Improve Google Maps | Product Management Interview — Product Sense

Angelina Fomina
8 min readAug 18, 2023

Product Design Question for Product Management Interviews

What is this question about?

This is a typical product design question that you might get asked during product management interviews, especially for if you are interviewing for Google. There two ways that I see candidates mess up on this type of question. One, they don’t think creatively enough! And two, they don’t have a concise structure in place. If you want to know how to come up with a bunch of great ideas on the spot, under pressure, during your interviews I wrote a guide for this here.

Right now, let’s focus on getting structure of this product design question right. Are you with me? Let’s go!

This is a very typical product design question and the interviewer is looking for:

  1. Your ability to think BIG, and creatively
  2. Your customer empathy and ability to identify the right user pain points and needs
  3. Your structured, concise communication

How do you answer this product design question?

Use the cGAPSFramework…

  • Clarify: What are we designing? How does the product we are improving work? In this case we are improving Google Maps! During this step you should also tell the interviewer how you will answer the question!
  • Goal: Why are we improving Google Maps? You will need to come up with our goal by looking at Google’s mission and why the Google Maps product exists
  • Audience: Who are we improving Google Maps for? You will need to explain example user groups, and narrow one down.
  • Pain Points: What needs are we solving for? What needs does your target audience have when it comes to Google Maps?
  • Solution: How do we solve the users’ needs? What is the best solution out of all brainstormed to improve Google Maps?

Example Answer

I shared the outline above, so now let’s get into detail…

Clarify

In this step we need to clarify what we’re improving. There are three things you should do here (1) ask the interviewer clarifying questions, (2) clarify how the product works and (3) share how you will answer this question.

Step 1: Clarifying questions

  • Are we assuming we are improving Google Maps as it currently is, and for the international audience? Yes.
  • Are we improving the entire Google Maps app, or just a specific feature? Entire app.

Step 2: Clarify how the product works

  • I assume Google Maps, is used via an app or web interface for people to find directions from one place to another, and also find places along the way like gas, restaurants, hotels, land marks and more? Yes.

Step 3: Clarify the structure

  • To answer this question I will set a goal, define our users and their needs, and brainstorm solutions. How does that sound?” Yes.

Goal

Next up, is setting a goal — ask yourself why are we improving this product? This step is super important, because you will need to carry out your goal throughout the entire answer.

Since we are improving a product — Google Maps I will look at (1) the companies mission and (2) the objective for this specific product.

(1) Google mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it useful”. And Google Maps makes it easy for people to find information about travel and new places.

(2) Since Google Maps is a product a lot of people know about, and it’s mature, we should probably focus on increasing engagement instead of adoption, and making Google Maps something that people use consistently to find new information. The more users we get opening up the Google Maps everyday, the more revenue we can get in the future, by adding monihtazation features as well.

So to summarize, our goals should be to help people find new information and use Google Maps consistently.

Audience

After setting the goal, it’s time to dive into your audience. In this section, you’re going to brainstorm all of the different users that could possibly use Google Maps by (1) sharing the higher-level groups and (2) providing more examples of different type of user personas for each.

The high-level groups of people that use Google Maps can be:

#1 Individuals

#2 Travelers

#3 Groups

In each group, we can break down the users even more…

#1 Individuals

  • Adult / Seniors / Kids
  • People with special needs
  • Everyday commuters that use their own vehicle
  • Bikers / Walker / People that use public transportation

#2 Travelers

  • Adventurers
  • City explorers
  • Out of town visitors / trip planners
  • Learners and dreamers (that don’t really travel but use Google Maps to explore new places online)

#3 Groups

  • Couples
  • Families
  • Groups of friends (University students, girls trips, etc)
  • Groups of coworkers

Pain Points

In this semi last step we need to show some customer empathy, and share with the interviewer what the pain points of a specific group are. I recommend (1) narrowing down on a specific user group (2) brainstorming needs of that group.

