Product Management and the MBA

I’m old enough to remember the commercial depicting an MBA who couldn’t send a FedEx package:

I found it funny at the time, and I still do even though I ended up getting an MBA. I decided to pursue B-school cause I had plateaued in my career. I had done an undergrad in a business technology program, and I had always envisioned working more on the strategy side, but up until then, I had been working in technical support and professional services —basically supporting and implementing products created by someone else.

So after I finished, I was so stoked cause I got a Product Management role. Score one for the MBA! Unfortunately, I got a rude awakening. I thought all those case studies and frameworks I learned at school would help me kill it, but in reality, I ended up getting killed cause I was drowning while being pulled in what felt like a million directions:

  • I need the requirements now!

  • the button should go here and why is it that color?

  • how should we position this with the customer?

  • the competitive deck is not up-to-date!

  • there’s a deal, and we need this feature, how can we get it in???

  • I need you to do a demo is 20 mins... and on and on and on.

Years later, a PM I had brought on lamented that the MBA didn’t prep him for the realities of product management. As I reflected on my journey, I was able to see how it helped shape my approach to problem-solving. However, as weird as it is for me to say, if you’re early in your career and contemplating product management, forget the MBA and find ways to get into the school of hard knocks. Build up other vital skills like how to gain credibility with development, empathize with your buyers and users, and navigate organizational complexities.