Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

What are the best product management MBA programs?

Posted on July 6, 2008 · 8 Comments

Question: What are the best MBA programs for learning product management?

Answer from Jeff Lash of How To Be A Good Product Manager: This is an easy question to answer — there really are not many! Product management still is much more of a role where people learn on the job, as opposed to in school. If you ask 100 product managers, I would bet that at least 90 of them did not learn anything about “product management” specifically in their undergraduate or graduate programs.

The University of Wisconsin — with their Center for Brand and Product Management — is really the only U.S. university I am aware of that has a curriculum focused on product management. In addition to an MBA curriculum, they also have some Product Management Certificate options. The Illinois Institute of Technology has an interesting Master of Design / MBA joint program that covers product development from the “business” perspective and the “design” perspective, though they do not appear to have any courses on product management itself.

Many MBA programs have some elective courses which cover product management, product development, or related issues. Though these can be helpful for your product management education, they may deal more with issues outside the area of business in which you are interested (e.g. you want to manage a Web 2.0 consumer product and you learn about pricing strategies for industrial chemicals), and they rarely cover the day-to-day issues product managers face (e.g. How can a product manager motivate sales? or How to track and manage feature requests?). Don’t get me wrong — undergraduate- or graduate-level courses on product management are useful if you can find them, though they are not the holy grail. I certainly learned some useful information from the Product Management course I took as part of my MBA program, though I learned a lot more by actually being a product manager.

A lot of people have questions about product management education and product management certification, and usually they are asking because they want a job as a product manager. There is no silver bullet to becoming a product manager. An MBA course may help — a whole program, like the University of Wisconsin’s will likely help even more — and certification will help too, though in the end, anyone hiring a product manager is going to look for a combination of “book learning” and real-world experience.

If you are planning on getting an MBA just to learn about product management, I would reconsider. You are likely to learn more and progress farther in your career by joining a company with a strong product management practice and learning from those with experience. An MBA is a good degree to have, and the skills you learn as part of the program — finance, strategy, organizational behavior, general management — will serve you well in many roles, including as a product manager. However, know that less than half of product managers have some sort of masters degree, and many of those may be in fields like engineering. (Though it may boost your earning potential, I think that is more of a result self-selection due to people who choose to get a masters degree than the intrinsic value of a few extra letters after your name.)

Some day we may have a variety of MBA programs to choose from which offer product management courses and curriculums, though for now, it is still very much something people learn by doing.

8 other answers so far ↓

What do you think?