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PM Interview Product Design Case Study - Pet Pain Points

In this post, we'll review a case study submission from one of our Exponent members.

Question: Design a product that solves user pain points around owning a pet.

If you want to brush up on the basics of answering Product Design Questions, check out Exponent’s lesson on how to ace the product design interview question.

(Candidate’s answers are in regular font, interviewer’s responses in bold, and the editor’s notes in italics).


Exponent's Product Design Framework

Here is a framework that we recommend you use for Product Design questions.

  1. Clarify the situation (what, why, where , how)
  2. Users
  3. Pain Points
  4. Ideas
  5. Vision
  6. Feature Priority
  7. Pitfalls

Candidate’s Answers (with Commentary)

Clarify the situation (what, why, where, how)

  • Can I focus on US only and on dogs?

Sure.  

  • High-level product goal is to help dog owners and their dogs enjoy each other more and simplify each other's lives. After launching, the initial focus should be on growth. Do you have anything to add or change?

Nope. Please proceed.

  • I will first define different user segments, lay out the pain points of the prioritized segment, brainstorm potential solutions for the chosen pain point, talk about metrics and trade-offs, and cap things off with the summarized solution. How does that sound?

Sounds great.

Editor’s Note:

The candidate does a great job getting aligned on a product goal from the start and laying out the structure to ease the interviewer into his framework.

Focusing on dogs first is perfectly acceptable—the narrower the scope the easier it is to empathize with the problem to solve—however, the candidate misses out on an opportunity to provide supporting evidence for his decision, which is a pattern that repeats throughout his answers.  Sharing with the interviewer any information or assumptions that drove him to choose a particular segment or problem to go after would have made his answer a lot more complete and therefore convincing. Prioritizing without a clear trade-off framework gives the interviewer an impression that the candidate is not thoroughly exhausting other possibilities, and instead picking at random.

Users

To think of different user types that we should consider, I could think of 1) Urban/Suburban dog owners, 2) Kennel, and 3) Vets.  

I'd like to focus on Urban/Suburban dog owners as it seems like a big market. Is that OK?

Sure.

Editor’s Note:

Once again, there is a room for the candidate to be more thorough with his user segmentation and prioritization.

While going after Urban/Suburban dog owners is a sound choice and I agree that these users form a bigger market than the other two, that shouldn’t be the only reason to go after a particular segment. One could argue that for a pre-growth product, going after a smaller market with the goal of dominating that segment and then expanding is a better strategy. While I could be convinced that we should still go after the bigger market that is Urban/Suburban dog owners, I would need more information and data points to fully get behind this decision.

Furthermore, as the interviewer asked to solve pain points around owning pets, I’m not sure if Kennel/Vets are the best user segments to consider here, without hearing more from the candidate about his thought process. The candidate could have gone into dog owners' frustrations with broken experiences in interacting with Kennels/Vets to provide additional context. Or, the candidate could have taken a different angle and further broken down the Urban/Suburban dog owners segment into different personas (i.e. 1) Single millenials 2) Family 3) People with special needs for assistance dogs.)

Pain Points

When people go to work, they leave their dogs at home for hours. Dogs prefer to have frequent activities and time to go potty. It could be considered a pet abuse to leave a dog, a day animal, at home, often with poor lighting, and some owners crate their dogs for hours. This could result in emotionally unstable dogs, and unhappy dog owners, often time leading owners to then further give their dog up for adoption or euthanasia. It's a vicious cycle.

Editor’s Note:

It clearly shows that this is a pain point that the candidate feels strongly about, and he shows a great deal of empathy for mistreated dogs and how that can impact both the dogs and dog owners.

Once again, while this is a great pain point to solve for, enumerating a few other pain points and prioritizing them in a structured way would show the interviewer that he approaches and analyzes product decisions with holistic perspectives.

Ideas

To solve for the pain point of abandoned dogs during their owners’ work hours, I brainstormed three different solutions.

  1. Home entertainment for dogs
  2. Dog walker application
  3. Robot that takes the dog on walks when the dog wants

I'll focus on the 3rd option since it seems like the first two have at least partial solutions already and the 3rd albeit very challenging, should provide novelty for the market.

Would it be okay if I dig deeper into the 3rd option?

Sounds good to me.

Editor’s Note:

Not to repeat the same advice, but once again, a little more thorough prioritization with multiple factors considered would better convince the interviewer of the candidate’s vision.

For instance, the candidate could’ve used 1) combined benefits added to the dogs and the dog owners 2) existing alternatives 3) difficulty of implementation as his three criteria of prioritization.

With these three pillars, I would agree that the third option is the best to pursue, since:
1) combined benefits is maximized as dogs can actually get out of the home safely (as opposed to home entertainment) and the dog owners do not need to worry about the quality and the integrity of the dog walkers on the app that will be built (which will also be an added overhead for us to do quality control),
2) home entertainment for dogs and dog walker apps certainly exist in the market,
3) although the dog-walking robot is significantly harder to build, the core technology to make this happen already exists and has been implemented across other industries.

