Field Course: Product Management 102 - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Product Management 102

Course Number 6702

Professor Thomas Eisenmann
Winter; Q3Q4; 3 credits
Enrollment: Limited to 25

Overview and Career Focus

Product Management 101 (PM 101) uses a "learning-by-doing" approach to build basic product management skills. Students will evaluate, specify, and supervise the design and development of a new website or smartphone application. In addition, students will attend a series of weekly workshops featuring lectures by outside experts and peer-to-peer feedback.

Students will either bring their own project to the course or work on one sourced by the instructor. Suitable project candidates might include a student's own startup idea, a concept advanced by a company or non-profit organization, requests from the HBS MBA Student Association, and software under development by HBS's IT staff. During the 2012/2013 pilot version of PM 101, for example, students worked on a cab-sharing application, a site for swapping tickets to HBS student events, and EC course selection tools.

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 entrepreneurs should also benefit from the course. Students enrolled in CS50 ("Introduction to Computer Science") should find PM 101 to be highly complementary: there will be almost no overlap in course content, but CS50's final project, which requires students to conceive and write a software app, could be used as a PM 101 project.

Course Content

The product manager role is a consummate entry-level general management job-one that leverages HBS students' training in powerful ways. PMs are responsible for integrating across functions-engineering, marketing, sales, etc.-to develop a new product and ensure its ongoing success. In PM 101, we will build students' understanding of the PM role and help them develop the 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 and unsuccessful PMs?
  • What are the main differences between "waterfall" and "agile" software development methods, and when/why would firms chose one approach over the other?
  • What is a Market Requirements Document and why might a PM be asked to complete one? What techniques do PMs use to understand customer needs and validate demand for a product?
  • What is a Product Requirements Document? Why do some tech companies use them while others do not?
  • What approaches (e.g., project planning software, face-to-face meetings, etc.) do PMs use to track progress and coordinate their team's efforts?
  • How should a PM approach wireframing? What do they need to know about UX design?
  • What does a PM need to know about cloud technology? Database architectures?
This blog post provides more background on the course's objectives and design. The syllabus for the 2012/2013 pilot version of the course is available here.

Fall vs. Winter Term Focus

Product Management is designed as a full-year course. The Fall Term course ("PM 101") will build and apply PM skills required to evaluate and specify a new product. For most students, PM 101 will culminate with the presentation of a Product Requirements Document (PRD) specifying use cases and functionality for their product. In addition to the PRD, students will be expected to submit weekly "snippets" (bullet point updates); draft and present a Market Requirements Document assessing customer demand for their product; and write a blog post summarizing their learning.

A Winter Term, 3-credit companion course ("PM 102") will hone skills relevant during a new product's development and launch. Some PM 102 teams will write software themselves (perhaps leveraging coding skills acquired in CS50); others will select and supervise an outsourced engineering team (funded, in some cases, through the course); still other teams will work with IT staff at HBS or at a sponsoring company. Following their product's launch, students will 1) stress test the application and fix bugs; and 2) collect and interpret data needed to enhance features. PM 102 workshops will focus on skills required during the development and launch phases, for example: how to select and supervise an outsourced developer; how to devise SQL queries and use analytics software.

Consequently, students who wish to gain a full understanding of the PM role should take both PM 101 and PM 102. PM 101 will be a prerequisite for enrollment in PM 102. PM 102 will not be listed as an option for the pre-registration lottery; it must be requested during the January add-drop period. Any student who completes PM 101 and wishes to continue with PM 102 will automatically be granted enrollment if they request PM 102 during January add-drop.