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

Field Course: Product Management 101

Course Number 6701

Senior Lecturer Julia B. Austin
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
Course Meetings: Mondays & Wednesdays, Weekly 3:30-5:00.
-Monday sessions introduce new concepts and feature industry experts.
-Wednesday sessions are hands-on workshops in the iLab for students to develop their products. These workshops will include peer and industry expert reviews.

Please attend the information session on Monday, April 29 from 2-3pm in the Gallatin Lounge. We will go over the course expectations in detail and answer questions. Sign up here.

See the course website for more detail.

Limited to 50 students by application; students may apply as product “Founders” or “Joiners”

NOTE: The first session of the course is on Wednesday, September 4 from 3:30-4:30 in Hawes 203.

Application now open; deadline is 5 PM ET on Friday, August 9
Students are encouraged reach out to Prof. Austin ahead of the deadline to discuss product ideas.
A maximum of 15 product teams will be accepted
Early applications are welcome!

Overview and Career Focus

Want to learn how to build a product by actually building one? Have a product idea in mind but not sure how to get started? Product Management 101 (PM 101) is designed for students who lack any prior product management experience and will start their own companies or are seeking Product Management careers in startups or larger technology firms. The focus is on B2B or B2C digital products, however many of the concepts covered can be applied to non-digital product roles.

PM 101 is a project-based course that uses a learning-by-doing approach to build basic product management skills. Students test assumptions and hypotheses about user needs and specify functional requirements for a new web or mobile application. Students attend two weekly sessions introducing new concepts and featuring skill-building exercises led by the instructor and outside experts. An important element of the course is weekly peer-to-peer critiques on project work-in-progress; being able to give and receive feedback is a critical skill for any entrepreneur or PM! None of PM 101’s sessions will entail case discussion.

While not required, most students in PM101 continue to PM102 in the spring when projects are adequately funded to build a minimum viable product (MVP). There are limited opportunities for new students/product teams not in PM101 to enroll in PM102; funding is not guaranteed for those teams.

Course Content and Deliverables

Product Managers (PMs) can have a big impact on a company's performance. PMs define a product’s functional requirements and then lead a team responsible for its development, launch, and ongoing improvement. Product Founders are essentially the first PM for their company. PM 101 aims to build understanding of the PM role and develop the necessary skills required to perform the role by addressing the following topics:

  • The role of the PM and Product Founder and who they work with at different stages of the product life cycle.
  • Applying techniques to understand customer needs and validate demand for a product.
  • Best practices for user experience and application design.
  • The art of no-tech testing and prototyping.
  • Common software development methods, technology frameworks and tools used to build mobile and web applications.

Course content will be similar to last year’s syllabus, with modifications based on specific team needs and guest schedules.

Working in teams of three or four, students will have four major deliverables during the term which build upon each other to create the final deliverable, a Product Requirements Document (PRD). The major deliverables are: 1) a Customer Discovery plan for researching user needs for their proposed application; 2) a Market Requirements Document (MRD); 3) wireframes for their proposed application; 4) plans for and conducting a “lo-fi” test,. There is also a reflection essay due for the final session of the course. There will be short, 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. This feedback is part of each student’s individual participation grade.

Projects and Application Process

All projects are student originated and will relate to students’ startup ideas. At the course mid-point, student teams make a go-no-go decision on their idea. 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 or may pivot to a new idea.

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 9, will be reviewed by Prof. Austin. Applicants will be informed of enrollment decisions around August 23. All qualified students not accepted will have the option of being on a waiting list and are encouraged to come to the first session of the course in the event Add/Drop opens up spots.

The first session will be held on September 4 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 6 and will be enrolled by the course administrator; 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 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 one year 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, some preparation has been done to make a significant set of changes or pivot towards a new target customer/use-case (e.g., from B2C to B2B)., 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 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). PM102 provides adequate 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. All new students in PM102 must join an existing team from PM101. No new projects are accepted into PM102, however some PM101 teams pursue new ventures in PM102.