How to answer a Product Improvement question in a Product Manager job interview


Interviewers like to ask product improvement interview questions as a way to evaluate your ability to:

  • formulate a structured thinking process in an ambiguous environment,
  • articulate what the product is and the problem it is solving,
  • find pain points in the product that can translate into improvement opportunities,
  • brainstorm creative solutions to improve the product, and
  • evaluate your options and set up a product roadmap according to your priorities.
Here is a step by step guide for answering product improvement interview questions:

1. Describe the product

To start off in the right direction, you need to explain your understanding of the product – what does it do, who uses it and how. Make sure that the interviewer is in agreement with your understanding of the product.

2. Clarify the scope of the question

You want to make sure that you understand the question clearly and it’s defined properly. For example: if the question is as general as “how do you improve Gmail?”, ask for clarity on the definition of “improvement” – Does it refer to more usage, revenue, or something else? Is there a particular platform (e.g. mobile native, mobile web, or desktop web) that the interviewer has in mind? Or you can choose one?

3. Choose a metric

Choosing a metric you are going to improve to achieve your goal is a very important step in answering a product improvement question. Make sure you explain the reasoning behind why you chose that particular metric and that the interviewer is comfortable with the path you are going to take. Ideally, you will want to select a metric that you think is either strategically important to the product or a metric that the product is having problems with. Here are a few key areas you can pick your metric from:
  • Revenue: Is the revenue too low? Can you improve it?
  • Active Users: Can you grow the number of active users?
  • New Users: Can you increase the number of users on the platform?
  • Engagement: Can you increase engagement with the product?
  • Retention: Can you reduce the % of users turning away from the product?
4. List the user groups and select yours

At this step you want to go over the different user groups that are the users of the product you’re improving. You want to chose user groups that are distinct from each other and have unique characteristics. Explain their characteristics and what makes them unique. Finally, chose a user group you would like to focus on. This will be the user group that you will be improving the product for.

For example, here are a few user groups that use Gmail:
  • power user: Checks their inbox multiple times during the day. Uses their phone to send and receive emails. Sends and receives many emails. Cares about efficiency and productivity. Usually a young professional and someone who carries a new phone that helps them become more productive.
  • casual user: Checks their email once or twice a day. Doesn't send or receive many emails.
  • occasional users: checks their email once every few days. Sends and receives very few emails. Usually an elderly person and someone who is less tech-savvy.
5. List and prioritize the use cases / pain points

The interviewer will want to see how you can empathize with the users of a product. In this step, you will provide a list of use cases that you think are currently under served. Feel free to ask for a minute to think about the use cases before giving an answer. One way to come up with a list of use cases would be to think about the user journey from the beginning to the end. By going over the whole customer experience you can understand the needs of the customer and areas that need improvement.

If we were listing some pain points for a Gmail power user, here are a few items that come to mind: 
  • They receive many emails that need their attention each day. They have to constantly determine which email deserves their immediate attention and which doesn't.
  • They worry about being late in responding to an important email they receive. 
  • Typing emails on their phone takes a lot of their time. It's important for them to be able to type an email quickly.
  • Due to the heavy usage of their phone, they sometimes run out of battery during the day.  
Wrap up your use cases by prioritizing them based on some criteria such as impact / importance to the user, potential value to the company, and implementation effort.

Note: Remember not to mix use cases with solutions. You are still not solving at this stage. For example, “user must be able to move from lower floors to upper floors quickly” is a use case. “build an elevator that moves the user from one floor to another” is a solution.

6. List out your solutions

Once you have the list of prioritized use cases, it’s time to start brainstorming solutions that solve the pain points you have discussed. This is your chance to show your ability to think creatively about new and practical ideas that make products better and make the users happier.

You can again ask for a minute from the interviewer to think about a few solutions. Here, you want to list at least 5 solutions that are helping you achieve your goal. Make sure that the solutions you’re listing are solving for the use cases you described in step 4 and are implementable (even if the implementation is hard, they should still be a path to implementing them). When thinking about new solutions, try listing a couple of ideas that use some of the new emerging technologies such as machine learning to show your willingness to adopt new technologies.

7. Evaluate solutions

Your next step is to present your evaluation and execution skills by evaluating your solutions with different sets of criteria such as the impact on the customer experience, the frequency of usage, the impact on the business, implementation costs, and time to develop each solution. Once this is done, you need to prioritize you solutions based on your evaluation.

As a product manager you are always dealing with trade-offs and different ideas proposed by various members of your company. A great product manager is able to evaluate the ideas without any bias and develop a roadmap with the right set of priorities.

8. Define metrics for measuring performance (Optional)

If there is time, after selecting the features that you’d like to develop to improve the product, come up with a set of metrics that help you measure the impact of the changes you’re proposing.

If you are running out of time, ask the interviewer if they’d like to see you come up with performance metrics.

9. Summarize your answer

Provide a quick summary of what you have accomplished during the interview. First, highlight the goal of the improvement. Then briefly mention what user group and use cases you are focusing on. Then discuss the solutions you are proposing to achieve your goal and finally, explain the metrics you will use to measure the impact of your suggested improvements.

I have gathered a list of product improvement job interview questions for you to practice.

See also

How to answer a Metrics question in a Product Manager job interview.

How to answer a Product Design question in a Product Manager job interview.

How to answer an Estimation question in a Product Manager job interview.
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