Does a Product Manager Need an MBA?
Another age-old question in product management circles is whether PMs should have MBAs. At least today, an MBA can be a double-edged sword when it comes to recruiting for product management roles. In some cases, having an MBA can count against you, especially at startups where technical experience is valued more. In other cases, some companies with teams that have more of a business focus may look specifically for MBAs.
For the majority of cases, an MBA is not a hard requirement for a product manager. There are many product managers that excel at what they do without an MBA background, and there are many more important qualities that PMs should have and continue to develop. However, this post will focus on the potential benefits of an MBA, as well as action steps an aspiring PM can take in business school to make the best use of time and experience.
Business schools teach an analytical approach that can be applied to products in a way that is logical, simple, and practical. Products with good design do not always become successful on the market - there are many other factors such as timing, funding, competitive environment, etc. that an aspiring product manager will need to understand that going to business school can help teach.
This analytical approach allows aspiring PMs to think about metrics instead of best guesses and helps with prioritizing features in order to get the best returns given limited funding and time. Again, an MBA is not the only avenue to learn these skills, but it will put these learning opportunities within easy grasp and encourage practical application in a group setting.
The Best Use of Time at Business School
1. Start a project, be actively involved in a club, or build something. Many startups are reluctant to hire MBAs because of the stigma that MBAs only tell people what to do without actually having the experience or know-how to complete that task. Disprove this notion by showing you were in the trenches working on a product, whether that "product" was a mobile app, volunteer event, or club reorganization.
2. Take classes that are project-based. You will have the opportunities to work on your ideas and at the very least work on other good ideas. You'll also gain experience working in a team setting, with the added benefit of other MBAs providing insight and feedback.
3. Practice design. Take the initiative in designing wireframes and mockups and getting feedback from your classmates. Their feedback will allow you to iterate and improve your eye for design.
4. Choose useful classes. Whenever the opportunity comes up, pick classes that will teach you useful skills that can be applied to product management. Some examples include entrepreneurship, marketing, and even classes in engineering departments at the school. Many universities have centers for entrepreneurship and technology - do some research and see if you can enroll or sit in on some of the more technical classes.
At the end of the day, an MBA can be a useful pursuit for product managers. It provides experience, resources, new approaches to solving problems, and connections - all of which are very important in improving your skills set as a PM.
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