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I'll be interning as a Program Manager this summer. During my interview loop, I noticed that one of my interviewers had an MBA. This is considered a "technical" management role, and I hadn't realized that people in this position commonly got MBAs.

Is an MBA valuable for furthering one's career? What are the benefits of getting an MBA as a Project Manager and is it worthwhile for this position?

For example, if you were already a Project Manager at a good company, would it be worth taking a break to pursue an MBA at a top ten school?

  • Strangely enough, you got 5 answers and 2 upvotes... reinforcing Pawel's thery in meta.pm.stackexchange.com/questions/254/upvoting-questions – Tiago Cardoso Dec 14 '11 at 15:34
  • No one really answered the if you were already a Project Manager at a good company, would it be worth taking a break to pursue an MBA at a top ten school? yet :( – xsace Jan 6 '12 at 12:24
  • Although not explicitly answering this question, @xsace, I believe insights on it can be found on some answers. – Tiago Cardoso Jan 24 '12 at 19:01
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Some companies require an advanced business degree to get promoted above a certain level (in the management track). Usually folks go for an MBA when working at companies such as those. The technical guys I know that have gotten MBAs did so because of three major reasons:

  1. The company was paying for it.

  2. They thought they'd be moving out of tech jobs into management.

  3. The people above them had them, so they better get one if they wanted to get promoted.

Because of the popularity of MBAs, many schools charge more for them than for other Masters degrees in business.

What are the benefits of getting an MBA as a Project Manager and is it worthwhile for this position?

The primary benefits are the networking connections one makes as part of the learning. My advice is to skip it - unless you can get into one of the top 10 schools. A more reasonable degree might be along the lines of MIS or CS. At my university, there is a course aimed at PMP background, but it is an MIS track course. A minor advantage to being a PM with an MBA would be higher credibility in meetings with managers because they'd see you more as "one of them" than as a technical nerd.

  • Two things I believe worth to highlight: 1) During degree, PM-like items (as CMMI, PMI, Agile, Scrum, etc.) are, as far as I know, once 'overviewed', while in a MBA (theoretically) each PM topic will be extensive and deeply reviewed. 2) During degree, one's don't have a project background to 'map' real life-scenarios with class-lessons. For this reason I always advise my peers to only go for a MBA (or any kind of PM specialization) after a couple of years of real-life project experience. – Tiago Cardoso Dec 16 '11 at 13:46
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MBA is really ambiguous and today is just a general term, that by itself won't get you anywhere. If you are looking at top 10 MBA programs in the States, you have to consider the time (around 2 yrs for most of the full time programs) and money (depends, but is a lot, usually) investments you will have to make. For a PM an MBA could be a stepping stone for larger project, positions, influence etc., a top tier school also gives you connections, in your case probably giving you access to more interesting projects/programs to manage and basically giving you the freedom of choice and possible bargaining power in terms of salary, conditions, etc.

A (top tier) MBA is a great investment in your long-term career. But beware, business schools are now a lucrative business and they will promise you all kind of things (switching tracks, more money, etc) to get you to sign up, just be rational and keep your expectations under control. Also you have a great deal of choice, even if you look only at top business schools.

There are quite a lot of specific MBA programs, e.g. HBS has an interesting 2+2 program ( http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/2+2/ ) for college seniors, or Sloan, from MIT ( http://mitsloan.mit.edu/ ) focused more on high tech.

But if you are looking for specific track in Project/Program Management, perhaps you should also look at the Project Management Institute: http://www.pmi.org/en/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PgMP.aspx , a specific certification for Project Managers (in this case for Program Managers).

so:

  • if time&money is not an issue - go for HBS/MIT/top MBA
  • you look specifically at PM with lower time&money cost - go for a PMP
2

Generally speaking, completing some type of graduate study is becoming more and more important just to gain entry into job competition. An undergraduate degree is not much more in substance than a high school diploma was 20 or 30 years ago. So pursuing post-graduate work for someone in the early stages of a career is almost mandatory.

