Exercise 48 – How would you improve Gmail?

Post and review answers and feedback to answers in the comments section of this post.

See also:

How to answer a product improvement question in a product manager job interview

List of product improvement questions for product manager job interviews

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Question for the interviewer – What do you mean by improve?
Interviewer says – You (interviewee) decide
I decide user experience as the main aspect to improve.
Options – gmail for web/mobile.
I focus on gmail for mobile

Customer – Segmentation – 1. Enterprise – Gmail for Work
2. Gmail for personal use

I’m going to choose Gmail for personal use

Customers – Occasional users, casual users, turbo users,

Customer profile chosen – Turbo user of gmail who answers several email in the course of the day. Further, she, is employed and of age between 25 – 40, US resident, college educated.
Before going to pain points of the user I will also try and understand the reason why she will use gmail as opposed to texting or messaging.
Gmail, and generally mail, is used when users need to send 1. attachments, 2. not seeking immediate attention, 3. less personal contact.

Some pain points of customer:
1. Multi-pane view – Multiple panes in landscape mode would allow better feedback to user about what the message is about.
2. Better search.
3. Better ad placement.
4. Integration with other google services such as hangouts, calendar and maps – If I hover on an address in the email a small map opens up with the option of the user to click on it to enlarge it.
5. Better spam and anti-phishing/malware support
6. Single delete – Once I delete a particular email, say a forward, it doesn’t appear again on my email list
7. Grouping – Currently done by thread. It could also be done by context across multiple threads. Auto suggest groups
8. Faster startup
9. Themes for google – Personalization

Prioritizing (rating on Benefit B, Cost C and Risk R). (Alternatively I would use a prioritization matrix)
Overall Goal is improved User experience
1. B- High, Cost- Medium, Risk – Medium. The risk here is that some may like this and some may not and feel it too crowded on the screen. Must be an option that can be turned off or on.
2. B-High, C-Low, R-Low. This is core Google technology and has maximum benefit for the buck.
3. B-Low, C-Low, R-Medium. Ads are still considered a nuisance so people may be turned off. Privacy concerns.
4. B-High, C-Medium, R-Low: This simplifies the user’s life in a big way and helps her navigate her day better.
5. B-High, C-Medium, R-Medium. Spam filtering may lead to false positives being filtered out. Could cause pain for user.
6. B-Low, C-Medium, R-Low – Not a feature that will be missed if other features listed are implemented.
7. B-Medium, C-Medium, R-Medium -Too many options may cause confusion to the user.
8. B-High, C-Medium-High, R-Low – Technical feasibility must be analyze. More of a continuous improvement project
9. B-High, C-Low, R-Low – More of a cherry on the cake.

Based on the prioritization above, I will suggest features
2, 3, 9 as the first features to consider implementing.


Thanks for the answer. Couple feedbacks:
– I would list the pain points and solutions in two separate sections. First, list out the pain points you can think of. Then list your ideas / solutions to address those needs.
– I think your solutions are too general and not specific enough. For example, “better search” is too broad. You want to narrow down an answer to a very clear feature that is easy to understand and easy to estimate (for cost of implantation)
e.g. Rather than “better search” you could say “enable image search by letting users upload an image and search for the email associated with the image”. The “image search” feature is very specific and clearly defined.
Hope it helps.


Starting with clarifying questions
– What is meant by improve? Revenue, UX, user growth (corporate or individual?)

I will assume UX as measured by user satisfaction is the primary goal for “improvement”

Who are the users?
– corporate email users
– individual users
– With each type of users there will be power and basic users

For this situation I will focus on power users across corporate and individual power users as they the most likely to influence decisions to adopt products within their friend groups or company

Use cases
– filter unimportant / spam emails
– compose new emails
– respond to emails
– organize related message (travel, purchases, etc)
– collaborate

– Make it easy to solicit feedback — for example have response type “inline feedback” that enables users to easily respond to a series of questions or bullet points and each person’s response is distinguishable from others
– Live threads that can make email more collaborative (like Slack) so a group can discuss a topic in real time

For the second idea I would want to do prototype/mvp feedback sessions with users since it would be a new form of communication and the biggest assumption that idea has is that users would want to have focused “live group chat” sessions (e.g like how a specific slack channel is used)


Thanks for the response. You started with a good structure. Couple feedback:
– pick one user group. If you’re picking all power users, you don’t need to mention corporate vs individual users since they are not changing your user segmentation.
– list out a few more solutions and evaluate them. I know this is not easy but it’s a very important PM skill set that shows your ability to evaluate your options and chose best course of action based on some well thought out criteria. Examples of criteria would be impact on UX, cost of implantation, risk, or revenue potential
– I think your second solution is more of a new product than a Gmail feature. Perhaps, you want to discuss how you see it being part of the GMail service


Thank you sir. Really appreciate all the feedback on my answers!


First, I would clarify what is meant by improve gmail. More daily/weekly/monthly active users, more engagement from the existing active user base, increased NPS, decreased on support contacts, better retention, etc…

For this case let’s focus on increased engagement..

