Many students went back to school this week, but most of them are not starting product management school. While there is a growing number of academic programs in product management, historically most PMs came from an engineering background. But, increasingly, we’re seeing a lot of product jobs requiring an MBA; and it makes sense, PMs are expected to perform functions across businesses, and MBA programs prepare their grads for myriad roles.
What we didn’t expect was how important this week’s poll question turned out to be. Do product managers need an MBA? We’ve gotten more response this week to our poll and from our debaters than ever before (in fact, more than we can feature). 87% of you don’t believe that PMs need an MBA, but that 13% is out there, and you can see a bit of it in our debaters’ responses.
Yes, maybe you don’t need that MBA, but it sure would help you get hired.
Without question, an MBA is not a pre-requisite to be a product manager. That said, a significant aspect of being an effective product manager is the ability to analyze and prioritize a wide range of opportunities against constraints. Thriving in that environment is made easier when product managers have a broad base of frameworks with which to make decisions. Having product, technical, and business frameworks in place is a formula for product manager success. An MBA can be one means of gaining a business and financial framework, but it is not the only way to get there.
PMs don’t need MBAs, but I always wind up hiring a bunch of them onto the product teams I run. Having an MBA is a pretty good proxy for “understanding the business impact of product decisions” and “thinking through the interplay of organizational behavior, misaligned incentives, scenario planning, game theory, short-vs-long-term financing” and a whole slew of other factors that PMs face on a daily basis.
VP Product Strategy, Zendesk
No, it's not a requirement. I do, however, like product managers to have some financial acumen. I mean, if they are going to be responsible for building profitable products, they need to be able to read a P and L. With so many free online courses, you can easily take a finance class through platforms like Coursera and Udemy, so the great news is that knowledge is super accessible.
Product Coach, Pragmatic Marketing
I've seen no correlation between MBA & success as a PM, other than potentially some of the secondary PM skills, like business writing and running meetings, etc. Nothing *against* MBAs, but it just doesn't factor in. I'm also one of those people who doesn't think that undergraduate degrees are relevant for PMs, so maybe I under-index on formal education.
VP Products, Resy