How To Build Product Intuition

I shared two crucial product management principles — User Empathy and Decision Making — with 100+ aspiring product managers. Here are some highlights from the workshop (and recording!)


Can you think of a product you love or hate?

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Perhaps you are like me — love Tiktok, Notion, Robinhood, and Spotify and hate the Wayfair bed.

Now ask yourself why you like (or hate) it. Is it because of the great design or versatile feature? Or is there something deeper?

I’d argue that all these reasons can be traced back to the following five core human needs:

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Most great products satisfy at least one human need. On the other hand, terrible products most likely mess up a few of them. To build a great product, you’d need to address user needs and/or pain points elegantly.

Check out this post for how to practice empathy in life.

Decision Making

Before we talk about prioritization, it is important to make sure that we are solving a real problem. Here is the key question to finding the root problem:

What would have to be true for this problem to not exist in the first place?

Once we identify the right problem, we can use the following 2 by 2 to prioritize the potential solutions.

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We should aim to complete reversible and insignificant decisions ASAP and irreversible and significant decisions ALAP. For anything in between, we should try to gather more information to move them towards ASAP or ALAP, but not in between.

In product management, this framework works for deciding how to prioritize a feature, sunset a product, or launch a project.

That’s a quick overview of the workshop.

If you are interested in the full session, check out the deck here and recording here.

You Are Qualified

When I was in high school, my mom showed me this hot Silicon Valley job called product manager and told me, “you are a perfect fit for this role.”

Life Hack #1: If you don’t know your nature, ask your parents. I bet they have a lot to say.

When I first started job hunting, I was not a qualified candidate on paper. I didn’t have engineering (or any legit job) experiences. I didn’t know anyone at my dream company and definitely missed out on the referrals. And my only PM mentor told me to wait a few years. Fair enough, I was just a freshman who knew her nature and wanted to match her life to it.

I was stuck. I didn’t know where to start. All the internships require applicants to be in their junior year or even later.

Life Hack #2: When there is a rule, there is an exception.

Though I was discouraged, I refused to give up. I continued to build products at hackathons and work on my startup idea. When I had the opportunity to pitch myself, I spoke up for myself.

Life Hack #3: Sharpen your saw. Since you cannot time the opportunity, the best strategy is to be prepared.

That’s how I got on Microsoft’s radar and received the PM offer at 18.

Seek to understand

I took my first PM interview on the spot.​

On the day of my first on-campus interview, I woke up at 10 AM, spent the next two hours finishing up a coding project, and got exhausted. Subconsciously, I had been resisting to prepare for the 1:30 PM interview until 12:30 PM.​

Seeing that I won’t have time to learn a new algorithm, I began to search for Microsoft in my Evernote. I found some statistics on Skype and some random formulas and metrics. I tried to memorize them, but they were not helpful at all. I didn’t like the stress of last-minute prep, so I decided to set aside all the notes and calm myself with breathing exercises.​

The interview began on time. I introduced myself to the interviewer. He asked me about my graduation date. He seemed a bit confused when I said “May 2020.” Anyhow, he decided to give me a try. He then asked about the role I wanted to interview for, and I intuitively replied PM. That reply was a game-changer.

​My interviewer asked me to solve a system design problem from the PM viewpoint. He shared a high-level legacy system and asked me how I would go about automating it. What would you do next?

Instead of jumping to brainstorm or answer the question, I framed the question in my own words to confirm that we are on the same page. I began to ask him questions and take notes on the whiteboard:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What are the assumptions?
  3. What does success look like?
  4. Who are the key users and what are their pain points?
  5. How much (engineering / design) resources do we have?
  6. When do we need this project by?​

While the interviewer may not answer all the questions, you can often get a lot of hints on the direction they have in mind.

These questions also turned my anxiety into curiosity and gave me time to think. With all this information, I was able to collaborate with the interviewer and solve the question together. That was fun!

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