Then I would define on the target user we want to increase engagement for:
a) gen z
b) millennials
c) baby boomers

I would focus on millennials as they’re highly tech focused compared baby boomers and old enough to engage with email compared to gen z where a large portion are too young to meaningfully engage with email (e.g. babies and toddlers)

Now I would focus on use cases for engaging with millennials in a meaningful way:
1) Millennials use multiple devices and care about connectivity across all platforms
2) Millennials want to engage with multiple people with as little cognitive load as possible
3) Millennials care about personalization, emojis, and style in communicating
4) Millennials are highly engaged with social media such as fb, twitter, instagram, etc

Third, I would walk through a possible solution for each use case along with the customer impact and cost to develop:
1) gmail is already highly accessible across multiple platforms. There could be what is considered a gap through smartwatches as there isn’t an Apple Watch gmail app and many smartwatches. It’s low impact as many smartwatches only allow read access and don’t provide great write ability if they do allow write access. High cost build and maintain smartwatch email apps across iOS and Android with little guarantee for engagement and customer impact as most users just don’t try to email via a watch

2) gmail is already fairly simple to compose and email. The reply functionality is somewhat limited. Typing requires effort. Could build out a speech dictation technology within gmail. Low cost since google already has software from pixel and google home so they could integrate same tech. Medium impact as smart phone and tablets already have ability to recognize voice and send emails. Laptops could benefit as a lot of emails get sent of laptop but probably not likely to be adopted by users.

3) gmail doesn’t allow users any personalization in terms of stylizing emails beyond font color and simple formatting. low impact low cost

4) gmail doesn’t integrated with social media so they could allow users to share emails on social media, compose from social media, and/or attach items in emails. Imagine finding a tweet that you love and being able to send an email to your google group for family. Or, sharing an email from customer support to facebook to share your frustration with the lack of support. High impact, medium cost

Fourth, looking at the various opportunities with the impact and cost use case/solution 4.

Fifth, before launching I would define my metrics to measure success and increase engagement. I would measure the increase to the number of daily/weekly/monthly active users by how many users logged in to gmail, how many composed emails, and then how many used the new plugin/feature to compose/share via social media.


Thanks for the answer ReidC. I think it’s well structured, creative, and complete. Couple areas of improvement:
– you could add more detail about what the MVP / V1 of the product will look like
– for measure of success, I wonder if number of logins and composes changes. Maybe you can just look at number of usages, whether a user continues using the feature, if the number of users using this feature is increasing, etc.


thanks for the feedback!


Clarify – improvement for what – market share, engagement, monetization, new features to better compete with IMs and slack, technology improvement, personal or corporate market etc.

Assuming – improvements to better compete with IMs– a lot of things are moving from emails to WhatsApp/FB messenger – Gmail revenues /markets share at risk if people stop using gmail.

What is gmail and its competition – free email service having over a billion users – biggest market share

Competition – direct (yahoo mail/Microsoft.com/regional country specific emails) – indirect (whatsapp/FB messenger/text messaging) – billions of users in developing countries got on whatspp before they got their email id. So IMs are existential threat to Gmail.

I am ignoring corporate user base of gmail where the competition is Slack/Microsoft/IBM etc

Let’s look at some of the use cases and compare ease of use and what additional wow features we can add in gmail to take market back from IMs –

1. Ease of registration – just verify your phone no and done in whatsapp… gmail requires signup etc
2. Address book/contacts – anyone having whatsapp becomes part of your list and can send/receive text – gmail requires adding/knowing email address to send/receive
3. Notifications – gmail mental association is login and check your email habit – whatsapp – mental association of notification
4. Storage – gmail provides its own storage for docs/photo/video – whatsapp – stores on the phone
5. Data Device dependence – whatsapp data is on the phone – gmail data on the cloud
6. Monetization – gmail is monetized …. Whatsapp is not…. Need to build a better product than whatsapp without losing the monetization
7. Formatting and rich text – whatsapp cant do that… gmail does…
8. Integration with gdrive (not in whatsapp)

A lot of people use whatsapp for forwarding jokes/pictures/videos and do simple short conversations. Gmail is used for more formal communications such as applying for jobs, sending a formal complaint, request for assistance. Whatsapp could evolve there and become a bigger thereat.

Ideas to improve –
1. Gmail equivalent of whatsapp – gmail has access to phone no and email of bulk of the users thanks to increased adoption to android phones. Come out with a product, lets call Gello, that makes phone no as the primary address and associated gmail as secondary. Use the google ecosystem to provide better experience – let user to upload photos directly to google photos, documents to drive and important conversations to gmail as conversations. This not only gives users the ease of IM but also solves problems associated with whatsapp. This may result in revenue loss in the beginning but right now my priority is to stop the adoption of whatsapp/IMs. Monetization can be figured out once we control the users. I will also launch a special service for corporate support through GHello to propel its push using its unique differentiator. Users can get in touch with service provider/warranty providers using Ghello. This way we will preempt WhatsApp’s march.
2. Innovative features for gmail –
a. Customer support through gmail – launch this service wherein user does not need to know email id of target/walamrt/att – in the address field jus type att support and magically a support request is sent to the corporate – from their gmail can function like IM ..letting user to solve its problem — authentication etc can be carried by google…. Saving time and hassle for corporate and consumer..

