Do you need an MBA to be a Product Manager?

Do you need an MBA to be a Product Manager?

I've seen many people suggest that an MBA is a key attribute for any serious product person to hold, and you can read stories of how an MBA will set you up to lead a product to success. However, MBAs are expensive and really time consuming, which means you really need to commit to it if that's something you want to pursue. The question here though is whether you NEED to have an MBA to be a successful product manager?

What is an MBA?

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a prestigious postgraduate qualification that provides an overview of key business practices and is highly valued by many employers. 

While MBAs are at the same level of education as other Masters courses, they are usually studied once you've gained a few years of professional experience rather than carrying straight on from your undergraduate degree.

There are different types of MBA courses, depending on what you want to achieve, but they generally fall into the following categories:

  • General MBA (MBA) - a standard MBA for those with a few years business experience who want to get a management opportunity with a larger organization.
  • Executive (EMBA) - usually studied on a part-time basis, this is appropriate if you're already in a corporate management position and have ambitions to enter the boardroom.
  • Specialist MBA - perfect if you have some managerial experience and are looking to enter or gain promotion into a particular industry or sector.
  • Distance learning MBA - often referred to as an online MBA, this is ideal if you can't attend university full time and prefer to manage your studies around other personal and professional commitments.
  • MBA without work experience - ideal if you've recently graduated or are changing careers and want to take your first steps towards a management career but you don't currently have extensive work experience.

A full time MBA will likely take in the region of 12-15 months to complete, and consist of different modules that lead to assessment by exam, coursework, and group activities.

What will an MBA teach me?

An MBA curriculum will cover the basic business and management skills that will be useful whatever industry or field you choose to enter. For example, you will cover soft skills such as leading and coaching teams, as well as hard skills such as financials and operations.

The overall aim of the course is to provide a fully rounded set of skills with which to become an organizational decision-maker, able to lead others, drive change, and achieve positive business outcomes.

How does this apply to product management?

The short answer is that, depending on your course, an MBA is not intended to directly reflect the skills of a product manager. However, the course is designed to give you a wide range of transferable business skills.

You won't be looking at product roadmaps, but you might cover business priorities.

You won't cover scrum teams, but you will cover how to lead and motivate teams.

You won't cover user interviews, but you will cover research and obtaining feedback 

You'll be exposed to a range of frameworks that you can utilize in your day-to-day product management tasks, from SWOT analysis to RICE.

So are they needed?

As with much in product management, it really depends on what the end goal is.

If your dream is to work your way into a management role with a blue chip, then MBAs are major positives for your chances. You'll be able to demonstrate more general business skills than someone with a few years of product management experience.

However, if you want to work in a hands on product role, then they are not essential, and a great level of experience and demonstrable product skills will see you through.