circles-method

CIRCLES Method And How To Use It To Get Hired

The CIRCLES Method is a framework that guides a complete and thoughtful response to any product design question. The CIRCLES Method is a framework of best practices that Google uses while interviewing candidates for product manager positions.

Understanding the CIRCLES Method

The popular framework – which has been featured on Business Insider – helps candidates answer production design questions through mental cues.

These mental cues are based on fundamental principles of production design. This allows the candidate to respond in a thoughtful, persuasive, and composed fashion instead of saying whatever comes to mind. 

Using the CIRCLES Method, the response will include important aspects of product management, including user empathy, prioritization, and problem definition.

The seven stages of the CIRCLES Method

During the interview, the candidate is encouraged to move through seven stages. Each stage corresponds to a letter which make up the CIRCLES acronym:

  1. C – Comprehend the situation. Begin by considering a few key questions. Who is the product designed for? Why do customers need it? How does it work? Where and when is it available? How does the business define customer satisfaction? Is satisfaction or another important metric failing to meet targets?
  2. I – Identify the customer. Be prepared and have a list of potential target audiences that will benefit from the product. Then, in the interview, choose one buyer persona that best supports your argument. To save time, consider illustrating a buyer persona using a simple matrix that describes user behaviours, needs, goals, and the demographic.
  3. R – Report the customer’s needs. This can be done by creating a user story to delve deeper and understand user needs and their intended benefits.
  4. C – Cut, through prioritization. Narrow the various needs of the customer down to one you feel will have the greatest impact. Think about how certain needs would be prioritized according to time, money, or other constraints. Here, a prioritization matrix or A/B testing is appropriate. This stage demonstrates to the interviewer that you can assess the pros and cons of different scenarios and think strategically. 
  5. L – List solutions. For the identified need, list several solutions. Many candidates are great at identifying problems but have difficulty solving them. Brainstorming frameworks such as the Reversal Method and Attribute Method can help the candidate think on the spot. 
  6. E – Evaluate trade-offs. Evaluation requires that the candidate be analytical, objective, and thoughtful. Trade-off criteria should be defined to better get your point across. Solutions should be analyzed via a pros and cons list. This stage is important because the ability to critique yourself is important in successfully responding to critique from others.
  7. S – Summarise your recommendation. Depending on how well your idea was presented, this last step may be unnecessary. Having said that, some organizations will want to assess your ability to concisely summarise a product proposal. In no more than 30 seconds, make a product or feature recommendation and reiterate why it is most beneficial to the user. In closing, clarify why your preferred solution is better than the others.

Key takeaways:

  • The CIRCLES Method is a framework that guides complete and thoughtful interview answers concerning product development and design.
  • The CIRCLES Method is based on mental cues that represent fundamental principles of product design. Using the cues, the candidate being interviewed can give reasoned, persuasive, and structured answers.
  • The CIRCLES Method is based on seven stages that make up the CIRCLES acronym. If the candidate moves through the first six stages with aplomb, the seventh evaluation stage may be unnecessary.

Connected Business Frameworks

product-development
Product development, known as the new product development process comprises a set of steps that go from idea generation to post-launch review, which help companies analyze the various aspects of launching new products and bringing them to market. It comprises idea generation, screening, testing; business case analysisproduct development, test marketing, commercialization, and post-launch review.
bcg-matrix
In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.
ansoff-matrix
You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived by whether the market is new or existing, and the product is new or existing.
user-experience-design
The term “user experience” was coined by researcher Dr. Donald Norman who said that “no product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service – from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” User experience design is a process that design teams use to create products that are useful and relevant to consumers.
cost-benefit-analysis
A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.
empathy-mapping
Empathy mapping is a visual representation of knowledge regarding user behavior and attitudes. An empathy map can be built by defining the scope, purpose to gain user insights, and for each action, add a sticky note, summarize the findings. Expand the plan and revise.
perceptual-mapping
Perceptual mapping is the visual representation of consumer perceptions of brands, products, services, and organizations as a whole. Indeed, perceptual mapping asks consumers to place competing products relative to one another on a graph to assess how they perform with respect to each other in terms of perception.
value-stream-mapping
Value stream mapping uses flowcharts to analyze and then improve on the delivery of products and services. Value stream mapping (VSM) is based on the concept of value streams – which are a series of sequential steps that explain how a product or service is delivered to consumers.
eisenhower-matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool that helps businesses prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, the matrix helps businesses and individuals differentiate between the urgent and important to prevent urgent things (seemingly useful in the short-term) cannibalize important things (critical for long-term success).
moscow-method
Prioritization plays a crucial role in every business. In an ideal world, businesses have enough time and resources to complete every task within a project satisfactorily. The MoSCoW method is a task prioritization framework. It is most effective in situations where many tasks must be prioritized into an actionable to-do list. The framework is based on four main categories that give it the name: Must have (M), Should have (S), Could have (C), and Won’t have (W).
scaled-agile-framework
The scaled agile framework (SAFe) helps larger organizations manage the challenges they face when practicing agile. The scaled agile framework was first introduced in 2011 by software industry guru Dean Leffingwell in his book Agile Software Requirements. The framework details a set of workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. This is achieved by guiding roles and responsibilities, planning and managing work, and establishing certain values that large organizations must uphold.
kanban
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
minimum-viable-product
As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.
leaner-mvp
A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else.
design-thinking
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.
jobs-to-be-done
The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework defines, categorizes, captures, and organizes consumer needs. The jobs-to-be-done framework is based on the premise that consumers buy products and services to get jobs done. While products tend to come and go, the consumer need to get jobs done endures indefinitely. This theory was popularized by Tony Ulwick, who also detailed his book Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice.
swot-analysis
SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.
tows-matrix
The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.
pirate-metrics
Venture capitalist, Dave McClure, coined the acronym AARRR which is a simplified model that enables to understand what metrics and channels to look at, at each stage for the users’ path toward becoming customers and referrers of a brand.
5-whys-method
The 5 Whys method is an interrogative problem-solving technique that seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships. At its core, the technique is used to identify the root cause of a problem by asking the question of why five times. This might unlock new ways to think about a problem and therefore devise a creative solution to solve it.
agile-project-management
Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Read Next: Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"