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Will an MBA help you become a successful product manager?

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This post was originally an answer I wrote on quora to What’s the difference between a pre-MBA and post-MBA product management role?

As context, I have an MBA myself and have worked as a product manager across multiple companies (Twitter, LinkedIn, and essentially head PM as Founder/CEO of Seamless Receipts).

My personal take, specific to the software/web/tech world, is that the MBA itself as a credential is irrelevant (more on MBA’s here). So pretend you don’t have that stamp on your resume. But the two years you spend in business school are not irrelevant. What you are capable of before and after business school may be different, but it’s because of what you gained (internship experience, knowledge in a specific industry, analytical skills, etc.). It’s not because you now have a “credential” that makes you more valuable in and of itself.

I suggest thinking of this in 2 different ways. First of all, there is what determines seniority in a PM role:

PM Seniority

  1. How big of a product are you in charge of (opportunity to make an impact)?
  2. How much are you compensated (income/bonus/equity)?
  3. What is your title?
  4. Do you have direct reports or an org reporting to you?

#1 and #2 are by far the most important factors here.

Separately, there are the skills required to be an effective PM:

PM Skills

  1. Know your industry inside and out
  2. Know and love your user (whether you are serving CIO’s or teenagers sharing photos, know and love your user, their behaviors, and the problems they face)
  3. Know your product (technical acumen)
  4. Lead your team (ability to build relationships, set a direction and get buy in)
  5. Blend art and science (the art to understand good design and make decisions w/o all the info, the science to be data-driven when it’s appropriate, and the art to know the difference)
  6. Have a bias towards action
  7. Take calculated risks

You might boost your skill level, and therefore the seniority of PM role you are qualified for, by getting an MBA.  But the MBA itself is not the point.  It’s the skills.

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