Avoid doing this in a Product Manager interview

Avoid doing this in a Product Manager interview
Asher SaeedFollow
Hi! I am Asher Saeed, the founder and editor of topic.expert. I created this website to share my learnings with Product Managers and Product Leaders after spending a considerable part of my career building high growth businesses.
09 Oct 212 min read

A common theme I recently noticed when interviewing candidates for a product manager role, was around the use of "product management/roadmap tools" (or lack thereof in our case) for managing product roadmap. A fair number of candidates were surprised that our team was "making do" with more "primitive tools" such as Google Sheets and Docs. Some reactions were almost allergic, as if I had referred to product management as project management.

I made a mental note to dive deeper next time product roadmap tools came up, in order to understand what was behind this unhealthy obsession. Most candidates I quizzed about this, argued at length about how amazing it is to be able to drop an item from the roadmap and straight into Jira. I then inquired about the value of this time saving, without getting too many straight answers. I asked a few candidates whether they'd be able to survive in the role if they were offered the position and had to make do with our more primitive tools. Answers varied from: "Would you consider getting a tool like ***?" to "Yes but I imagine it would make the job a lot harder."

A product roadmap to nowhere

I found this intriguing and decided to ask what their process for creating product roadmaps was to understand why a product roadmap tool felt so important. Normally this is a question I don't ask as anyone can learn a process, I care more about critical thinking. One thing that was apparent was that some of these candidates were working in highly process oriented feature factories where very little critical thinking was being applied to product strategy (i.e. build it if we think it'll have some traction). Some even argued that the tool helps "decide priority" based on some arbitrary scoring system that their product leader created.

I diverted the conversation away from tools, towards critical thinking. It became pretty clear that they would be spending very little time validating ideas, talking to customers or even commercial modeling if they were given the role. There was also an over-reliance on some kind of process to act as a guard rail.

Product process and roadmap tools are secondary

Ultimately these candidates didn't make it and I sent them detailed feedback on what we were looking for and areas for improvement to help them on their journey. I emphasised the need for being able to function well without a stringent process in place. Process and tools don't make a product manager, instead product managers need to invest in sharpening their critical thinking skills, understanding customers, picking apart their product roadmap, determining commercial viability and also quite importantly understanding what's needed to build traction for a product or feature (before building it).

My message to product managers out there, process and product management tools can be healthy, but do nothing to make you a better product manager. More importantly, hiring managers rarely care about the tools you are using or the process you're following as these are simple things to learn. You have a better chance of impressing a potential hiring manager with a well articulated thought process, highlighting the successes you've had (and how) and your grasp over commercial reasoning.

Lastly, I've compiled a comprehensive list of product manager interview questions and answers here to help candidates structure their thought process for such interviews.