How to Decide if You Need an MBA as a Product Manager (2023)

How to Decide if You Need an MBA as a Product Manager (1)

Article originally published at Product Manager HQ on May 7, 2018.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “do you recommend that I get an MBA (Master’s of Business Administration) to become a product manager?”

My answer is, “it depends on context, just like any other product decision.”

Too often, society tells us what we should be doing in absolute terms, and too often we seek absolute answers — either it should always be yes, or it should always be no.

Rather than provide a recommendation, I’d like to provide you a framework for deciding whether you need an MBA to become a product manager. That way, you are empowered to make your own recommendation that best suits your personal situation.

First, let’s discuss what makes a good product manager, and analyze how you line up against those requirements. Then, let’s discuss what an MBA provides you, and what the relevant tradeoffs are. Finally, let’s pull together a set of questions for you to ask yourself, so that you can make the most informed decision possible.

In a previous article, we wrote about top skills that a good product manager should have. We argued that empathy, organization, prioritization, communication, and insight generation are critical skills for all product managers to master.

Think of your skills as bars on a bar graph, where your X axis represents each skill you have, and your Y axis represents your expertise in that skill.

For the critical skills mentioned above, you must attain a minimum mastery across all of these.

(Video) Do You Need an MBA to be a Product Manager?

Additionally, to be a successful product manager, you need an unfair advantage — a particular skill on your chart that spikes strongly.

This skills chart should therefore look like an inverted T-shape. That is, you have strong breadth across a variety of disciplines and skills, and a deep mastery of a particular skill that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd.

Therefore, to even begin to decide whether you should pursue an MBA or not, you should first begin by plotting out your skills chart. Brent Tworetzky, SVP of Product at InVision, published a fantastic skills inventory by seniority. I’ve personally used this inventory to map out my own skills.

Now you have a sense of your baseline skill sets. Let’s discuss what additional skill sets and resources an MBA can provide you — and what cost it will come at.

We also previously wrote about the value that an MBA provides in the specific context of product management.

For this article, however, let’s take a step back and look at the value of an MBA regardless of industry or role. The value of an MBA is composed of three parts:

  1. Frameworks and case studies
  2. Reflections on past experiences
  3. Networking opportunities

Let’s discuss each in detail.

First, every business program provides helpful business frameworks that can cleanly structure almost any given business scenario.

Given that product managers create their products in the context of their organization’s business, such frameworks are indeed invaluable.

For example, the concept of MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) is absolutely critical when you brainstorm ideas or run through test cases.

The concept of SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) enables you to craft product strategies that make sense in a competitive landscape.

Negotiation strategy is key as you work with various stakeholders.

(Video) Do you need an MBA to break into Product Management?

Crisp and clear communication is absolutely essential as you deal with product crises.

Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to study various business cases, many of which provide insights that you may otherwise be unable to obtain.

You’ll learn from professors who have previous experiences as entrepreneurs, CEOs, and CFOs, and you’ll have centuries worth of collective business experience at your fingertips.

Therefore, business school can be a helpful one-stop shop to obtain a reservoir of helpful frameworks and case studies.

Second, the vast majority of MBAs require that you have some previous business experience before applying. Why is that?

It’s to ensure that you actively reflect on your past experiences. Every experience that we’ve had can always be mined for more actionable insight — the question is whether we have the right tools to mine those insights. The MBA experience certainly provides powerful tools with which to mine insights.

However, it would be relatively pointless to give a gold miner a pickaxe if they had no access to a gold mine. Similarly, even if you’re equipped with analytical tools, you can’t use them on your own experiences if you don’t have many business experiences to begin with.

In business school, reflection comes in the form of class discussion and in the form of projects.

In class discussion, you learn from the experiences of your peers, and your peers provide their perspectives on your experiences.

Outside of class, you’ll tackle novel challenges in the context of projects, which will cause you to reflect on past experiences that will help you overcome these challenges.

And finally, MBAs are incredibly valuable hotspots for networking. Every person seeking an MBA is ambitious and has previous work experience. Therefore, by obtaining an MBA and actively participating in networking events, you’ll increase your exposure to industries and companies.

But what’s the cost?

(Video) Do You Need an MBA to Become a Product Manager?

