Kespry and SAP. Through this blog series, the author intends to share his personal life experiences on leadership.

Jitender Aswani

Written by

Leadership & Technology; Running Data Analytics for Cloud Security and Infrastructure at Netflix; Previously data analytics @ Facebook

Leadership and Life Experiences

Author have had amazing leadership experiences at many fast-growing tech companies including Netflix, Facebook, Kespry and SAP. Through this blog series, the author intends to share his personal life experiences on leadership.

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