From Product Management Novice to Master in 10 Weeks

During a 10-week course as a student in Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Information Technology program, Komal Gupta (MSIT ’20) pushed her skills to a new level.

The unknown can be scary. But for Komal Gupta (MSIT ’20), the unknown was a chance to learn and grow. 

Gupta, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program, jumped headfirst into new territory when she opted to take a 10-week product management course offered in conjunction with MSIT. A self-proclaimed “naive product manager” at the time, Gupta spent most of her industry experience developing mobile application solutions with other software engineers. She was eager to expand her perspective and learn the business side of product development. In short, she wanted to be the whole product manager package. 

The course kicked off with a series of 45-second pitches. Huddled together in the Garage, a startup community space at Northwestern, Gupta and her classmates fired off first attempts at positioning themselves as entrepreneurs. The Shark Tank-like scenario aimed to motivate three to four classmates to join their team to work together on a product of their design for the remainder of the 10-week course.

Gupta took it as an opportunity to learn. Now, reflecting as a 2020 graduate of the MSIT program, Gupta shares her top four lessons learned during the project management course:

Pitch with a customer-first mindset

After hours tinkering and discovering, Gupta and her team came out of the course with a skilled understanding of how to write an articulate, comprehensive, and memorable pitch. Forty-five second elevator pitches that win, they learned, put the customer’s unmet needs first. Gupta and her classmates were instructed to craft a pitch following a piece of Steve Jobs’ advice: “Start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Be part of a diverse group

Gupta had spent six years in industry working closely with software engineers. In the product management class, she purposely chose to join a team of members with vastly different backgrounds than her own. For Gupta, this was one of the main draws of Northwestern’s MSIT program. The program gave her the flexibility to take some classes from other disciplines and to learn from professors and students outside of her cohort, which gave her the well-rounded perspective she desired. 

For example, the engineering designer on her team mentored Gupta in creating user unmet needs, interview question guides, and personas. The mechanical engineer coached Gupta in the standard components of unit economics of a hardware product and the roadmap for manufacturing a physical product. And Gupta was able to offer her skills when her team realized they needed to support their product with a mobile application. Together they formed a supportive team that coached and polished their work each step of the way. 

Get your hands dirty

Prior to this course, Gupta was familiar with terms such as persona, hypotheses, customer research, wireframes, and go-to-market strategy from her industry experience. However, she had not had the opportunity to dig deeply into those stages of product management. She purposefully signed up for and was encouraged by her professor to take on tasks outside of her comfort zone to build her confidence level and learn from other students in her class.   

Identify the right problem to solve 

Being able to dig into the earlier discovery and definition phases of customer problems empowered her to learn the importance of identifying the “right problem to solve.” Successful product development, Gupta learned, isn’t just about writing code for code’s sake. It’s about identifying customer needs, seeing problems from multiple angles, and then writing informed code that could potentially change the lives of millions.

McCormick News Article