Product Management

How to Become a Product Manager Without MBA?

The Blog answers a very common notion for all the aspiring product managers: Do you really need an MBA to become a product manager?
Mahima Arora
12 min to read

Many people consider getting an MBA for breaking into product management. This has become more apparent over the last decade. In 2020, 19% of Harvard Business School graduates worked in technology. And, out of many tech options, product management was one of the most popular. According to The Wall Street Journal, 7% of recent graduates worked in product management.

Therefore, this raises a question many people ask: Do you really need an MBA to become a product manager? The simple answer is no. Let us explain.

MBA programs are not the golden tickets

Before you get carried away with the numbers above, consider this. B-school was never designed for product management. Rather, academia will guide you for investment banking, consulting, marketing, and business operations.

Product management is an ever-changing role. It evolves with trends and new technologies. Therefore, it’s hard for business schools to come up with a curriculum that directly teaches product management.

Apart from the curriculum, you’ll mostly see companies on campus looking to recruit for top consulting firms, investment banks, and top-tier corporations. Although you’ll also see the top tech companies, but the difference between the numbers is significant.

Having said that, an MBA will still teach you a lot about product management, but not in a technical sense. You’ll learn about negotiation, marketing, customer research and psychology, and people skills — all of which are essential for product management.

Therefore, the crux is, MBA will help you in the process to become a product manager, but it’s not essential. MBA will give you many benefits like a great network, a personal brand, and business skills. But it doesn’t teach you to build a successful product.

Prashant Mahajan, founder of Zeda.io suggests in one of the product management webinars how you should focus on developing key skills if you can’t afford or don’t want to do the MBA

Become a product manager without an MBA – do this instead

Although, the skills vary from company to company. For example, Consumer product management is generally data-driven and analytical with quick feedback loops. Enterprise product management is generally people-driven and relational, with longer feedback loops and so on. However, there are some core skills that you’ll need no matter what industry you are in. From these core skills, you can further diversify to learn even more (because you’ll need a large skill set as a professional). So if you dream about starting your career as a PM, here’s the process.

Learn about the process of product management

As a product manager, you’d be bombarded with problems vying for your attention. However, you must identify and work on problems that are worth solving. You must first determine which products your target audience desires, and then devise and test the minimum viable product to meet that demand. To get the most out of it, you’ll also need to become a team player and utilize your team’s skills. A strong sense of purpose will assist you in managing people and creating value for stakeholders.

As you understand more how strategy and developing a product roadmap works, you’ll be able to connect the dots between the whole process. Building the product’s feature backlog and user stories, as well as marketing and sales, and tracking product metrics. To better understand this process, you can enroll in a certificate course that will help you develop technical skills and make sense of each step involved in product development.

Become a jack of all trades

Product managers are also referred to as ‘generalists.’ They are talented in a variety of areas, which (makes the position very cool). As a result, only the first part of the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” applies to them. PMs work at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience, therefore they need to have some knowledge about every discipline these intersection crosses. Engineering, sales, marketing, and customer inputs are some of them.

Understanding how each team works will be easier if you are familiar with these disciplines. When you understand these domains; you’re not just being in the management role, you’re able to solve the challenges your team is facing. You’ll gain more respect, and better communication will help you get everyone on board with your vision and strategy. Therefore, whatever chance you get to ever shadow these roles, you should spend time understanding how different teams and domains work at the intersections.

Become a great storyteller

When it comes to product management, storytelling is an undervalued skill. However, it is effective storytelling that allows you to promote your product to your users. Storytelling is essential because you want to tell the product’s story to stakeholders and teammates. It is critical because you want everyone to understand your vision in order to get people on board with your strategy and make them excited about the product.

According to Cole Mercer, the ability to tell stories and evangelize is the one trait that truly distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the rest. This is so accurate because you must tell the stories to different audiences at different product cycles in order to persuade them. You must tell the product story to your users in the same way that you do to internal stakeholders. Because you want them to interact with your product and stay with it. As a result, if you want to give winning presentations, you must persuade your audience to believe in your concept.

Get formal training

It’s time to get serious and begin in-person training. Formalize your product training so that you can fill any gaps that may have arisen. There are many great online courses you can pick and start learning. You can start with General Assembly, Product School, Coursera, Edx, MindTheProduct, SkillShare, and so on.

Enroll in 8-10 week courses to develop your product manager mindset. Get as much one-on-one counseling as you can and ask as many questions as you can. Spend a significant amount of time on your projects. These projects will assist you in better understanding the nuances of product management. Remember that whatever you are learning — you’re learning to apply that in your future career goals. Therefore, try to implement whatever you learn.

Build something to learn everything

All the other methods we mentioned to become a PM without an MBA are great. They are effective regardless of your industry or background. But as we said earlier — try to implement whatever you learn. Therefore, if you want to get into product management as quickly as possible, you should build something. Now, this might sound daunting if you don’t know design or tech. But you don’t have to be an expert at everything.

The great thing about the Internet is that anyone can access a wealth of free resources to learn a new skill from the ground up and create something. It doesn’t have to be a revolutionary idea that will change the marketplace forever. The goal is to get your hands dirty and experience the product development process firsthand. Your product could be a website, a mobile app, or an enhanced version of an existing SaaS product. Whatever problem you believe is important enough to solve.

Finally, be persistent

Breaking into product management is not like getting any other formal job — there are no direct ways to join the product team. That’s why you need patience with results. Product managers come from a variety of backgrounds, including Designers, Software Engineers, Senior Business Analysts, Tech Support, Project Managers, ex-Business Owners, Sales Managers, and Customer Success.

Therefore, you may be working on something else, learning the necessary skill sets, and it won’t be long before you break into product management. This applies to all great product managers out there. It will happen to you as well.

Product management is a discipline like no other, there’s no sure pattern to follow. Even an MBA degree will not guarantee a career in product management. If you can afford the MBA program, and you wish to study, go ahead. But the truth is MBA is not necessary, and if you want a better return on investment: build a product.

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