Questions about product strategy are daunting because of their breadth and complexity.
In the following article, we will briefly share our approach on how to answer them but check out our comprehensive guide for more tips on how to answer what many consider to be the most difficult product management question, as well as other useful information on how to prepare for product management interviews.
Where Should I Start?
These are the steps we suggest:
- Set out a clear business objective: you will need to make sure that you and the interviewer are on the same page when deciding on the business objective so take the time to understand the issue they are laying out
- Come up with a clear structure and some potential solutions: make an organized list of solutions to the problem
- Talk through the solutions: examine the negatives and positives of each solution with the interviewer and decide what elements you should prioritize
- Draw a conclusion: give the interviewer a final recommendation for the initial problem
1) Set Out a Clear Business Objective
The biggest mistake you could make when faced with a strategy question is jumping to the solution too quickly – you will seem disorganized and most likely fail to impress the interviewer. Here’s what you should do first:
- Prove that you have a good understanding of the problem
- Make the business objective very clear:
If you need to you can ask clarification questions – the interviewer is always happy to answer those as strategy questions are often confusing on purpose.
However, you should do so in the same organized manner as before, and refrain from asking irrelevant questions.
After you’re certain the question is clear in your mind you can proceed to set the business objective. You can then clarify this with the interviewer, which will lead to a discussion about the main business objective.
If you get no help from the interviewer in choosing a primary business objective, you should proceed to choose one making use of relevant knowledge of the company
If possible you should include metrics in the latter discussion so you can clarify what you would like to achieve.
2) Come Up with a Clear Structure and Some Potential Solutions
Keep your organized approach at this stage – you should:
- Put together a structure detailing how you plan to achieve the objective
- Come up with solutions
You should bear in mind that this structure is not the solution itself but the equivalent of the roadmap that PMs use. It will simply point out the main areas of focus in your discussion with the interviewer.
After they have agreed to your proposed structure/roadmap you’re halfway there. All that’s left is for you to delve deeper into the main areas you’ve pinpointed.
The structure will also keep you from any irrelevant discussions so you should try to follow it as much as possible when discussing solutions.
Having said that, you should refrain from being inflexible, and if the conversation steers you in a different direction than you anticipated you should investigate it and then modify your structure to fit it.
3) Talk through the Solutions
This is the moment when the interviewer will zoom in on your solutions. Think about:
- The trade-offs of each solution
- How to prioritize them
Prove to the interviewer you understand these trade-offs and discuss whether you think they are manageable or overall detrimental to the business proposition.
It’s very important that you show your interviewer you have prioritization skills and that you prioritize after performing a risk/reward analysis.
It’s not important what solution you chose but that you can back it up with logical arguments.
4) Draw a Conclusion
Finally, you need to:
- Summarize your suggestions
- Present your final recommendation and consider what’s next
It may be difficult to move from detailed analysis to an overview but it is what you are expected to do since as a PM you will be charged with briefing execs and possibly the CEO and they don’t care about the details of your daily routine.
The CEO will most certainly care about what direction the specific product should take as well as the company more generally so you need to effectively communicate your strategy by summarizing it. As we mentioned before, how you argue for the final recommendation will be more important than what you recommend.
At this point you must:
- Sum up the suggestions made
- Make your recommendation and consider the next steps
Despite it being difficult to move from the details of your analysis to a general, bird’s eye view, this is precisely what you need to do. As a product manager, you will be briefing execs and most likely the CEO as well, who will not care about the details of your routine or analysis.
What the CEO will care about is the product’s direction and the company, so by summarizing you’re ensuring the effective communication of your strategy. Like before, your interviewer will care more about how you argue for the final recommendation than about what it is.
To summarize, the best tips to follow when answering this type of question is to have a plan, make sure you approach each stage in an organized way and always be prepared to back your arguments.