Product managers—also known as PMs—are the glue that holds a technology company together. They’re a jack-of-all-trades and the ultimate team player: they partner with designers, engineers, marketers, and sales teams to ensure the product vision is being realized correctly. It’s an incredibly versatile role that can see you working for a household name like Apple, or in a scrappy startup trying to solve an industry challenge. The job market for PMs is exploding: at Google alone, there are over 8,000 product managers across 300+ products and sub-products.
The demand for product managers has been rising as companies try to compete with each other by bringing out new products and services that customers want. This results in more companies hiring MBA graduates for product management roles, as these individuals have the required knowledge and skills to help them succeed.
The concept of an MBA in product management came into prominence when tech firms started recruiting MBA applicants for product management roles. Product management is a hybrid field that combines aspects of technical expertise and business acumen. A product manager must be able to understand the market and user needs, work with engineering teams to build or improve products and communicate effectively with customers.
An MBA in Product Management can teach you how to develop products from scratch, how to manage projects and teams and how to use analytics tools to improve your business performance.
What do MBA product managers do?
What do MBA product managers do? They are the end-to-end owners of products and features, from conception to launch and beyond. Product managers are at the center of everything in a company, building bridges between engineering, sales, marketing, design, and customer experience. They work with all teams across an organization to define problems that customers face; invent solutions that solve those problems for customers; build consensus about what solutions to build next; and bring those solutions to life. MBA product managers are primarily responsible for setting the vision, strategy, and roadmap for their product or feature area.
As you might expect from such a central role in so many parts of a company’s process, there are a lot of different ways to get into it. Most MBA product managers come from engineering backgrounds—after all, product management is just as much about technical problem-solving as it is about understanding human needs. But the best product leaders often come from non-technical backgrounds as well: the ability to communicate clearly with all groups at a company—from designers to engineers—is essential for successful product management. That’s why so many product leaders also come from consulting or other business backgrounds.
Do you need an MBA to be a product manager?
Not necessarily. But it can help.
The concept of an MBA in product management came into prominence when tech firms started recruiting MBA applicants for product management roles. It’s a high-paying job that requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, work long hours, and lead teams.
But it’s not for everyone. If you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree in product management, here are some things you should know:
You don’t need an MBA to get into product management. There are plenty of successful product managers who never went to business school. The MBA, as a degree, wasn’t necessarily created the needs of the product management function in mind either.
In a typical MBA program, there is a large component of general management skills such as finance and strategy. These are broadly applicable across any industry, but they are not specific to product management. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to launch a new product or to merge with another company.
Your MBA education will help you understand how each of those decisions will impact your company’s financial performance, but it won’t provide any insights into why you should choose one decision over another based on the product. The MBA teaches you how to create a plan for building the best possible version of your product, how to reach out to users and get feedback from them, how to define your target market, etc. It makes you a smarter business decision-maker.
All of these skills are essential for making good business decisions today. It’s important that you have this knowledge because it will help you make better decisions about what features belong in your product and which ones don’t. In addition, knowing how to prioritize features according to customer needs will allow you make more efficient use of development resources so that your product can be built faster with less effort spent on unnecessary functionality. This could mean not just faster time-to-market but also lower costs involved with building an MVP (minimum viable product.
So, do you need an MBA to be a product manager? Nope. Can you benefit from a generic MBA? Maybe. Can a specialized MBA with multiple courses focused on product management help? Definitely, yes.
The specialized MBA in product management
If you are interested in a career in product management, you may have considered getting an MBA. After all, many people go to business school to earn an MBA and then find careers as product managers. Although an MBA is a great way to improve your skills and increase your value as a job candidate, not all business schools are the same. Some programs offer specialized MBAs that can focus on your chosen career path. In particular, there are some business schools that offer MBAs in product management, which can be helpful if you plan to work in the industry. Rather than simply earning a general MBA, this specialized degree can help you learn some of the specific skills that product managers need in order to succeed.
A specialized MBA in Product Management is different because it is focused on the particular needs of this field. The curriculum contains the business fundamentals of an MBA program with additional courses specific to product management. Such courses include: Industry Analysis, New Product Development, Product Strategy & Marketing Communication, Consumer Behavior & Analytics and Product Roadmaps & Spans. These classes will give you the skills necessary to be a successful product manager. They will teach you how to identify problems and develop solutions, how to build better products and how to communicate with stakeholders. This degree will help you gain the experience and knowledge needed to succeed in your career.
Can an MBA make you a better product manager?
Some would say that an MBA can’t teach you how to be a product manager. They might be right, as far as the specific skills of PMs go. These mostly come from experience, trial and error, and a willingness to learn from others. However, some of the best qualities one needs to succeed in the role are gained through this type of education: namely, strong analytical skills, business knowledge, and leadership abilities.
Analytical skills—Those who succeed in PM roles tend to excel at problem-solving. They are skilled at data analysis and understanding how various elements of a product work on their own and together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. An MBA program will empower you with tools to understand complex systems and use them to your advantage when it comes time to make decisions or solve problems related to products and processes.
