How Product Managers can push back at an interview

Interviews are about persuading the interviewer(s) that you are the right person for the job. That you will be able to deliver the goods even when the going gets tough. A question that I like to pose to perspective Product Managers to determine if they can deliver in the face of adversity is:

OK here's the question - followed by a possible answer:

"What would you do if you were invited to a high level business meeting with the Sales Director, Head of Business Development, Director of Product Marketing, CEO and other senior stakeholders… The Head of Product Marketing gives a power point presentation on a new (on-line) product. The presentations concludes that the launch, of this new online product (that by the way is nothing like the company has done before) will be launched in three weeks time. After all, the CEO says, it's just another website."

What the interviewer(s) are looking for:

#How would you, as the product manager, manage upwards?
#Do you have the product management skills to communicate at the CEO/MD level?
#Are you able to push back in a diplomatic way?
#Are you able to manage expectations?

Suggested thoughts that need to be projected are as follows:
It’s important to be in tune with the commercial aspirations of chief executives and senior stakeholders. You need to demonstrate that you share the vision and will be an asset and not an obstacle to achieving the ultimate goal. However – and here comes the but – BUT you need to be able to positively steer the thinking towards realistic time frames and firming up on the unknowns [power point presentation are generally shallow]. Details need to be properly defined – here you have the opportunity to demonstrate [to the interviewer]:

  • your skills in creating a road map –

  • that flows into a project backlog –

  • that divides down into a set of user stories -

  • that can be estimated in terms of complexity and

  • time to complete.
Sets of user stories can be grouped together as themes for a programme of sprints which will eventually give a picture of the size of the project. If your more acustom to a water fall enviroment then talk in terms of product plans etc...

Once all of this has been thrashed out you then have the ability to communicate high level estimates for the project and give feedback to the senior stakeholders. This then opens up another round of discussion regarding resources for the project:
  • Who? (permanent or contract),

  • When (do you need technical resources to assist in the research if research is needed) and

  • How much does will it cost (different organisations have different approaches to recharges – central departments or each business unit having their own development team(s).

Ensure that you demonstrate your ability to balance your business and commercial acumen as it’s the combination of 'business sense and technical sense' that makes a good product manager. Remember organisations (and therefore processes) differ one from another - the interviewer will understand this - so it's the logical thought processes and stakeholder management skills you show when answering that determine if you give a satisfactory answer or not.

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