Product Managers With No Time Find A Quicker Way To Get An MBA

If You Really Want An MBA But Don’t Have The Time, Maybe There’s Another Way…
If You Really Want An MBA But Don’t Have The Time, Maybe There’s Another Way…

As product managers who live in troubling times we are always trying to do two things: hold on to our jobs and make our product more successful. One of the best ways to do both of these, or so we have been told, is to go out and get an MBA. Well that’s all great and fine if you’ve got four or five years to burn, don’t need to do anything else at night, oh and have a big chunk of cash sitting around that you had no other plans for. Maybe it’s time to look for a better way to accomplish what we’re trying to do…

Say Hello To The Alternative To The MBA

Before you decide to either quit your product manager job and go back to school in order to get an MBA (really, really expensive) or start going to night school to get an MBA (just really expensive), maybe you should take a moment and consider all of your options. Maybe what you really want is a specialized Master’s degree.

Yeah, yeah – I know what you are thinking. We’ve all been drinking the “get an MBA” Kool-Aid for so long that it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. However, depending on what you want to do with your life, this might actually be a better solution for you.

If having spent time being a product manager has gotten you interested in business, then getting an advanced business degree of some sort is probably a good idea. However, one of the things that keeps us from doing this is often the time involved to get the degree.

The Appeal Of Specializing

Business schools are starting to get the message. They are beginning to offer more and more specialized business programs that are only 12 months long. In the 2008-2009 school year there were 645 programs offered. This is up from the 614 programs that had been offered just two years earlier.

What these types of degrees offer are parts of the typical MBA curriculum, but they are often more technical in nature and generally spend less time on general management skills.

Here in lies the rub: these types of specialty business degrees are not designed to get you promoted to eventually become the CEO. Rather what they are designed to do is to sharpen your business skills in a narrow area and make you more valuable to the company in your current job.

This type of continuing education especially appeals to new product managers: those who don’t have the five years of work experience that most MBA programs require for entrance. No matter if this is your case, or if you’ve just found some part of the product management job that you are really drawn to, a narrowly focused master’s degree might be just the ticket for you.

What To Do With Your New Degree

Ok, so let’s say that you bite the bullet and run off and skip the MBA and instead get a very focused master’s degree in marketing, finance, or some other business discipline. What then?

It turns out that taking this path, might feel like the right thing for you to do, but as they like to say on TV, your results may vary. Since specialty master’s degrees are not as well known as MBA’s you’re going to have to deal with some lack of recognition issues.

Although it may change in the future, right now MBA students still seem to get the best deal when it comes to getting the economic benefits from going through the effort of getting an advanced degree. The people who design the GMAT test that everyone takes to get admitted to graduate programs are reporting that MBA students are saying that they get a 73% increase in salary after graduating while students with specialty master’s degrees are only reporting a 26% increase.

What All Of This Means For You

In the end the decision rests with you. We all know that continuing our education is an important thing for every product manager to do. Going back to school almost seems like a no-brainer until you realize that you need to spend some time thinking about just what you want to get out of doing so.

A specialty master’s degree offers product managers who have been working for less than five years or who found one particular part of the job most interesting with a new option. By investing 12 months of study, they can walk away with both another degree as well as a deep understanding of one area of business.

The value of taking this educational route will really depend on the career that you want for yourself. If you are comfortable working inside of the business instead of running it, then a specialty master’s degree might be the right way to go for you!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Help

Question For You: Do you think that specialty master’s degree will become more or less valuable in the future?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Toyota has become the #1 car maker in the world. That used to be all fine and good, and then a little problem popped up: the accelerator pedal is getting stuck in the “all the way down” position and people have been crashing their Toyotas. If you’re a Toyota product manager, clearly you’ve got a mess on you hands. What should they do now?

12 thoughts on “Product Managers With No Time Find A Quicker Way To Get An MBA”

  1. Very insightful post. While I do agree that specialized Masters programs might suit a few, I do think that in a career span of
    25-30 yrs it always helps to have that MBA (either full-time or part-time). Nobody wants to lose out on prosepective career opportunities in the course of their career just because they lacked an MBA. So even though I believe I can do product marketing without an MBA, 9 out of 10 employers might not be willing to hire me for a marketing role wihout an MBA. So for now atleast have no choice but to go with the market forces.

    • Madan: good point. Just how long do any of us expect to remain product managers? Knowing where we want our careers to go is probably the most important question to find the answer to before you sign up for any set of classes…

  2. I believe, and always have, that an MBA is not necessary for success as a product manager/product marketing manager. BUT, this assumes that the individual is in a continuing state of growth and learning.

    As an alternative to the traditional or specialized MBA, I would highly recommend the Univ. of St. Thomas “mini-MBA.” ( In this 40-hour program, participants get a great oversight into the areas covered by a more traditional program. It does not replace the traditional programs, but it does let you know where to get more information to increase skills.

    And, this is a great application for the more “seasoned” PM/PMM professional to keep up with the new grads. The combination of the courses and experience make you invaluable.

  3. I’ve heard this said before, but what I wonder is what to actually specialize in? I’ve been told about MIT’s Masters in Systems Thinking, as well as looking into Masters programs in specific business fields like marketing, but your point about the diminished perceived value of the degree really makes me think it might just be worth the hassle to get that MBA.

    • Abid: as you well know, product management requires a lot of different talents. As we do the job of a product manager we all discover the parts that we like, and the ones that we don’t. I think that you need to find what you like and then find a set of courses that will allow you to learn more about that area.

      If general business is what you are interested in, then an MBA will continue to be the way to go…

  4. Jim,

    Bang-for-the-buck is definitely less obvious as we consider non-MBA degrees, and take into account how tuition fees are far out-pacing inflation and average salary raises. The question only gets fuzzier in considering how many ways product management is defined and valued across different industries and employers, and, to make it personal, how old the product manager considering the educational upgrade is.

    I think MBA’s, especially with some mild specialization, have the highest bang-for-the-buck if captured earlier in a career. After that, other Master level degrees may provide a better combination of ROI and personal satisfaction.

    There is a third option, at least in Washington State (Perhaps elsewhere? Other readers may know): Various courses and “extension programs” that are not full post-graduate degrees, but are demanding, substantial, reputable and yet affordable. A prime example is the Certificate in Software Product Management offered by the University of Washington
    ( It is an intensive 7 month program for the new or experienced product manager that takes the former up several levels and fills in gaps for the latter. Its design was guided by industry, most of the instructors are still active in industry, and it holds weight with hiring managers in industry.

    I think this third option, given personal economics, may offer a large and more practical ROI for many product managers.


    • Trevor: Wow — that Washington State program sounds great! I think that you hit the nail on the head — some sort of specialization is what a product manager needs to do. Decide what part of the job you like (technical, business, marketing, etc.) and find a set of courses that will allow you to learn more …

  5. Great post! I’ve been looking to take something but hadn’t found anything I considered to be the right fit. This is a good reminder that there are many options out there.


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