First, MBAs can be incredibly expensive from a financial cost perspective. This analysis conducted in 2016 found that the full monetary cost of an MBA can range from $100k — $200k.

Second, you must invest time into your MBA. If you go the full-time student route, you lose any income you might have earned over those years. If you go the part-time student route, you redirect much of your time outside of work towards obtaining your MBA, which can lead to stress or burnout.

Third, you pay an opportunity cost as you obtain your MBA. The time you spend could be used towards shipping your own side projects, joining product management communities, working at interesting organizations in interesting roles, etc.

So now we know what makes a good product manager and how our current skills line up against that template.

Additionally, we know about one potential way to strengthen our skills — go to business school to obtain an MBA — and its associated tradeoffs.

The last piece that you need is to identify what your other alternatives are.

Your time is not free. You have only so many years of life.

What are other viable ways that you could be spending that time? Would those different usages of time provide you an even stronger set of skills and resources, or provide you the same skills and resources at a lower cost?

If you identify a viable alternative that provides you more benefit or comes at a lower cost, then you should strongly consider taking that route over obtaining your MBA.

In many scenarios, however, obtaining an MBA is a fantastic decision with high ROI (return on investment) — it all depends on your situation.

I previously dove into how I became a product manager. Here’s the interesting part — because I already had an undergraduate business background, I opted not to get my MBA.

My rationale is that I could not have gotten as high of an ROI obtaining my MBA as I could have in the workforce. Let’s use our framework on my decision at the time.

(Video) Is an MBA needed for PM roles? (by Ayush, Sr. Product Manager, Zendesk)

First, I already had a strong breadth of skills since I had previous experience in management consulting, data analytics, and client services. I already had the ability to empathize, organize, prioritize, communicate, and generate insights.

Additionally, I had my reservoir of business frameworks and case studies, since I already had an undergraduate degree in business administration. We had already covered a similar curriculum to what our graduate counterparts would have covered.

I decided that what I needed wasn’t more tools for analyzing my experiences, but rather more experiences themselves. I didn’t feel that an additional two years of schooling and the cost of an MBA was worth the additional benefit I could gain.

Let’s look at how I assessed the 3 value components of the MBA:

  1. Frameworks and case studies — I already had these, and therefore the additional benefit wouldn’t be very high.
  2. Reflections on past experiences — I already had the habit of running weekly retrospectives on my life to apply new learnings to past experiences, and therefore I didn’t see additional value.
  3. Networking opportunities — I’m not particularly good at socializing in group situations, though I do quite well in 1:1 networking. Given that business school networking events generally take place in groups instead of in 1:1 situations, I wouldn’t have been able to capture the majority of the networking value provided.

Using the framework above, I came to my own conclusion on whether I should pursue an MBA or not. Again, my conclusion applies only to myself.

Furthermore, this particular decision was made at a single point in time. Given this framework, I have the flexibility to revisit the decision on an ongoing basis, and I can shift priorities as needed based on how my personal situation evolves.

I hope you’ll use the framework provided to identify the best path available to you. Even better, I hope you’ll modify the framework and make it your own! For example, you may see other value components to an MBA that I haven’t yet identified.

As product managers, we seek not to copy what others do. Rather, we create our own hypotheses and frameworks, and test them against the real world.

Regardless of which path you ultimately decide on, all of us here at Product Manager HQ are cheering you on!

The following are interesting perspectives from fellow product managers. Some of them promote getting an MBA, and some of them discourage getting an MBA. We advise that you read at least one article from each group to understand both sides of the argument.

Anti-MBA:

Pro-MBA:

(Video) 3 things I WISH I knew before becoming a product manager

Have thoughts that you’d like to contribute about business school and product management? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!

FAQs

Do product managers need an MBA? ›

Although you currently don't need an MBA to land a job as a product manager, an advanced degree can help get your foot in the door when applying to high-profile companies. An MBA in product management can also help you climb the corporate ladder faster than you would with only a bachelor's degree.

Which MBA is best for product management? ›

Best MBA Programs for Product Management
  1. Sloan School of Management — Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ...
  2. Graduate School of Business — Stanford University. ...
  3. Haas School of Business — University of California Berkeley. ...
  4. Stern School of Business — New York University. ...
  5. Kellogg School of Management — Northwestern University.

