Daily exercises for Product Managers to boost creativity

Angelina Fomina
6 min readAug 18, 2023

Product Management can be dry — really dry. When you’re doing the day-to-day work, most of the time you’re running around putting out fires, getting products approved by legal and privacy teams, adding and organizing roadmap tasks, and growing thicker skin.

Product Management can also be very exciting and fulfilling. You get to set the vision, think through complex problems, connect with real people's needs, and create beautiful products.

But when the day-to-day catches up with you, getting stuck in a “creative rut” can happen. Your mind will be focused on execution and the small tasks at hand. You’ll need to take a step back and think about the big picture and cultivate your creative thinking.

Set time aside to be creative. Pull yourself out of the day-to-day.

  1. You’ll reconnect with your products and find innovative solutions
  2. You’ll be ready to brainstorm ideas for strategy and road mapping
  3. You’ll approach process or interpersonal problems in a creative way
  4. You’ll be able to see new opportunity areas, pitch them to execs and carve our new product areas — this show’s you’re at a senior product level!

As a bonus!

These exercises can help you prepare for a product management interview! You need to be creative in your interviews as a product manager and show that you have the skills to think big, innovatively, and out of the box.

Here are a few exercises to get your creative juices flowing daily so you’re prepared to ship innovative products OR to pass that product management interview!

Exercise #1: Go beyond “one idea a day”

There’s a popular exercise that tells you to “write one random idea down a day”. This can be very challenging if you have no enlightenment whatsoever. I suggest you approach this exercise by digging into the problems you encountered that day first. Problems can yield new solutions!

Exercise:

  • Question #1: “What problems did you experience today?” Write down all of the problems that you encountered.
  • Question #2: “What solutions can you think of for each problem?” Write down 1 solution for each problem that you listed.

Example:

Question #1: Problems I encountered

  • Problem 1: Contacting passport services to renew passport
  • Problem 2: Leaving a part of my calendar free from meetings
  • Problem 3: Booking cheap accommodations for my grandparents to visit

Question #2: Solutions to each problem

  • Solution 1: Text chat-bot that sends automated updates on the status of your application and confirmation that application was received
  • Solution 2: Calendar tool that automatically blocks 20% of your calendar as “focus blocks” at either randomized times or specific times/days or the week
  • Solution 3: Facebook app that matches friends that are leaving on vacation with friends that want a place to stay (for free) or do a house swap!

Exercise #2: Start with people problems

Playing on the 1st exercise, it’s time to build some user empathy and focus on the needs of other people — not just the problems that you encountered. As a product manager, you can’t just build for yourself. You have to build for your users and those users will most likely be drastically different to you. This exercise will help you define problems someone else may be experiencing.

Exercise:

  • Question #1: “What concept, area or industry do you think requires innovation?” Write down three and pick one.
  • Question #2: “Who are the two main types of people/users in that industry?” Choose an area to focus on and list two distinct “users” you want to focus on.
  • Question #3: “What are their problems?”. Choose one industry or area and list as many problems as you can think of.
  • Stop here or continue to Question #4: “What solutions can you come up with to their problems?” List one per problem.

Example:

Question #1: List areas, concepts, or industries

  • Real estate and renting [chosen area]
  • Museums
  • Productivity

Question #2: List users

  • Landlords
  • Tenants
  • Real estate firms
  • Real estate agents
  • Sales agents

Question #3: List people's problems

Landlords:

  • Getting paid on time
  • Finding people to do repairs at a reasonable price
  • Avoiding legal trouble
  • Finding tenants to rent the place
  • Figuring out how much to rent the property out for

Tenants:

  • Finding people to sub-lease and getting the required lease documents
  • Getting landlord to do repairs
  • Figuring out tenant rights and legal process
  • Sharing responsibilities with other tenants like paying rent
  • Paying rent on time

Question #4: Solution

  • App for landlords and tenants to track sub-leases, repairs, rights, lease documents and rent.

Exercise #3: Come up with 10 ideas

I just told you in exercise #1 that we won’t do this — but surprise! A new twist on writing 10 ideas a day that doesn’t involve people's problems. The goal of this exercise is to be as quick as possible. Set your timer and give yourself only 5 minutes to come up with as many creative ideas as you can for a very specific ask. Hint hint! This exercise is used in Google Product Management interviews ;)

Exercise:

Pick one of the following questions to answer each day:

Questions:

  • What would you do if you had an Android phone with a sense of smell? Come up with 10 ideas for this new tech.
  • What would you do if you had to revolutionize the alarm clock industry? Come up with 10 ideas on how to improve it.
  • What would you do if you discovered an island that no one else has? Come up with 10 ideas for what you’ll do with it.
  • What would you do in 2050 with smart cities? Come up with 10 ideas.
  • What would you do with a driverless, ? Come up with 10 ideas.

Example:

Question: What would I do if I had an Android phone with a sense of smell?

Answers:

  1. Database of smells to run and identify smells by
  2. Smell the sweat of the person next to you to detect stress levels
  3. Use as a smoke detector
  4. Get an alarm if the phone smells peanuts or perfume — common allergies
  5. Check if someone has animal hair on them if you have an animal allergy
  6. Ask the device “What does X smell like” and have the phone produce a smell
  7. Use as diffuser
  8. Detect if there is cigarette smoke around
  9. Use at the grocery store to identify a spice
  10. Detect poisonous plants/fruits on a hiking trip
  11. Use this when dating — in “theory” people that like each other's smell are attracted to each other
  12. Owners of gyms, saunas, and public spaces can monitor air quality easily
  13. Use a device to tell more about the person based on their smell — age, gender, etc.
  14. Hook up the device to Google Home, so the lavender scent can be diffused if your home smells bad
  15. Detect if food has gone stale

Exercise #4: Design a story

It’s healthy to get out of the product management mindset once in a while. The first few exercises really made you connect people's needs and ideas together and helped you think and innovate about products. It’s time to expand your thinking and just think creatively about something completely abstract.

You’ve designed products — now it’s time to design a story and push the boundaries of your imagination. Let go of the physical worlds you’re building for and let your mind play.

Exercise:

Step 1:

  • Pick a place
  • Choose a person's name
  • Choose the weather

Step 2:

  • Tell a story using only the three elements you chose above

Example:

Step 1:

  • Desert
  • Odessa
  • Stormy

Step 2:

There was once a girl name Odessa, that went with her dad on a 10-mile walk to get water from a well every day. She lived in a desert. One day on her walk there, she discovered a man in the well who was stranded and looking for help. She also found his camel nearby – exhausted and thirsty. Odessa reached into the well to get some water for the camel while the dad tried to rescue the man. A few minutes passed and the three of them saw a giant storm coming their way…

This went on for 30 min…

The end :)

Angelina Fomina

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Angelina Fomina

3x founder, ex-Meta, Oculus, Spotify PM. One bite-sized, actionable tip a week - angelinafomina.com