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Is An MBA Necessary For Product Managers?

I hate paying bills. However, there’s one bill I don’t mind–and that’s the school loan for my masters. Is that because I’m masochistic or because there’s real value in that degree? Is an MBA necessary for Product Managers, or just nice to have?

And The Answer Is…

The Cranky PM says, maybe, depending on internal politics at your organization. Others say your success hinges more on your experience.

No, Seriously. The Answer Is…

I think it depends on the person. When I enrolled for my MBA (specializing in e-business, not in product management) in 2003, I’d been a Product Manager for about three years.

Right or wrong, I felt there were Big Gaps in my repertoire–gaps that couldn’t be bridged in my normal day-to-day. More than that, I felt outclassed, outgunned, by the more senior people in the organization who had both degrees and experience.

My MBA experience deepened my understanding of how business works, expanded my managerial toolkit, and gave me a welcome +20 in self-confidence. Within days of starting my first course, I was forging connections between what I was learning in school and how I was approaching my work.

Hindsight

Looking back, the brass tacks of my MBA experience were about the basics of management, economics, and business strategy. Could that have been picked up on the job? Maybe.

However, the more important throughline of the experience relates to critical thinking, perspective, and learning when to lead and when to follow.

On the job–especially as a young PM–it can be easy to lose perspective, to miss the forest for the trees. At the time, I was definitely into the plate-spinning, the go-go-go, the tactics and day-to-day. No time to think; just keep moving.

The MBA experience forced me out of the tactical and into the strategic–made me understand, you’ve got to strike the balance between short and long term to make things work. An expensive lesson to learn, for sure, but well worth it. And that’s why I’ll pay that school loan every month with a smile on my face.

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