What new feature would you design for the Amazon Echo?

A Product Design Question for Product Management Interviews

StellarPeers
Jun 7, 2017 · 9 min read

by Malena Mesarina, Co-founder, StellarPeers


StellarPeers is a community platform that helps professionals prepare for interviews. We think the best way to prepare, is to work through questions and practice mock interviews as much as possible. We meet weekly to discuss product management interview questions on product design, product launch, strategy, marketing, pricing, and others. Last week, we worked on a product design question.

What is this question about?

This product management interview question tests whether you understand the process of going from customer needs to product development. This process involves determining who the customer is, knowing what they want to accomplish, defining multiple use case scenarios, and prioritizing what to build.

What is the interviewer looking for?

The interviewer is evaluating you on the following:

  • Do you provide keen insights about the customer and their needs?
  • Are you able to provide multiple and diverse use case scenarios?
  • Is your answer structured and logical, or do you go off on a tangent?
  • Do you go beyond generalities in your solutions and provide detailed descriptions?
  • Can you provide ideas that no other candidate has mentioned?
  • Are you confident and sound credible? Would engineers and product people follow your lead?

How to structure your answer?

One way to structure your answer is by using the CIRCLES Method™ by Lewis C. Lin. A detailed description of this method is in the book Decode and Conquer. This approach is useful in helping you think and answer in an organized and exhaustive way. The steps of this method are:

C — Clarify. Ask clarifying questions to narrow the scope.

I — Identify the users/customers as personas such as food lovers, soccer moms, etc.

R — Report on the user’s needs (use cases). A use case is an activity that a user would like to do relative to the product.

C — Cut through and prioritize the use cases based on attributes such as revenue, customer benefit, complexity, etc.

L — List solutions.

E — Evaluate the tradeoffs of your solutions.

S — Summarize:

  • State which solution you would recommend.
  • Recap what the solution does and why it is beneficial.
  • Explain why you prefer this solution.

How to quickly think of several use cases?

In a previous article, we described three methods that can help spark ideas for use cases. The methods are the 5Ws, word associations, and SCAMPER. In this example, we will use the Word Associations method.

Answer Example

INTERVIEWEE: What is the goal that the business wants to achieve?

INTERVIEWER: We want to increase sales of the Amazon Echo and the orders of products and services from Amazon.

INTERVIEWEE: Just to be clear, the new features are just for the Amazon Echo and not for other voice-controlled assistant devices like the Amazon Dot, Amazon Show nor Amazon Look?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, the feature is only for the Amazon Echo.

INTERVIEWEE: Okay, I would like to start by talking about the types of users that are likely to buy voice-controlled assistant devices like the Amazon Echo, who they are and what things they may want to do that the current Amazon Echo product does not support. After brainstorming on some use cases related to voice-controlled assistants, I will select the ones that I think would help achieve the goals if backed by a new feature.

INTERVIEWER: Sounds good.

INTERVIEWEE: The main types of users of the Amazon Echo are:

  • Families that are technology savvy and have mid to high disposable incomes to buy non-essential electronic devices. Most of these families are also likely to be Amazon Prime members lured by some of the free services for Prime members that come with the Echo. For example, Prime Music is free for members.
  • Elderly parents of potential buyers of these devices are potential users. People with elderly parents may buy these devices to aid elderly parents with some tasks.
  • Single individuals that are also tech savvy, with high disposable incomes, and are intrigued by the novelty of these devices.

Families and single individuals are buyers and users of these devices while elderly parents are most likely just users.

Okay, I would like to take a minute to brainstorm possible use cases that have not been addressed by Amazon Echo for these three users yet.

INTERVIEWER: Sure.

The interviewee takes his notepad and starts drawing word associations related to home automation.

Brainstorming notes

INTERVIEWEE: Okay, let’s start with families.

Families:

  1. Families today are too busy and do not have time to plan their meals, such as deciding what to cook, which ingredients to buy, and how to cook the meal. Assistance in choosing a recipe, buying ingredients, and step-by-step instructions on how to cook would save them time. A recurring scenario to address is opening the fridge and wanting to use up miscellaneous food items, but not knowing what kind of meal to make with them. (Association: Family — Cook).
  2. Getting help finding a service person to help with repairs or house chores without having to spend much time looking for a trustworthy person. (Association: Family — Home Services).
  3. Parents whose children are learning a second language and want a language coach for their kids to help with pronunciation practice. (Association: Family — Kids — Learning — Language).

Elderly:

  1. Elderly people who take more than one medication may need help remembering which medication to take, at what times, and in which order to take them. (Association: Elderly).
  2. Families with members that have dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. Moments of short-term memory loss can cause disorientation and high stress. People with dementia may have trouble remembering where a family member is or when they will be home. During these moments, a typical situation could look like this: a daughter is grocery shopping, while the daughter is away, her mother with Alzheimer’s has forgotten that her daughter went to the store. By having an assistant to remind the mother where the daughter is could help alleviate stress.

Single individual:

  1. Public speaking coaching is something many professionals are interested. (Association: Single — Training — Public Speaking).
  2. Having a personal trainer for exercising.
  3. Learning how to play an instrument. Playing by ear requires listening to a passage in a song and trying to replicate it with your instrument again and again. Using your voice to command different passages to practice would be useful so that you can keep your hands on the instrument.

