MEM 430: Product Management



(Formerly MEM 490 Product Management)

This is a one (1) unit course.

Product Managers are the ultimate advocates of the product -- and by extension, the end user -- above all else. And, like a great architect, they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect the integrity of the overall product vision.

That means that a typical Product Manager’s day might include everything from a business development meeting to a problem-solving session with engineers. The person could be looking at the birds’ eye view of the big picture one minute and conducting a microscopic examination of a single line of broken code the next.  A Product Manager jumps from design to business development, engineering to recruiting, all within a given day. That’s the beauty of being a Product Manager. You never get bored, because you’re never doing the same thing long enough to be. And, like an architect, you truly get to be involved with every step of the building process, from vision to execution.

From Forbes: Well-known Product Managers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Marissa Mayer and Leah Culver started off on the engineering side. Caterina Fake started her career as Art Director at and she majored in English at Vassar. Sandra Liu Huang studied Economics and Management.

Professor Shah's career has taken him from an industrial engineer at a candy maker, IT consultant, banker, start-up founder to product management for maps, medical devices, farming, dating, and many other products you use every day.  He loves building products individuals use and become fundamental to their life.

MEM430: Product Management is a project-based course that focuses on action learning and a build-your-own-case approach to teach foundational product management skills. The class goals are simple: 1) Learn how to launch a product 2) Learn how to obtain a top-notch product management job in tech.  The class is adopted from the teachings of Product Management 101 and 102 at Harvard Business School (HBS).

Students evaluate user needs, specify functional requirements, and identify business go to market strategies for a new web or mobile application. Students attend weekly sessions featuring skill-building exercises led by Professor Shah and friends, and peer-to-peer feedback on project work-in-progress. Students should get used to defending their idea, execution, designs, go-to-market to their peers as they will present frequently in class.  Past teachings of this class at HBS & MIT have led to 100% fulfillment of students launching companies that have raised over $500M and placement into top product management jobs at companies like Amazon.  You will receive all the skills you need to be a 1% product manager at your future company.

The top 10% of product managers excel at a few of these things. The top 1% excel at most or all of them (From Quora)

  • Think big - A 1% PM's thinking won't be constrained by the resources available to them today or today's market environment. They'll describe large disruptive opportunities, and develop concrete plans for how to take advantage of them.
  • They are problem finders and breakthrough innovators - A 1% PM observes, documents a 100 problems, and figures out how to systematically build a product that fundamentally solves all of those problems with an easy UI and a great experience
  • They paint a vision: The best product managers create a big vision-- one that is bigger than just the product itself.  More importantly, they can take a complex vision, simplify it, and communicate it-- making it easy for people to get it, and be a champion for the long and short-term vision.
  • Communicate - A 1% PM can make a case that is impossible to refute or ignore. They'll use data appropriately, when available, but they'll also tap into other biases, beliefs, and triggers that can convince the powers that be to part with headcount, money, or other resources and then get out of the way.
  • Simplify - A 1% PM knows how to get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort. They do so repeatedly, launching more and achieving compounding effects for the product or business.
  • Prioritize - A 1% PM knows how to sequence projects. They balance quick wins vs. platform investments appropriately. They balance offense and defense projects appropriately. Offense projects are ones that grow the business. Defense projects are ones that protect and remove drag on the business (operations, reducing technical debt, fixing bugs, etc.).
  • Forecast and measure - A 1% PM is able to forecast the approximate benefit of a project, and can do so efficiently by applying past experience and leveraging comparable benchmarks. They also measure benefit once projects are launched, and factor those learnings into their future prioritization and forecasts.
  • Execute - A 1% PM grinds it out. They do whatever is necessary to ship. They recognize no specific bounds to the scope of their role. As necessary, they recruit, they produce buttons, they do bizdev, they escalate, they tussle with internal counsel, they *.
  • Understand technical trade-offs - A 1% PM does not need to have a CS degree. They do need to be able to roughly understand the technical complexity of the features they put on the backlog, without any costing input from devs. They should partner with devs to make the right technical trade-offs (i.e. compromise).
  • Understand good design - A 1% PM doesn't have to be a designer, but they should appreciate great design and be able to distinguish it from good design. They should also be able to articulate the difference to their design counterparts, or at least articulate directions to pursue to go from good to great.
  • Write effective copy - A 1% PM should be able to write concise copy that gets the job done. They should understand that each additional word they write dilutes the value of the previous ones. They should spend time and energy trying to find the perfect words for key copy (button labels, nav, calls-to-action, etc.), not just words that will suffice.
  • Talks to customers - A 1% PM talks to customers all the time, obsesses about them, and doesn't buy into the bullshit that customers "don't know what they want." Customers may not know the ideal solution to their problem, but they are experts in their problem. They can always describe their pain points and they can always react to a proposed solution or prototype. Any PM that leaves the customer out of the equation will never be in the 1% category.
  • They focus: they see and communicate the bigger picture, but they focus on executing the short-term strategy like no one's business. They don't distract.
  • They are an expert at human psychology and behavior: the best product managers think about the user in every scenario-- how they would think about x feature, how they would react to y design. They constantly ask: what would [muse/user] do?
  • They wear many hats: they can do it all-- gracefully and seamlessly. They can guide the content direction, UI, and development-- while also wearing business development, product marketing, etc hats. They think broad AND narrow-- they understand and communicate how the product vision ties into the company (and beyond) vision. They know enough in all areas to be dangerous and have their hands in all areas to make the product and team the best it can be.
  • They show up as a leader.... everywhere and in every moment. They make everyone around them better through this leadership. They inspire people around them to think bigger, and push boundaries.
  • They are vulnerable: they admit to mistakes, they take responsibility, and they continuously work on themselves/develop through the work.
  • They make decisions quickly: they make decisions carefully, yet quickly considering multiple perspectives. They enroll and communicate these decisions effortlessly. 
  • They get related: they build strong relationships with people on the team (and inside, outside, up, down, and across the company) creating space for better communication and trust.
  • They tap into intuition: the best product managers understand and seek knowledge (analytics, user behavior/research, others views) to hone their intuition. They create strategy and make decisions listening to their gut.
  • They have a CEO's strategic mindset, a COO's cultural capacity, a Sales Officer's strive for revenue, & a Chief Science/Eng Officer's drive for elegant solutions through quantified hypothesis-based research.

MEM430: Product Management will help accelerate your ability to launch your product for NUvention as a successful business.  Students enrolled or wanting to enroll in any NUvention class will find the MEM430: Product Management class will teach you the tools, process, and will power to build a scalable product; however, does not replace NUvention which will teach you everything you need to know to launch a business (different than product!). Although this class teaches content that is heavily focused on web and mobile applications, this should not discourage other individuals interested in building other products/services.

MEM430 Product Management Fall 2020 Syllabus