Are you fit to be a product manager? ›

In short, a product manager's job is all about solving problems for people. If your life has led you to creative thinking, problem-solving, and curiosity, it's quite possible product management is the perfect career choice and you'd be a perfect fit for a role where you can practice, learn and grow a ton.

What are the top 3 qualities you have that would make you a good product manager? ›

9 Qualities of a Great Product Manager
  • Strategic Thinker. A product manager is a mini-CEO of sorts. ...
  • Passion for products. Product managers should love products. ...
  • Empathizes with the customer.
  • Interviews customers. ...
  • Aspires to build great user experiences. ...
  • Keeps Score. ...
  • Ability to Prioritize. ...
  • Collaborative leader.
10 Apr 2014

Do you need an MBA to be a product manager at Amazon? ›

To apply, for example, for a Product Manager job in Retail Operations & Initiatives in Amazon a candidate needs to hold Bachelor's degree either in business, engineering, marketing, design, or related field and be excellent at using Excel or Access.

What masters degree do you need to be a product manager? ›

A masters degree in business is required for most product management roles.

Is product manager a high paying job? ›

To put it simply - a lot! Depending upon the organization you end up working with, Product Management is one of the highest-paying jobs in the corporate world. An Indian MBA graduate can earn a median base salary of ₹ 15.2 lakhs per annum, excluding other salary components like bonuses. But this is just an overview.

Which MBA specialization is best in future? ›

Traditionally, finance, marketing, HR, operations, and entrepreneurship are some of the most sought-after and the best MBA specializations and are considered safest by many students.
...
Table of Contents
  • MBA in Digital Marketing.
  • MBA in Business Analytics.
  • MBA in Data Analytics.
  • MBA in Entrepreneurship.
11 Oct 2022

Can we become product manager after MBA? ›

In many ways, product managers are the heart of a technology business, so it makes sense that the role attracts so many ambitious MBA graduates.

Why do product managers quit? ›

The job of a product manager is challenging, but that's what makes it exciting. However, this is not always the case. And many product managers we asked have listed precisely the lack of challenge and growth opportunities as the main reason why they would quit – 129 to be exact.

Is product manager a chill job? ›

Product Managers are only to assign roles and chill!

As you grow in the position, your struggles would grow further. Product managers are not going to design the products on their own, but they are responsible for bringing up all the pieces together. As I suggested, that's where decision making is crucial.

What are the 3 major areas of product management? ›

It identifies the three primary areas of focus for product management, namely: Product discovery. Product Planning. Product Development.

How do I know if I will be a good product manager? ›

You will love Product management if you are a person with great vision. If you know how to break that vision into tangible chunks and layout a plan to fulfill that vision, you will be a good PM. If you are empathetic and can put yourself into customers shoes every time before you think, you will be a great PM.

What three words characterize a great product manager? ›

Here are five of the many qualities that are important to making things happen and inspiring others.
  • Empathy. It's important for you to be empathetic to the feelings of other people around you. ...
  • Visionary. ...
  • Strong Communicator – Verbally & Visually. ...
  • Strategic Thinking. ...
  • Decisiveness.
12 Oct 2019

How do you identify a talented product manager? ›

5 Ways to Recognize a Great Product Manager
  1. They are well versed in their products.
  2. They stay attuned to their customers.
  3. They can lead and communicate a vision equally well with engineering teams and the c-suite crowd.
  4. They have a knack for sifting through and prioritizing multiple (and often competing) wants and needs.
1 Aug 2014

Do product managers have to be creative? ›

Product Manager Job Overview

There's also no other job in the tech industry where you get to be as creative as a product manager. Because you're tasked with coming up with new ideas and turning those ideas into actual products that have never existed before, you need to be creative.

What do you need to be a product manager? ›

How to Become a Product Manager
  1. Create a portfolio of products that showcase your work.
  2. Conduct user and industry research.
  3. Learn about the project management process.
  4. Seek out ways to solve problems in your current role.
  5. Take product management courses.

Do I need an MBA in tech? ›

While an MBA isn't necessary for a job as a programmer or engineer, it is absolutely an asset for senior leadership roles at tech companies, he says.

