Vibhav Agarwal, who wrote this article on Career Change from Software IT to Product Management after MBA, is back with another article. This time he goes back to the basic question that many aspiring product managers have, about the relevance and necessity of an MBA degree in a product management and marketing career.
Do you need an MBA to become a Product Manager?
by Vibhav Agarwal
“I want to be a Product Manager or a Product Marketing Manager Post – MBA!”
Sounds familiar? In my experience of studying at ISB and then interviewing potential aspirants, this is one of the most common career goals I have heard, especially among the IT crowd.
While Product Marketing or Product Management is a very exciting career choice and a high stakes position in most companies, the Jury is still out on whether an MBA degree from a Top B-school is necessary.
We have great Product Managers who never did MBA like Ben Horowitz who wrote the seminal piece on Product Management and then have some more with MBA degree like Sundar Pichai.
I would not spend my time on this post trying to argue if MBA is required or not for the Product Management and Marketing streams, but rather help identify some of the key roles a good Product Manager and Product Marketer would play in a company.
It perhaps would give the viewers of the blog a better idea if MBA will aid in meeting their aspirations or not.
Roles of a Product Manager
Role#1: The Juggler
He will juggle between the requirements coming from multiple sources like sales, competition, technology trends, and current customers and will find the best way to manage all of them. Some of them will go into the product roadmap, some will go to the dustbin and some will remain in-between. But in all of it, he should be the hero who will put up the spectacular show every time he productizes and demonstrates something irrespective of the audience.
Role #2: The Actor
He will understand the customer and the consumer of the product. And yes! Those 2 are different in many cases. He will get under their personas and understand their behavior and needs which the product is meant to satisfy.
A good product manager needs to act the part of his consumers and customers in his mind every time he envisages the next feature to be added. He will anticipate the issue of the customer who is using the product for the first time as well as the one who was the first customer for the product five years ago.
Role #3: The Seductress
To stand out in the crowded marketplace, every product needs its bells and whistles. Product managers and more so the marketers need to seduce their audience every time they show the product.
They need to make the product stick in the minds of the customer long after they are gone. This skill needs a combination of cool presentation, smart thinking and some awesome technology more often than not.
Role #4: The Orchestra Conductor
There are always 10 things on the to-do list. So ought to be developed, some ought to be partnered with and some others just need to be reviewed. But the product guy is always in control and guiding the engineers, UX designers, sales guys and the partners and so on. He is the conductor who can make the team build a nice symphony into whole product experience for the user. He guides his team into prioritizing the tasks, keeping the focus at the right place and building up the success in small steps.
Role #5: The Martyr
Well this is the last one and probably one that most product guys do not like. More often than not, the Product manager is always a martyr should things go south, but sadly not always the hero of the story.
As the person ultimately responsible for the product, Product guys get all the flaks for the HTTP 400 errors , the browser and app crashes, the missing features, performance, but not always the kudos.
In this case, the Product Marketers generally tend to fare better because there the face of the product to the market. For product managers, it varies from organization to organization depending on the kind of exposure they get to customers, consumers and analysts.
How an MBA helps with each of these Product Management roles
So, now that you know what it takes, as an MBA from one of the premier B-schools, I can tell you that MBA does help with each of the above roles (Careers in Product Management).
As you struggle through the assignments, classes and parties, you would learn to juggle and manage all the three. Most of courses involve working in groups, creating attractive presentations to seduce your professor. The assignments will see you donning roles of a CEO, Product manager, CFO and many more.
And then there is the dreaded bell curve, the hazardous B neg (i.e. low grade in ISB lingo) and the submission deadlines, the perpetual enemies and sometimes the unknown. MBA teaches you to think out of the box, look at the problem for all angles and most importantly understand that there are a lot of right answers.
So do you really need an MBA to be the Product manager or the Product Marketer?
You might find this article – A day in the life of a product manager – interesting as well.