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

Field Course: Product Management 101

Course Number 6701

Senior Lecturer Julia B. Austin
Teaching Fellow Prashanth Bungale
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
Mondays, Weekly 3:30-5:30 90- or 120-minute workshops
Enrollment: Limited to 45 by application

Application now open; deadline is 5 PM ET on Monday, August 14

The PM101 course is for registered, second year, HBS students ONLY and we are not accepting cross-registrants at this time.

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 mobile application. 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 and who either wish to work in that role after graduation in a big tech company, in a startup or for aspiring founders who want to gain a better understanding of the product development process.

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 FC: Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving (HBS course number 6348) is minimal. In particular, FC: 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 (PMs) 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 one chose one over the other?
  • What does a PM need to know about technology, e.g., model-view-controller architecture, APIs, databases?

Course content will mirror last year’s syllabus.

Working mostly in teams of three or four, students will deliver five 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; and 5) a reflection essay on lessons learned from the course. There will be weekly readings (most commonly, blog format) and small assignments due in each session. Students will regularly present work-in-progress in class, and will be asked to provide written feedback on other teams’ work.

Projects and Application Process

Students initially will work in teams of three or four on a software application. Most projects will be student originated and will relate to students’ startup ideas. Some projects may 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 a balanced number of students who originate their own project (“founders”) and students who work on a peer-originated project (“joiners”). 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. This is usually at the early, post-ideation, stage with very little work done to-date on customer discovery or requirements analysis.

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 14, will be reviewed by Prof. Austin and Teaching Fellow Bungale. Applicants will be informed of enrollment decisions around August 25. Due to the Labor Day holiday, the first session will be held on August 30 and will provide a full overview of the course and its expectations. Successful applicants will be asked to commit to the course by noon on September 1 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 as either a founder or joiner. Founders, who may apply as a team of up to four 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 joiners. Please note that applications will not be accepted from students who have worked as full-time PMs for more than six months prior to HBS. Founding teams with less than four members must accept up to three joiners in their project team. There will be a matching process facilitated by Prof. Austin the first week of the course.

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.

Spring 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 Spring Term field course, Product Management 102 (HBS course 6702), which is described in a separate course catalog entry. PM102 provides limited funding to support the build of the product MVP for those teams that meet specific requirements.

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.