Let’s choose a user group to focus on:

I will pick out of town travelers, because that serves our goal of helping people find new information about travel and places. These travelers, can travel solo or in groups with friends, families, or with their romantic partner. They can travel from far away like another country, or just go for a near by weekend getaway. This group of travelers also includes seniors, kids, and anyone with special needs that may need more help in their trip planning process.

Why did I pick this group of people to focus on?

If we chose the user group to focus on by age like seniors, or kids that wouldn’t give us enough users to meet our goal of consistent use of Google Maps from the largest majority of people. And city explorers and commuters (either those walking, using transportation of their own or public) are probably getting a lot value out of Google Maps already. To increase engagement I would like to bring in some new use cases into the app.

Now let’s brainstorm some needs:

  • Time— This out of town traveler needs to know how to travel between different places in the shortest amount of time, or how to plan a trip quickly. They also need to quickly plan the optimal trip between destinations. They might also need to know when to leave and conditions of traffic at different departure times.
  • Cost— This person may want to know activities, restaurants, accommodations within their budget
  • Convenience — This person needs to know which method of transportation to use to get to different destinations. While on the road they might need to quickly know where gas, restaurants, hotels are located and get trip assistance. If the person is a senior, a kid or has special needs they may need to ensure they are able to get to a specific place easily.
  • Entertainment — They may need to know interesting facts about a place they are visiting and the best, or top secret venues.

If I had to narrow down on a need, it would be entertainment! There’s a lot of apps out there and information that would help this person book a hotel and transportation, and Google Maps does a pretty great job with the basics — like finding directions and all of the conveniences a person might need on their trip like restaurants and gas. The biggest pain point I would say is having fun! People might be worried they are mission out, or they didn’t know of an awesome thing going on in the city, and we can help fix this.

Solutions

It’s time to get creative and think big! In this part you will need to (1) think of 3 to 5 solutions and (2) narrow down which solution is the best, using some criteria. Make sure that the solutions you brainstorm are for the target user you selected above, and accomplish the goal you set out at the beginning of the interview.

Our goal is to (1) help people find new travel information and (2) increase usage of Google Maps.

The customer we chose is an out of town traveler whose needs are time, cost, convenience and entertainment. We narrowed down that the need to be entertained is the highest priority.

Step 1: So based on that, I’m going to brainstorm a few solutions:

(1) Assistance for special needs: there should be a function where parents can indicate the kids they are traveling with and their ages, for all of the child friendly venues and activities to show up. If someone needs places to explore that are wheel chair accessible or best for those with hearing impairment, Google Maps should adjust the trip plan accordingly.

(2) Auto road trip planning function: automatically maps out a city’s top destinations or the best places to visit between destinations taking inputs such as budge and time the travel might have. This function can also sell last minute tickets to events, concerts and more.

(3) Popular now function: when activated, the traveler will see all of the hot spots in town, how long the wait is, and if it’s possible to go to the most happening places. This can help travelers meet other friends on the road!

(4) Scavenger hunt you can share with friends: a map overlay that can be activated for a birthday day, bachelors party or a night out. The primary traveler can share if with their group and everyone has to accomplish a series of tasks in popular locations.

(5) A VR function to follow your friend group around on their travels, if you have a headset but can’t follow along. You can get a 360 view of different locations, and feel like you’re in the same city.

Step 2: Now we need to choose our best solution:

  • I will pick (1) alignment with our mission, (2) user value, (3) alignment with our goal to increase engagement and (4) effort.
  • The VR idea and the scavenger idea, don’t really meet out goal of increasing engagement on a consistent bases. These two ideas have really high entertainment value, which matches our prioritized user need, but they won’t be used enough.
  • The popular now function and the trip planning function, can both make trip planning and travel more fun and align very well with the mission, our goal to increase engagement and user value. The auto trip planning function will be a lot more complex to build, but we can just combine these two ideas, start with the popular now feature and evolve into the full automated trip planning experience.

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Angelina Fomina

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