“A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. Bad product managers have lots of excuses.” – Ben Horowitz
Product managers have a distinctly important role in a company. As Ben Horowitz puts it, they are the CEO's of product, and in most cases, product is what you're selling—without something to sell, your business is not a business.
Hiring any product manager can be a challenge in and of itself, and hiring a good one is like striking gold. In order to weed out the best from the rest, ask the following questions when interviewing for this integral role.
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1. How do you define product success?
“Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the how) and manage the delivery of the “what.” Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out the 'how'.” – Ben Horowitz
Horowitz's definition of a successful product manager is the gold standard. Good product managers are fully aware of their impact on product and the company at large, and they own that. It's about the what, not the how.
2. What is the most effective way to involve your customer in product direction?
If they have a process for pulling customer insights, and mention market research tools and how they have used them in the past, they most likely understand generating customer feedback is important to inspire good products.
3. What methods do you use to get the info you need to make decisions?
One of the most important things that a product manager does is listen to needs of stakeholders and understand the motivation behind those needs. If that person doesn't have a well thought-out process for collecting information to make good decisions they will never be successful in the role. Having a pre-determined information gathering process also demonstrates their organization and process skills, which are paramount.
4. What is one thing you would change on your favorite product and why?
There's no ‘right’ answer for this one, but depending on the answer, it should show how detailed and analytical they are.
5. What role does your competitor or market have in driving product decisions?
Just because competitors have it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. If they obsess about competitor’s features will permanently deliver yesterday’s technology tomorrow and that is a really bad idea. However, making sure that they stay abreast on how the market is shifting and evaluating features and products, is an important part of the role.
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6. If you were given two products to build from scratch, but only had the time and resources to build one, how would you decide which to build?
Product strategy means saying no from time to time. Product managers should prioritize by cherry-picking the project that’s likely to generate 80% of the impact and forecast what that impact is, as well as the SWAG cost in resources, money and other scarce resources before they decide to build.
This framework forces a product manager to really think through themes, create a plan, allocate resources, eliminate the need to prioritize different projects against each other, and model/forecast the impact.
7. Tell me about your current role on your team, or previous role? Who else did you work with and how did you work with them?
Good product managers will talk about working with analysts, UX designers and engineers (both front and back end). Listen for words that indicate they follow a continuing regular and flexible feedback loop with all parties.
8. What are the difficulties in writing direction for engineers?
Many product managers can be too prescriptive in 'how' things are done while not allowing for flexibility as development highlights difficult areas of execution along the way. Good product managers know how to make concessions in certain areas which allows for the balance of development time and covering core needs of the user. Specifications should be written with this in mind.
9. Tell me about recent product/feature launches and how you determined their success or failure?
A good product manager understands the problem they are trying to solve before they solve it. This means that they will have clear, data-driven metrics for success and failure identified before the work begins and as such, should be able to very clearly tell you if the launch was a success or a failure.
10. Tell me about detailed documentation projects in the past.
Pay attention to how detailed their response is and their aptitude for creating robust specs.
Bonus Question: What is the most impactful thing you've read on Product Management?
If they mention these books or pieces, you are in good company.
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager by Ben Horowitz and David Weiden
- The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton M. Christensen
- How to Get Startup (and Feature) Ideas, Do Things That Don’t Scale, and Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham of YC
- Leading Cross Functional Teams, How to Hire a Product Manager, and How to Work with Software Engineers by Ken Norton, Google PM
- Software Inventory by Joel Spolsky, StackOverflow/FogCreek CEO
- Get One Thing Right by Andy Dunn, Bonobos CEO