Of all these use cases, I would prioritize the ones that are more likely to help achieve the goals stated earlier: to increase purchases of the Echo and increase purchases of products and services from other Amazon businesses. The use cases that would be aligned with these goals would be those that are important to the user and frequent enough for the user to want to buy the Amazon Echo. Ideally, they should also lead to the frequent purchase of products and services from Amazon. Therefore my criteria for prioritizing use cases is whether it is an important use case, it is a frequent one and whether it leads to purchases from Amazon.

Of these eight use cases, the cooking instructions for families, the medication reminder, and the memory aid for elderly Alzheimer patients are scenarios that frequently occur in the lives of those users. Now from the importance standpoint, I think assistance for elderly parents is of higher importance than cooking. Nevertheless, cooking is an activity that can be more conducive to purchases from Amazon, because of required ingredients and cooking paraphernalia. The elderly use cases could lead to Echo sales, but the cooking activity could lead to more long-term purchases of other products from Amazon. So I would prioritize the cooking use case for development, but put the elderly uses cases in the product roadmap. With aging population increasing, more families are in need of affordable ways to take care of their elderly parents. I think the market for technology that aids the elderly will be growing, and getting families to buy the Echo for their parents is the first step to entering that market.

Solutions

Cooking Instructions

So now, I would like to brainstorm solutions for the cooking instructions case. As I mentioned earlier, one use case is finding what to cook from miscellaneous food items in the fridge. One solution could be to provide a Chef Assistant skill that a user could ask for advice. The user could list the ingredients in the fridge and then ask Alexa, “Alexa, what can I cook with these ingredients?” The skill could provide the top three recommendations, from which the user could select one, and then ask Alexa to order the missing ingredients from Amazon Fresh or Prime Now. When the user is ready to cook, the Chef Assistant skill could provide instructions on prep, such as organizing and chopping ingredients, then give step-by-step instructions on how to cook the actual meal. If the user misses a step, a voice-enabled search and playback controls should be available for the user to repeat the instructions. For example, a user may say, “Alexa, start from the moment the chicken breast is seasoned.” An alternative solution or a companion to this solution is to display a video of the cooking instructions to the browser or mobile Alexa app. The video playback and audio playback from Alexa should be synchronized so that the instructions the user hears corresponds to what the user is seeing.

Memory Aid

Now, I want to brainstorm a solution for the elderly that have short-term memory loss or dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. In my use case example, a mother forgets that her daughter went grocery shopping. Picture a daughter saying, “Mom, I going to the store and will be back in one hour.” The daughter leaves. Some time goes by, and the mother calls out for her daughter, but there is no response. The mother has forgotten that her daughter is at the store and begins to worry. In this type of situation, the daughter’s name could be an invocation name. When the daughter’s name is called out, Alexa wakes with the response, “Mary is at the store and will be back by 3:00 PM. Would you like me to call her?” This solution would require the Echo skill to learn who the family members are, their relationships, their phone numbers, and track their locations through their smartphones. It would be useful to have voice identification so that the individual with Alzheimer’s doesn’t need to use “Alexa” as the wake word. Alexa could identify the person with dementia and would know what to say to this person. An Echo skill could be developed by Amazon or a third party to provide this kind of service.

Medication Reminder

A medication management skill could be developed to remind an elderly person to take their prescriptions. A person could ask Alexa to tell them which pills to take, how many to take, and at what time. Before taking medication, Alexa could verify if the person has taken the prescription. Alexa would log whether they did or not. For example, Alexa could say, “Paul, it is time for you to take your Atenolol. Have you taken it already.” If Paul replies with a “Yes” Alexa could respond with “Great! I will record that in your log.” If Paul replies with a “No” Alexa would remind him to take his medication. After a few minutes, Alex would follow-up with, “Paul did you take your Atenolol.” By reminding and logging medications, Alex could keep track of which meds to take next.

Evaluation

Of the two solution proposals for the cooking use case, I would start with the one without video. It is simpler to make and doesn’t require the synchronization between video and audio. Besides, with the Echo Show now in production, it would be better to have the video version of this skill developed for the Echo Show alone, because the implementation would be easier, cleaner and would increase the Echo Show appeal.

Of the two solutions to support the elderly, I would implement the one that assists short-term memory loss or dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. Although it would be harder to implement, because it requires the coordination of multiple technologies like real-time location tracking and voice identification, I think the solution would have a much stronger impact. The solution would reduce stress for the person with short-term memory loss and the people that care for them. If implemented correctly, this solution could open the door to addressing more use cases in the care management industry.

Summarize

In summary, I have explored use cases that the Amazon Echo has not yet addressed. Of the eight I proposed, I would recommend implementing the cooking instructions use case, because it is very frequent, important to the user, and is likely to increase purchases from Amazon. One solution I suggested provides the user with recipes for their miscellaneous food items in the fridge, and step-by-step instructions with voice controlled playback and search capabilities. In the product roadmap, I also recommend the implementation of the memory aid solution for short-term memory loss. Although this solution may not lead to many commercial purchases of Amazon products, it can open the door to a new market in care management, which is a $15B market and growing.

StellarPeers

To learn more about product management interview questions and to find practice partners, visit us at StellarPeers.com.

StellarPeers

StellarPeers is a community platform that helps professionals prepare for product management interviews.

StellarPeers

Written by

StellarPeers is a community platform that helps professionals prepare for product management interviews. https://stellarpeers.com

StellarPeers

StellarPeers is a community platform that helps professionals prepare for product management interviews.

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