Do startups have product managers? ›

The short answer: Yes, most startups do need product managers.

How do I become a product manager with no experience? ›

6 Different Ways to Get a Product Manager Job With No Experience
  1. Study and Research. ...
  2. Internal Transition. ...
  3. Apply for Junior Product Manager Roles. ...
  4. Start a Company. ...
  5. Join a Startup. ...
  6. Get Product Management Career Coaching.
13 May 2021

How important is GPA for product management? ›

Because you had very little professional experience, companies use your GPA as a proxy to measure your work ethics, and weed out the slackers from the applicant pool. A respectable GPA will be at the 3.3 or higher range. Ideally you should have 3.5. How many product managers do you need for one engineer?

How old are most product managers? ›

There are over 41,370 product managers currently employed in the United States. 34.7% of all product managers are women, while 65.3% are men. The average age of an employed product manager is 38 years old.

Why is product manager salary so high? ›

Some fast growing industries, especially those depending upon technology, have a higher demand for product managers, thus are more likely to pay higher salaries to feed such demand.

Who gets paid more product manager or project manager? ›

Who earns more: product manager or project manager? Generally, product managers make more than project managers in the US. The average product manager's salary in the US is $111,755 a year, while a project manager in the US makes an average salary of $87,637, according to August 2021 data from Glassdoor.

Which MBA has highest salary? ›

According to the BLS, some of the highest-paying management occupations related to MBA concentrations include computer and information systems management, financial management, marketing management, and human resources management.

Which MBA specialization is in demand in 2022? ›

Here is an MBA specializations list in India that are high-paid and most in-demand MBA courses during upcoming years: MBA in Marketing. MBA in International Business. MBA in Event Management.

Which is the most demanding MBA course? ›

Most In-Demand MBA Specializations
  • International Management. ...
  • Strategy. ...
  • Consulting. ...
  • Finance Leadership. ...
  • Entrepreneurship. ...
  • Marketing. ...
  • Operations Management. ...
  • IT or Technology Management. A specialized MBA in IT or Technology Management puts MBA graduates at the cutting edge of UX, design, and the flow of information technology.

Which stream is best for product manager? ›

However if one plans to be a product manager specific to design or technical products, the science stream would be preferred. One can either apply for a bachelor's degree in business management and then apply for a Masters's program in business management.

How long does it take to become product manager? ›

Course duration: 6-10.5 months. Eligibility criteria: Bachelor's Degree with or without work experience. 10+ live sessions, 8+ tools, 15+ case studies and projects with three customised specialisations.

How many types of product manager are there? ›

There are 3 different types of product management teams, namely – innovators, builders and tuners.

What do you hate about being a product manager? ›

You hate meetings

Product Managers need to interact with almost every stakeholder in the company including but not limited to: engineering, design, sales, customer service, and end customers. Naturally, you will get pulled into dozens of meetings every week, some (if not most) could have been done via email.

How stressful is a product manager job? ›

High work stress.

Being a product manager comes with high expectations that can often prove to be stressful. As a manager, you are not only responsible for the product development and delivery process, but also for the entire product management team.

Is being a product manager lonely? ›

Being a product manager is lonely.

A universal aspect of Product Management that people don't expect is just how lonely it feels to be a PM. You could be working with a team of 100 people, be in 10 meetings a day, and yet often feel super-lonely because no one else shares your struggles or truly understands them.

Why is it so hard to get a product manager job? ›

The reason why it is so hard to get a Product Manager job is that it takes such a diverse skill set to do the job well. Even once you land the job, your challenges aren't over: being a Product Manager is a tough gig. Perhaps the hardest part of being a Product Manager is the community-building aspect.

What is the hardest thing about product management? ›

What's the hardest part of product management? Our research shows that the hardest parts of the job for many product managers are organizational comms, managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities.

Why is it so hard to become a product manager? ›

Because product management blends so many skills and responsibilities, it can be a difficult role to achieve. Product managers often work in other jobs before demonstrating the ability to develop a new product and lead a team. It requires persistence, which makes landing the position worthwhile.

