Field Course: Product Management 101 - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Product Management 101

Course Number 6701

Professor Thomas Eisenmann
Teaching Fellow Prem Ramaswami
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
Weekly early-evening 90-minute workshops
Enrollment: Limited to 45 by application

Application now open; deadline is 5 PM ET on Friday, August 15

Overview and Career Focus

Product Management 101 (PM 101) is a project-based course that uses a learning-by-doing approach to build basic product management skills. Students evaluate user needs and specify functional requirements for a new web or smartphone application that is either self-sourced or assigned to them. Students attend weekly sessions featuring skill-building exercises led by outside experts and peer-to-peer feedback on project work-in-progress; none of PM 101’s sessions will entail case discussion.

PM 101 is designed for students who lack prior product management experience but who wish to work in that role after graduation, either in a big tech company or in a startup. Aspiring founders who want to gain a better understanding of the product development process also should benefit from the course.

Students enrolled in CS50 (Introduction to Computer Science) should find PM 101 to be complementary: there will be almost no overlap in course content, and CS50's final project, which requires students to write a software app, could be used as a PM 101 project. Likewise, the overlap between PM 101 and Design Thinking and Innovation (HBS course number 1344) is minimal. In particular, Design Thinking focuses more attention than PM 101 on the earliest stage of the product development process, which entails “problem finding” and creative ideation.

Course Content and Deliverables

Product managers can have a big impact on a technology company's performance. PMs define a product’s functional requirements and then lead a team responsible for its development, launch, and ongoing improvement.  PM 101 aims to build understanding of the PM role and develop skills required to perform the role by addressing the following issues:

  • What does a PM do and with whom do they work at different stages of the product life cycle? What are the attributes of successful PMs?
  • What techniques do PMs use to understand customer needs and validate demand for a product?
  • What does a PM need to know about user experience design?
  • Why do some tech companies require PMs to write detailed product specifications while others do not?
  • What is the difference between waterfall and agile software development methods, and when/why would firms chose one over the other?
  • What does a PM need to know about technology, e.g., model-view-controller architecture, APIs, databases?

View this year’s syllabus for PM 101. Readings are sourced largely from blog posts by practitioners.

Working mostly in pairs and coached by mentors (HBS alumni and volunteers from the Boston Product Management Association), students will deliver six end-products during the term: 1) a plan for researching user needs for their proposed application; 2) a Market Requirements Document (MRD); 3) wireframes for their proposed application; 4) a Product Requirements Document (PRD), with detailed specifications; 5) weekly “snippets” briefly summarizing their progress; and 6) a blog post reflecting on lessons learned from the course. Students will regularly present work-in-progress in class, and will be asked to provide written feedback on other teams’ MRDs and PRDs.

In addition to required weekly class sessions (on Mondays from 5:30-7:30), students can attend optional weekly clinics (Wednesdays 5:30-7:00) at which instructors, mentors and outside experts will coach project teams and review topics in greater depth.

Projects and Application Process

Students initially will work in pairs on a software application. Most projects will be student originated and will relate to students’ startup ideas. Some projects will be sourced by the instructors and typically will relate to applications under development by HBS's IT staff. If a team concludes, after researching user needs, that their application idea is not viable, its members will be reassigned to another PM 101 project already underway.

The course’s design requires an evenly balanced number of students who originate their own project (“originators”) and students who work on a peer-originated project (“auxiliaries”). Likewise, PM 101’s design requires that project ideas initially be at roughly the same stage of development, so students can all work on the same tasks at the same time.

Ensuring an appropriate mix of projects and participants requires an application review process. An online application, which must be submitted by 5 PM ET on August 15, will be reviewed by Prof. Eisenmann and Teaching Fellow Ramaswami. Applicants will be informed of enrollment decisions around August 25. Successful applicants will be asked to commit to the course by noon on September 2 and will be enrolled; these students will then use the Add/Drop process as needed to adjust other credits for the term.  In the application, candidates are asked to submit a resume and a paragraph explaining why they are interested in the course. Students who also propose projects (i.e., originators, who may apply as a team of up to two students) will be asked for some details on their idea's status and, if their proposal is not accepted, whether they wish to be considered as auxiliaries. Please note that applications will not be accepted from students who have worked as full-time PMs prior to HBS. This rule does not apply to students who worked as summer interns in product management.

Student-originated projects must meet the following criteria:

  • For product concepts not yet launched, some effort has been made to understand customer needs and explore potential solutions, but hypotheses have not yet been fully validated. The ideal project still requires a lot of market research, iterative design work, and MVP testing.
  • For a product that has already been launched, a major change in product features/functionality is being considered, and determining how to proceed requires a lot of market research, iterative design work, and MVP testing.

Winter Term Options

PM 101 will develop skills required to evaluate and define a new software application, culminating with the presentation of a Product Requirements Document (PRD) specifying use cases and functionality. Students will not move projects into their build and launch phases during PM 101. Students who wish to develop product management skills relevant to those phases can do so through the Winter Term field course, Product Management 102 (HBS course 6702), which is described in a separate course catalog entry.

All students who successfully complete PM 101 are automatically eligible to enroll in PM 102; they do not need to apply separately. Subject to capacity and budget constraints, and to an assessment of students’ fit with skill and project requirements, a few students who did not take PM 101 will be enrolled in PM 102 through an application process that will commence in mid-December.