There could other simple options but looking at Whatsapp threat I would like to pursue idea 1. This will be potent to eliminate threat of Whatsapp and would be strategic to do especially when 85% market share is with Android.

Richard Lee

I like the unique and interesting goal for the improvement. Here are some feedback:

– Before listing user pain points, describe the user you’re making the improvement for. In your case, it could be a mobile only user who only uses their smartphone’s Gmail app to check email. Other ways of segmentations could be based on usage frequency (e.g. power user, frequent user, occasional user, etc)

– After describing the user persona, you’ll want to highlight the use cases / pain points from the user’s perspective. Some of your use cases are not from the perspective of the user. e.g. 4, 5, and even 8. The use cases and pain points should be from the eye of the customer. I would rephrase 8 and say “what’s app user doesnt have ability to attach documents from their local device or cloud stoage to their messages”

– Not sure if I agree with your use case #3. You can enable email notification on phones.

– Same feedback on features / ideas. You want to be super clear what the feature does for the user. List a few and evaluate them based on some criteria (e.g. impact on UX, cost of implementation). After evaluation, you can explain which features you’ll prioritize to build.


Thanks for the feedback Richard. As a Gmail PM I would be really worried about gmail use moving to WhatsApps. Countries which are coming online for the first time such as India, China and a lot of other developing countries the main access point is smartphone. Even in developed countries 60-70% users access gmail/fb/whatsapp from smartphone. Hence I chose this as improvement.

— good point on user segmentation. at the very least I should have segmented mobile/desktop.
— 4, 5 and 8 are relevant…I should have elaborated more – a ton of photos/videos are forwarded on whatsapp and all of that if stored on the phone bottlenecks phones space… stops users from capturing the moment on your camera you wanted to capture badly… hence extremely important. This use case has driven Google Photos to 500M users.

— On 3 a lot of users would want to enable notification because a ton of crappy emails including promotions and social network emails. This is also a problem for IM notifictions but still email would be too much. As a user I dont enable notification for either. Also if you read this book called ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal, he talks about psychological roots of our habits. And for a lot of users email notification would be mentally ‘associated’ to ‘no’ against ‘yes’ for IM. last but not the least a PM has some hypothesis which needs to be backed by data. So I will start with this and validate using data.

— great point on impact and priortization

Thank you again for feedback.

Richard Lee

NP. Good point on #3. I think your thinking is right. I would have probably positioned the user need / use case differently. Something along the lines of “user is not able to be notified of only important emails.” And then you could describe your point around promotions, etc and then come back to it in the ideas section by presenting a solution that addresses it (e.g. “a machine learning based notification system that only sends a phone screen notification if the email is important (importance defined as such and such) )


Fantastic Richard.. Learnt a lot through this exchange.


Gmail is a product with a huge market share in the industry. Improve could mean a lot of things but given that it already has a really strong user-base, I would say that the focus should be user engagement.

Currently, Gmail is an application where users could read,archive,delete,write,search emails. Gmail targets several different personas that have different user needs and painpoints.

1. Enterprise – Companies use the comprehensive solution and Gmail is one of the major products. I’d focus on Candidate Sourcers. Gmail does not support anything for these people and has no functionality to assist with sending massive emails out to people.

2. Individuals – Gmail lacks integration with other applications that could be useful – for example, Google keep. I’d love to be able to take notes while reading emails on the same tab.

3. Kids – Gmail isn’t very child-friendly. Although it’s UI/UX is simple, there is no entertainment value. There should be something fun!

Of all the three above, #1 is most likely the most interesting. Although it could be more effort than #2 and #3, it can tie into stronger partnerships, more B2B customers, and higher revenue.

Candidate Sourcers look for people on various sites like LinkedIn and try to email and recruit potential candidates. They send 20~30 emails per day and care a lot about email open rate and engagement.

Although there are decent guidelines and structures available, Gmail has the detailed analytics on what really drives email open rate and engagement.

Gmail should provide these candidates sourcers, when they’re composing an email, the likelihood that the recipient would open the email. Every recipient would have a different % because everyone is different. This will tremendously help with these sourcing efforts and even lead to high adoption rate for Gmail.

The tradeoff and risk for this feature is –
1. Privacy – assessing % means Gmail is “reading” the user’s emails. However, this is already done when Gmail filters Spam so it could be potentially okay.

2. Technological challenges – There will be some effort required by data science and research to accurately display a %.

3. Usage – Although this is meant for candidate sourcing – it could also be used by advertisers. This does lead to more revenue for Google, but users could find it extremely annoying.

For rolling this feature out, like mentioned here, start with candidate sourcing / recruiting. Later, it could dive into advertisers. This could scale in the future and Gmail could potentially also suggest titles, content and more utilizing complicated machine learning algorithms.