Business knowledge—Particularly for those who are new to the field, an MBA can be invaluable for gaining knowledge about how business works. In addition to learning about basic economics principles and the different aspects of doing business (from marketing to finance), it will give you a broad understanding of the world around you that will help you gain perspective on how your role fits into an organization. A good MBA program will focus on what’s happening now in the world of business so students don’t graduate with outdated skills or knowledge. It will also teach students about future trends so they know what to expect down the road when it comes time for them to apply their skills on the job.
Cross-functional skills – Product managers must be able to think strategically, using their technical knowledge and business savvy to make decisions that benefit the company and its customers. Earning an MBA can give you a big step up in product management by teaching you new skills in accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, leadership and more. This will put you on equal footing with your peers who have extensive experience in these areas.
MBA courses that can help aspiring product managers
MBA students can choose from a wide range of elective courses to round out their programs. There are many classes that could help aspiring product managers, but here are some common MBA electives that can be useful for people looking to get into the field of product management. These are general classes that will be there in most MBA programs. Specific courses only related to product management, go-to-market strategy, and product marketing are separate and not mentioned here.
This course is designed to teach you how to think like a businessperson and understand how products are produced and sold. You’ll learn how to plan and manage products from start to finish, from research and conception all the way through distribution and marketing.
This course will teach you how to use data analytics to improve your marketing efforts in real time, making it ideal for any aspiring product manager who wants to be able to make quick decisions based on data rather than hunches or guesswork.
In this class, you’ll learn how businesses make decisions about their long-term goals and objectives based on market conditions and opportunities as well as internal strengths and weaknesses. This type of knowledge is critical for anyone interested in becoming a good product manager because it helps them see where their company fits into the larger picture — not only within their industry, but also in terms of overall business strategy.
This course helps students understand how marketing works in practice, including how brands target specific consumers and how companies develop strategies for different types of products. It also teaches students how marketing campaigns work together to increase sales and brand awareness.
Decision analytics helps organizations make decisions based on data rather than opinions or gut feelings. Students learn how to collect data from various sources including public records, surveys and market research reports so they can analyze it using statistical tools such as regression analysis or neural networks. They also learn how these tools can be applied
Famous MBA alumni who went on to be tech/product leaders
An MBA in product management can be very useful in many ways—but the most important way is that people with MBAs can make all the other people who don’t have MBAs feel bad about themselves. This is true of any industry, but let’s focus on product managers for now. Let’s take a look at some famous product managers who have impressive MBAs, and then you can decide if it’s worth pursuing one yourself.
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Harvard Business School
- Scott Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit, Harvard Business School
- Steve Ballmer, Former CEO of Microsoft, Harvard Business School
- Bill Campbell, former chairman and CEO of Intuit Inc., Columbia Business School
- Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga Inc., Harvard Business School
- Chad Hurley, co-founder and former CEO of YouTube Inc., Indiana University Kelley School of Business
- Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube Inc., Harvard University (BA)
The world’s best MBA programs for aspiring product managers
NYU Stern, Tepper, HBS, UCLA, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, and Tuck are usually considered some of the world’s best MBA programs for aspiring product managers. Other programs are catching up rapidly, adding new courses on the domain. Today, you would struggle to find a top-20 MBA program without a bevy of product management courses in its electives list.
Devil’s advocate: should you consider an MS instead?
When it comes to product management, an MBA may not be the only choice. The alternative: master’s degrees in product management is designed specifically for people who want to work in the product management field. These programs are usually 1-2 years long and may come with certifications that can help you get a job in the industry.
While most MBAs focus on strategy and finance, an MS degree focuses more on technical skills like marketing, analytics, and engineering. If you’re interested in learning more about building products from scratch or understanding how users interact with them, an MS might be right for you.
The Carnegie Mellon MS in Product Management is one such option.
Conclusion: As a product manager, you can never stop learning
The field of Product Management has evolved over the years and has become a critical function for many organizations. There are more and more schools now offering MBA in Product Management or Masters in Product Management. As there is growing interest in this space, you may be wondering whether you should get an MBA in Product Management or pursue an MS in Product Management or just go for online courses to learn product management? An MS or MBA is one way to get those skills, but it is not necessary. Many people have built great careers without an advanced degree.
In the present day and age, there are plenty of opportunities for product managers to take courses and get certifications. There are online courses, online programs and even full-fledged MBA programs with a major in product management. While many of these courses and programs are great, it is important to choose the one that is most relevant for you at that point in time. For example, if you have just started your career as a product manager and do not have much experience or if you are a new entrepreneur looking to have a good understanding of how to manage products, then an online course would be most relevant for you. However, if you already have significant work experience in product management and want to learn more advanced skills or want to learn skills that may be useful when making a change in your career, then an MS program or an MBA program would make more sense.
There are many benefits of getting an MBA or MS degree in product management, including access to the top technology recruiters, including Meta, Google, Amazon, and Netflix. There are excellent opportunities with niche technology startups too.
But whether you choose an MBA or MS or just online courses to learn more skills, ensure that you keep on learning because the field of product management is highly dynamic. You cannot survive if you do not keep growing your skills.