Do product managers own P&L? ›

In most organisations, the PM does not own the P&L. The P&L ownership lies with a general manager or the business unit leader. A PM deals with financials when preparing a business plan, and tracking usage.

Can a non tech person become a product manager? ›

The main reason you can expect to find work as product manager over the long term, even if you don't have a technical education or professional experience in a technical role, is the same reason you can enjoy a PM career even if you don't have a sales background.

What are the four stages of product management? ›

The four are introduction, growth, maturity, and then decline. Products and companies progress through these stages of development and the way that you know which stage they're in is how much revenue they're making over time.

Can I become a product manager after MBA? ›

In many ways, product managers are the heart of a technology business, so it makes sense that the role attracts so many ambitious MBA graduates.

Is product manager a high paying job? ›

To put it simply - a lot! Depending upon the organization you end up working with, Product Management is one of the highest-paying jobs in the corporate world. An Indian MBA graduate can earn a median base salary of ₹ 15.2 lakhs per annum, excluding other salary components like bonuses. But this is just an overview.

What do you need to be a product manager? ›

How to Become a Product Manager
  1. Create a portfolio of products that showcase your work.
  2. Conduct user and industry research.
  3. Learn about the project management process.
  4. Seek out ways to solve problems in your current role.
  5. Take product management courses.

Do product managers become CEO? ›

With hands-on experience in this approach, a product manager can prosper in an executive leadership position. In sum, product managers play a crucial role in product development and acquire the right skills that will help them flourish in their career and ascend to the CEO post.

Which MBA specialization is best in future? ›

Traditionally, finance, marketing, HR, operations, and entrepreneurship are some of the most sought-after and the best MBA specializations and are considered safest by many students.
...
Table of Contents
  • MBA in Digital Marketing.
  • MBA in Business Analytics.
  • MBA in Data Analytics.
  • MBA in Entrepreneurship.
11 Oct 2022

Is product management a good career? ›

The young professionals having the thought “Is product manager a good career?” should be satisfied that yes it is a very good career. It has numerous employers, across locations and countries. Along with that, it gives a really high compensation that grows even more as one grows in their career.

What is production management MBA? ›

MBA Production Management is a 2-years management course comprising 4 semesters related to organization's production and operation development. The program taught the students the best possible way to minimize the organization's production cost and maximize the profits.

How old are most product managers? ›

There are over 41,370 product managers currently employed in the United States. 34.7% of all product managers are women, while 65.3% are men. The average age of an employed product manager is 38 years old.

Why is product manager salary so high? ›

Some fast growing industries, especially those depending upon technology, have a higher demand for product managers, thus are more likely to pay higher salaries to feed such demand.

Who gets paid more product manager or project manager? ›

Who earns more: product manager or project manager? Generally, product managers make more than project managers in the US. The average product manager's salary in the US is $111,755 a year, while a project manager in the US makes an average salary of $87,637, according to August 2021 data from Glassdoor.

Is product manager a stressful job? ›

Product Manager Work Environment

A product manager's work environment can be hectic and stressful. This management position requires you to conduct decision-making, problem-solving, and management tasks.

Do product managers make more than software engineers? ›

Depending on who you ask, product managers earn more than software engineers and vice versa. Keep in mind that experience, tenure, and industry all impact whether one role makes more money than another and vice versa.

Can you become a product manager without experience? ›

The exciting thing about product management is that there's no one road to gaining product manager experience. There's no official certification you need to enter this field. There are no barriers to entry – and it's a role where you can make a real tangible impact at your organization.

Was Steve Jobs a product manager? ›

As Apple CEO, Steve Jobs involved himself as a de facto product manager by having a hand in the design, direction, vision, and messaging of its most important products, including the iPod.

How many hours does a product manager work? ›

Generally speaking, I've noticed that most product managers aim for about 50 hours per week. Now that you've estimated your weekly bandwidth, block out your time over the next week with “free” calendar events. For each block of time, determine what objectives you will achieve in that period of time.

What is the future of product manager? ›

The product management market is expected to reach USD 31.84 billion by 2025. Thus, for aspiring and existing product managers who are planning to climb further ahead in the domain, the future is as bright as the sun, if not brighter. All that they need is the right training and mentorship.

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