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My Product Management Interviews (part 2 of 3)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Find Part 1 here (

Company 2 Interview process Included:

  • Phone interview with head of product

I was given a large whiteboard and dry erase markers and when the clock starts I’m given the problem to solve via a new product from scratch. I need to go through discovery, design, feature roadmap prioritization and go-to market strategy within 60 minutes.

The objective of the product:

Parents want to be more in touch with their children when they are in school. Provide a solution that solves for the problem.

Stakeholder Representation:

  1. 2 Parents

Unlike the last exercise, this time I knew I had to work on some personas to ensure my solution works for all stakeholders. Much of my product career was managing this type of problem in the healthcare space so I jumped right into persona research.

So I decide to first interview the parents. Questions I asked were:

  • How many children do you have?

I wrote down all of the answers on the whiteboard as they were giving me the information then proceeded to ask questions to the teacher and principal.

This parent interview process took much longer than I anticipated (roughly about 20–25 minutes). In all honesty, I personally panicked about the amount of time I had left for the exercise.

I mentioned to the group that I took down so many notes but I needed some time to synthesize my thoughts a bit.

The head of product at that time said usually they step out of the room to remove the awkwardness of watching me think to myself about the feedback and to let them know when to come back in the room.

In order to organize my thoughts, I started on the OGSM process I described in part 1 on the white board.

It is at this point where I became too paranoid about the time and went out of box a bit here.

Instead of working on the OGSM as a group, I got started converting the information I gathered and just focused on completing the OGSM as fast as possible (within 10–15 minutes)

The reason I felt less comfortable on this exercise than the last one is because, I didn't have any internal stakeholders represented. I don’t have an engineering representative involved, I don’t have a designer to bounce things off of…it felt like it was on me, myself and I.

Because of the lack of internal support in the list of representing stakeholders…I totally forgot to keep my cool and focus on collaboration towards a solution as a group.

While working on the OGSM, I realized I needed to ask the teacher and principal some questions in order to complete my Goals and Solutions sections of the OGSM. I stepped out of the room and asked “who are the teacher and principal folks again?” and coincidentally the 2 girls I asked were those representatives.

So I decided to ask both of them to go back to the whiteboard with me for some follow up questions.

Questions I asked the teacher and principal were:

  • How often do you talk to parents?

Critical questions I asked and the answers were:

  • Question: Are electronics allowed in the classroom? Answer: No

So I got back to the whiteboard and realized the following:

  • I have a hard barrier to introducing any sort of smart device (like a tablet) into the classroom. The teacher and principal are against it, even if its free

Looks like the only opportunity for communication between parents and students while they’re in school is via the laptop the teachers have in the classroom.

Time is ticking, I have about 25 minutes left…

I decide to come up with solutions to build a web app that enables teachers to submit status updates of the kids via this web app. Depending on the student, this web app can become a part of the classroom routine where they can record videos to send to parents, send audio messages, and keep the parents in touch with what the kids are doing during the day.

Measurements would be focused on increasing the number of touchpoints with their kids (from zero) during the classroom setting to at least 1 more per day. If parents are getting pre-scheduled updates from the teachers then the total amount of abrupt time that the teachers have to go to the phone to talk to the parents about what the kid is up to should go down to (ideally) zero and now the teacher can manage when the updates are most appropriate for their teaching schedule.

Great! I will let them all know to come back in the room to discuss

At this point there are only about 15 minutes left and I’m crunched for time. The head of product comes back and says “ok, so what do you got on the board there?”

I say “Well, I started organizing my thoughts using the OGSM model. As I was working on writing down some Goals and Strategies I realized I needed input from the teacher and principal. I identified that the school staff spends about x amount of hours per week managing abrupt calls from parents that is very disruptive to their work. They also mentioned that electronics are not allowed in the classroom and the only device allowed in the room is a laptop that is rarely used so…that is my conduit between the parents and the students in the classroom.

So in order to facilitate that considering the limitations, the webapp will be focused around sending video messages and audio messages managed by the teachers accordingly. I understand this can also be disruptive on the teacher side so we should have a separate design exercise with the teachers about how we can introduce the best solution to facilitate this. We can go through that now unless you want to proceed with the rest of this exercise?”

The head of product was disappointed and looked to the representative of the principal role and said “you guys said that electronics aren’t allowed?”

The principal then (as if pressured) said “I didn’t say that, I just said it’s not something we approve of”

So then I responded and said “I personally thought I had a shot at offering free devices if we can come up with a business model in which the devices were free somehow. However when I asked if you would allow devices in the room even if they were free, you re-iterated no”

She then said “I didn’t say no did i?”

I said “yeah, trust me…providing devices for free around a positive cash flow driven business model is something I’m familiar with. I would’ve found a way to figure that out but I negated it as an option because of the hard no on electronics”

The head of product seemed disappointed in the friction experienced here and let everyone know they can go back to their desks before resuming the interview.

Yep, I clearly messed up. Everyone left and he said:

“Unfortunately it’s not the right time for you to join the team.”

He explained that the purpose of the exercise is to collaborate AS A GROUP on the solutions and strategies and have a group discussion about those details. I explained that I was mindful of the lack of time I had and so I decided to cut a few corners to make sure the group conversation was with the most meat on the bones as possible.

He said he also thought it was a bad choice that I talked to the stakeholders in isolation as opposed to having everyone back in the room. I explained that I asked for the teacher and principal for follow up questions my intent was to get some more notes and have the group discussion. But in the lack of time I decided to do as much as possible with the information given.

His response was that if he was in the room the time management may have been gone smoother and the stakeholder representatives in the room would have likely given me the information I needed much faster to progress through the exercise in the time necessary.

When he said that, I admitted I made a critical mistake blinded by the shot clock.

He nodded yes and said “Sorry, I believe you can work here someday but the timing just isn’t right this time”

Moral of the story: Don’t worry so much about the time nor try to cut corners. Don’t get caught slipping by catching yourself off guard and just do what you are best at as a product manager.

I’ll honestly say I was so disappointed in myself because my style in managing conflicting stakeholders is something I pride myself in. Being a great communicator and keep my cool under pressure is something I’ve been told numerous times I am really good at. How could I allow myself to get this wrong?

I was beating myself up over it until a few of my peers and former colleagues told me that sometimes the interview process that a company executes on can facilitate even the best candidates to not get hired. They also told me that this exercise almost always includes design and engineering to be a part of the group in discussion so the fact that it was missing is possibly something that is negatively different about this approach.

Nonetheless I flopped this interview so hard, they didn’t let me finish the exercise. Crazy huh?!

I now appreciate this experience immensely and now know to NEVER make this type of mistake ever again…EVER!

I hope this story will help other product managers or future product managers in understanding (in detail) what not to do in a product management interview that includes a product management mock exercise.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter (@officebeats)