The MBA, however, has become less of a differentiator due to several things. First, it is a very popular degree so "everyone" has one. Hiring managers are needing other qualifiers to weed out candidates. Second, there are a plethora of 'stayinyourpjswhileyoustudy' schools that have popped up offering this degree so it brings to question with what knowledge/skill set are these candidates presenting. Third, it is becoming more clear that the performance difference between MBAs and non MBAs are not significant, if any. There is a growing school of thought that the value of the MBA is overrated.

You cannot grow wrong with any education; however, you might want to look into other other alternatives that may help to differentiate you from the crowd and quite possibly be more aligned with your core interests.

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Having an MBA can definitely help you: a) move into management, or b) move up higher in management.

Benefits:

  • Connections / Networking
  • Prestige (especially from a "brand name" school)

Drawbacks:

  • Cost (more expensive the more well-known the school is)
  • Time (full-time programs can sometimes be 2 years)
2

Although I believe that the content discussed on MBAs might vary a lot across institutions, here's my feelings about MBA (I'm currently doing one in Brazil, focused on Project Management):

  • Knowledge: It's kinda obvious, but always worth studying. On my course, there's what's called a 'common axis' across all specializations, where's discussed topics like economics, finance, marketing amongst others. This knowledge, gives you...

  • A broader vision of a company: Specially for being in touch with some other folks from other areas / realities, you'll notice that every sector within a company has it's importance (remember that HR people we think that are wrong most of the time? Maybe, we are wrong...). It helps you to understand some company's decisions, specially when working for global companies (because you'll understand better the market rules). And of course, you'll...

  • Expand your networking: Depending on the MBA you do, you'll have the opportunity to met and discuss equally with CEOs, great leaders and managers, company owners and so on. Even on 'low profile' MBAs, you'll eventually meet new people which help you build bridges for your career.

Bottomline:

  • Do you need it (even if you want to go for a technical career)? Maybe not, and you could spend some time on other trainings.
  • Is it worth it? Definitely.
0

You know I am from a different culture with a different perspective. The complexity of an answer is not always the best way to share experience and advices. I have an MBA from Laval University in Quebec City. My professors, at my first semester, told us that, at that level, it was more important to "shape our way of thinking" than only get some technical habilities. They pushed me and my fellow students to open our mind to multiple management theories and how to apply them any kind of situations. With time, you integrate a new way of perciving the "business reality". You have like a 5th sense on how to make a managerial diagnostic and find new creative solutions. It becomes, in a way, part of you. But that, of course, depends on the implication you are willing to have in your studies and how dedicated you are. If you have the time and the money to do it, I would register right away.

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If you're already a project manager at a good company, then I wouldn't recommend it. MBAs strike me as important if you're in the job market, but if you're already set (so to speak) then it's not going to help you do your job better.

Better, that is, than spending the same amount of time learning more at your current employer. I would recommend making a concerted effort to expand your value there. (Note: I am a technical manager, not a project manager. I don't have an MBA and I have no plans to get one.)

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The "Should I or Shouldn't I?" question on an MBA is a very difficult question, since it involves probabilities (Some benefit in some situations, others don't) and a lot of individual characteristics.

I'll address 1 aspect of the original question, "For example, if you were already a Project Manager at a good company, would it be worth taking a break to pursue an MBA at a top ten school?"

The answer here is, "It can, but ideally you want top 5, not top 10."

At a top 5 school, you can be reasonably assured of doing something different for 2-3 years post-MBA. For example, 2-3 years of strategy consulting, or marketing, or banking, or whatever. And you'll have a very deep network. Add this to your already strong Project Management skills and there is a lot you'll have to offer the world. But if you do this at a weaker MBA program, it'll be harder to get the incremental experience, and you'll find yourself in a similar job with more debt on your hands.

Just know - having a good job and the ability to consider education is a good problem to have in life. :-)

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