Management questions in interview

Hi all,

I’ve just had an interview for a ‘Senior Industrial Designer’ position, and I was actually stumped by a couple of questions that came up, which I’d like to be better prepared for next time.

How do you answer a question about risk management strategies in relation to a product being designed for a highly regulated industry?

How do you answer questions about implementing management strategies and estimating costings to make a project run smoothly?

Outside of answering these with basic examples of building project timelines, I really didn’t know how to answer. Should I be more knowledgeable about detailed management methods at this level (5 years in)?

Risk management can be a rabbit hole. The answer depends on the person asking the question. So without knowing their perspective, you don’t know the “right” answer.

There are those who think that risk should drive your design controls. Personally, I think that is entirely bs and if you follow that model, your company will be out of business in a few years. But you would be amazed how many think the opposite of my perspective. Bottom line, and you need to remind the risk folks of this a great deal, user needs drives the design controls. That is the only way to have a hope of having a successful product, and there is no guarantee of that either.

So I would have answered their question as such - “Risk management is a tool to evaluate the design inputs and outputs, which are driven by user needs. Risk should always be compared to the benefit the product creates and risk mitigation should be validated to the user needs.”

The problem with my answer is that risk people, in general, don’t think there should be any push back. If they rule the roost, you ain’t getting no job.

As far as cost estimates, it is only the most rare circumstances that you are actually doing something new. Benchmarking, not reinventing the wheel, etc is the best method to estimate cost and timing. Only senior PMs should be looking into a crystal ball for the stuff that is actually new. Someone starting out should run something easy line a line extension.

I have found the biggest delays happen on the back end, which tend to be driven by SOPs. The easiest thing to do is evaluate the project’s fit into the existing SOPs and determine management’s confidence in their SOPs. A crappy SOP or the lack of an SOP is usually the thing that requires a change in scope which will affect cost and timing.

Preach!

Thanks for the super detailed reply iab. It’s good to hear feedback from those who have been involved in these processes.


So, in this example, if the risk is driving the design controls, where do the user needs fit into the project? Does mitigation of risk override satisfying user needs? It seems like this would be design by checkboxes rather than improving the product.

Are these responsibilities (risk management, project costings, time estimates) standard for a Senior ID position? It’s the first time I’ve interviewed for this level, so I expected some level of project management and team leading knowledge to be relevant, but I wasn’t expecting it to be to this depth.

Yes. I think a senior designer/engineer/whatever in new product development should know risk, cost and timing. Risk is more of an issue in a regulated industry, but it does drive quality in all products. Knowing that stuff is a part of professional growth. Hot sketches will take you only so far and is a tiny part in bringing a product to market. My corporate overlords have 7, yes 7, design reviews in their official process. We had 1 before being acquired. We took some informal ones and stretched it to 3 to be “compliant” to corporate practices. My point being is even if you want to avoid it, you learn new (and sometimes extraordinarily stupid) things everyday. Soak it in. Keeps it interesting and adds value to your resume.

In the example of risk driving design controls is in reality ridiculous, that product will fail, guaranteed. I think the risk people know this, but they do need reminding.

It seems to me there are at least two kinds of people - those who see dangers and those who see opportunities. In reality, we need to see both and think both optimistically and pessimistically. There is the story of two ladies working as the cleaning crew of an airline company, when they are done working and leave the plane one says to the other “You left the light on in the bathroom.” “How do you know?” says the other woman. “I can see it through that crack in the fuselage”.

So yes any serious business will work according to established methods for new product development. And yes the senior industrial designer often has those responsibilities. However they should probably add to those job titles a slash Project Manager or Design Manager. I also found in interviews that at my age I am expected to be at least familiar with these methodologies. You can always answer with something about Six Sigma which could convince them.

Ralph does bring up a good point, where does it end? Six sigma black belt? Running PPAPs? IQ OQ PQ validations?

If the company is expecting you that in addition to depth in VOC, ID, UX, ENG, CAD, downstream marketing, ask for 7 figures. Maybe 8.

The company was reasonable with their expectations, and I agree that this knowledge is important. I was just unprepared for the exact questions/context. I have been exposed to these methodologies/techniques, but I haven’t set up/run them on my own enough that I can articulate an answer well.

Now that I do know the expectations, I can get reading!

I suppose the answer varies based on size and type of company you are interviewing with. How big was the company? Who was asking these questions?

I am a senior designer 7 years in and I have never been asked those questions.

It sounds like a standard question HR or someone outside the design department might ask. I can’t Imagine a design director asking me those questions, at least not in the way you have described. If they did I would shift the conversation to specific examples of what they are referring to and then tell them about my real-world experience from previous projects to illustrate that I know how to accomplish what the are asking. Strategies are great and all but its all bullshit until you actually implement them. Because they never go as planned.

I would have reservations about joining a company that asks those questions, It is not my job. I have a project manager to keep track of timing and costs. They are experts in what they do, I am not here to do their job. We have technical experts to deal with meeting compliance and safety regulations (I have worked in highly regulated industries such as aerospace). I have an understanding of timing, costs, regulations, safety, human factors, engineering, but I liaison with those professionals to achieve a final result, I am not 6 professionals in one.

These are questions to test you business skills. Stupid and ridiculous questions for a Sr ID, but they are intend to test how you think about risk and how you approach implementation. There is no right answer. I would have told them that it is out of my expertise, but I would work with xy and z to get to the bottom of it, or create processes. Turn it into a cross-functional proposition and how design influences those functions.

Just my 2 cents…

J

Thanks guys.

It was a consultancy, and it was the design director asking. The question, along with the others, was asked in a specific context of a scenario/product that I haven’t worked on before, that I received an hour before the interview. Now that I’ve had more time to reflect, it was really more of an examination than an interview!

I think its still valuable to have a deeper understanding of these principles. Shifting to specific examples from my experience and moving the conversation to how design influences risk etc is a good idea. I’ll remember that.

I have never been a fan of this kind of interview style. Giving the person an hour to think about a problem, or develop a case study I have always found does not work. Not everyone thinks or operates that way and if it is on a topic that you are unfamiliar with an hour is not enough time. I would rather talk and have a conversation on the process I would go through to solve that problem.

An interview should be a discussion not an interrogation or a test. If that’s the way they conduct interviews, then working there will be worse.

I would move on.

J

I think those are some pretty odd questions to ask a senior designer at a consulting agency.

I’d expect candidates to have an understanding to manufacturing, BOM scrubbing, build strategies, user centered design methodologies, the ability to present to execs/clients, build a presentation/story, ability to collaborate on cross functional teams, in addition to all of the skills I’d expect from a junior/mid level designer.

Risk management strategies and management strategies would be something to ask directors and above in my opinion.

The interview didn’t exactly go well, and I have moved on. I was expecting more of a conversation of process and how mine applies to their company to test culture fit. I feel uneasy about a position that doesn’t check personality fit into their team.


Well I can do the former, so that’s good news!

I feel like they were really looking for a senior project manager, or maybe their definition of senior designer is actually a project manager. Either way, the position posting was very design process and team culture oriented, as was my phone screening with HR, but the interview with the design leader wasn’t. It’s odd because I’d have thought it would be the other way around.