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How to Ace Prioritization Questions in Product Management Interviews

A major part of being a product manager is being able to prioritize. Prioritization interview questions test whether you can develop a process to identify what your team should be working on. This guide will show you how to understand the goal, a framework to consider, and a sample question and answer to put it all together.

What's the Goal?

Start by understanding the goal. This can be achieved either by examining data or reviewing any data the team has access to.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does this align with the company mission?
  • Is there a company initiative the team is aiming for?

Prioritization Framework

After determining the goal, it's time to weigh any tradeoffs and discuss how you'll evaluate each option. Stakeholders will ask why certain decisions are made so perform sanity checks to your decisions. Priorities should not be driven by the loudest person in the room.

Demonstrate that you have a framework by which you'll follow. Personally, I evaluate three criteria and assign a numeric score to each:

  1. Business value
  2. User impact
  3. Effort

Oftentimes, the most important criteria for an idea is its potential to bring value to the business -- aka if it will make the company money. We also want to be user-focused and ensure we're bringing a good experience to the end-user. Finally, we want to consider the effort required. If the team had a magic genie, we would of course wish for flying cars and time machines. But, in reality, we must consider the engineering effort, design implications, and sales obstacles.

Provide a Recommendation

With the goal and a prioritization framework in mind, you now have the resources you need to provide a recommendation.

While many may simply rely on their intuition, I recommend turning this subjective process into one that is more systematic. One's intuition can be used to offer some sanity checks, but I also recommend assigning some weighted score to each criterion (you can keep it as simple as assigning a number from 1 to 3 based on desirability): business value, user impact, and effort. Then, the summation of each score would give a final score that can be used to compare the different benefits and costs.

Example Prioritization Interview Question:

Imagine you are a product manager at Uber in its early stages. Should the team focus on accelerating driver growth or rider growth?


Answer
At the time, the mission of Uber was to "make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone." What does "as reliable as running water" mean?

I believe reliability means ensuring drivers and riders can be quickly matched.

I will evaluate acquiring drivers and acquiring riders using 3 criteria: business value, user impact, and effort required to accomplish each.

Business Value
Acquiring drivers will help Uber fulfill more trip requests. The more trip requests we fulfill, the more money we can make.

More riders can make Uber more money, but that is dependent on our supply of drivers. In an ideal world, if every request from a rider can be fulfilled, Uber will make more money.

User Impact
Uber is a two-sided marketplace so we must consider both the impact on the rider as well as the driver.

Accelerating driver growth will pay dividends as it'll help Uber expand its geographic coverage. With more drivers in the local area, drivers would be able to pick up riders faster (decreased downtime). This will lead to rider satisfaction. With faster pickups and very reasonably priced fares (thanks in part to our venture capital investors), we can expect to see higher utilization of the Uber app. This begins a loop where more riders will join the Uber app, allowing drivers to spread out more, thus expanding Uber's geographic coverage. This helps our drivers spread out from the initial local area, exposing them to more opportunities to make money by unlocking a new set of riders in need of a ride.

Conversely at this stage, accelerating rider growth may make transportation less reliable. If demand for Uber trips increases due to an increased number of riders on the app, and the supply of drivers stays constant, expect to see increased wait times as drivers scramble to complete one trip and start the next.

Effort
The effort required to acquire drivers is nontrivial. We must first convince people it's ok to allow strangers into their cars. Then, we need to get them to complete any driver training and onboarding (eg. any licenses, paperwork, and insurance). Drivers also understand they will be paying for their own gas and vehicle maintenance. Finally, we must validate any background checks. Drivers then, at any point, can decide they don't want to drive anymore. Then, all that effort from our end would have gone to waste.

Acquiring riders is an easier task. Riders do not need insurance, any paperwork, or even background checks. Anyone with a cell phone can download the app, make an account, and call an Uber driver in minutes. We can simply incentivize people to take an Uber trip by offering promo codes for a discount on their first ride.

Prioritization Matrix

Conclusion
From our matrix, we see driver growth scored higher. But numbers aside, let's think about this as well.

Uber operates in a market with large fluctuations in demand and a variable supply of drivers. Drivers are not full-time employees, and they are free to work whenever they want. Without a steady supply of drivers, the rate at which requests for rides are fulfilled is at risk. If riders cannot be matched with drivers, we fail our mission in making transportation as reliable as running water. Imagine it being 1:00 AM and you're in desperate need for an Uber ride, but no drivers are around!

Thus based on a combination of my prioritization matrix and my intuition, my recommendation is to focus on accelerating driver growth.

Final Thoughts

There are many methods to tackle prioritization problems. Always remember to handle them methodically and sanity check your work.

For more prioritization practice questions, practice some of the questions from Exponent's practice questions forum.