Vision

Now, let me paint a clearer vision of how this will look like and work:

  • This will be a dog looking robot (dogs like to be in packs) that runs on wheels like a trojan horse.
  • It will be motorized with a rechargeable battery and equipped with a Lidar, cameras and radar to be able to see in all directions, just like an autonomous car.
  • The robot will have a short arm to which a spring leash is tied with a hook with sensors. A dog will be trained to walk into the hook when ready to start the walk. The arm will be adjustable to the dog's height. Once the hook is wrapped around the neck of the dog, the robot will be equipped to prompt the electric door that comes with the robot in order to open and close/lock after the pair leaves the house.
  • The robot will be programmed to go to the nearest park, or to just walk on sidewalks with the dog. GPS and sensors will know how to operate an elevator if there is one, and how to always come back to the starting point.
  • Service providers will be able to drive to the robot in case it dies or experiences a malfunction, and fix it - there could be a mandatory subscription service for that.
  • When a dog needs to potty,  the robot will pause and in case of feces, collect. The robot can go for as many walks as the dog wishes for. Warning lights and audio alert will prevent others from trampling with the dog and the robot.
  • Information about dogs will be collected, analyzed, and shared with owners and with consent, as anonymized data to help progressing the science and all other aspects of dog ownership.

I also want to talk about metrics, and how we should define the success for this product idea.

Our Northstar should be the happiness level of the dogs/dog owners alike, which we could measure with NPS. Secondary metrics such as walks per day per pet and average time per walk could be shared as more actionable feedback to further enhance the product.

Editor’s Note:

This is by far my favorite part of the answer. The candidate eloquently explains the specific design details and visualization of the solution, painting a clear picture of how his idea will come into reality.

One thing I would add to make this even higher resolution is how dog owners will be alerted and monitoring for the safety of their dogs. A simple mobile app for dog owners could be a great addition in this direction.

It’s also great that the candidate mentions metrics. However, I believe a Northstar should be more actionable than NPS scores, which are often measured in a delayed, quarterly fashion. Similar to walks per day or average time per walk, there should be more scientific and direct ways to measure the health and happiness of the dogs, which the candidate also mentions at the very end he will be collecting and sharing with the broader scientific community.

Feature Priority & Pitfalls

  • Much like the autonomous car, there are various ways this could go wrong and it will, potentially resulting in the death of the pet. The solution will take time to perfect, and we should test them vigorously to ensure maximum safety.
  • Also, the solution will likely be very costly at first, probably in the $10K range, so it may only be accessible to the wealthy until we can drive the cost down (currently, Lidar and camera sensors are likely to take the biggest toll). That said, paying for dog sitters cost a lot over time as well, so this could be also compelling price wise, if it can work reliably over time.

Summary

I was asked to design a product that solves user pain points around owning a pet. I looked at a segment, dogs, and its problems and needs around owners that are absent during work hours, and their resultant lonely and unstable dogs.  

I approached the problem with empathy at not only the dog owner but also the dog and their needs, and came up with a solution to a challenging problem in a very large market.

The solution I landed on is a dog-walking robot controlled by Lidar and camera sensors, that can take a dog out on a walk safely whenever the dog wants.

Feedback from Exponent’s PM Coach

What the candidate did well:

  • The candidate did a fantastic job painting a compelling vision filled with carefully crafted design details that came out of deep user empathy into the segment. I especially appreciated how he not only looked at the needs of the dog owners, but also at those of the dogs.
  • The candidate does a great job proactively making sure the interviewer is on the same page as him, by defining the goals from the beginning, first laying out his structure to the interviewer, and providing a concise summary of his recommendation at the end.

What the candidate could improve on:

  • While it shows the candidate is very passionate about the particular problem and his resulting solution was therefore specific and well-designed, throughout his submission I felt he was a bit tunnel-visioning on this particular solution, rather than being holistic and thorough in considering other possibilities.
  • When prioritizing, the candidate should have demonstrated that he does this in a nearly scientific manner, with a clear trade-off framework whenever possible. Throughout his answer, the candidate could have enumerated more options to choose from and used more pillars to analyze and prioritize the different solutions more thoroughly.

That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for reading.

Once again, if you’d like to practice with more product design questions like this, check out Exponent’s Product Design Course.

If you have an awesome case like this you are waiting to publish through Exponent, please email mitchell@tryexponent.com.

Thank you so much for your valuable submission!

Mitchell Kim

Mitchell Kim

Hi, my name is Mitchell and I am a fellow at Exponent coaching awesome clients, writing contents, and anything else that I can get my hands on :). APM @ LinkedIn.

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