Training the next generation of digital product managers: Are you in?

With business and tech functions often speaking different languages within organizations, there’s an exciting niche for those who can link the two. Discover the Master of Digital Product Management (MDPM) at Smith School of Business with input from Associate Professor & Program Director Kathryn Brohman and MDPM Associate Director Connor McCann.

In short

Digital product management in the context of business

Until recently, companies have been structured in a way that places tech management in the IT department while product management lies in marketing or R&D. Digital product management represents creating synergies between these two areas and introduces modern practices to enhance digital products and services. 

Still a relatively new concept, some established businesses have been slow to react. “For many legacy organizations that have been around for a long time, these have been traditionally very independent operations and so that’s why it’s very relevant. It’s trying to really bridge the gap between technology and business,” Kathryn explains. (01:41)

At the same time, modern businesses are looking at digital product management in a different light. While industry has been moving forward, academia hasn’t been part of the discussion – siloing engineering to the engineers, computing to the computer scientists, and marketing to the business students. 

A program designed to bridge the gap between tech and business

It was in response to dynamic young companies connecting the dots that Kathryn and her team saw an opportunity. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is really a great opportunity to stitch together a number of different faculties that were thinking about the same thing, but thinking about it from very different perspectives,’ and so this is a truly interdisciplinary program.” (11:35)

Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, didn’t take the easy route when designing their program, which would have seen them combine standard computing courses with a business curriculum from Smith School of Business. Connor tells us, “Faculty from both those departments within Queen’s have actually been working together and collaborating for a number of years now to generate content for the MDPM program [that] is wholly new and [fully] integrated for the most part.” (03:26)

The result is a unique, complex program that focuses on the integration of both disciplines. Connor goes on to explain the ultimate goal of the Master of Digital Product Management: “It’s important that a program that’s going to effectively train the next generation of digital product managers provides them with concepts from both of those domains – from computer science as well as from business.” (03:06)

An online program that fits around your schedule

The Master of Digital Product Management is a professional part-time program, with weekend evening classes so you can work it around your current job. There is one exception to the remote format – a one-week, full-time residence at the beginning of the program. 

Connor adds, “Students can immerse themselves in Queen’s and the Kingston culture, meet the faculty and staff associated with the program, and most importantly, meet their classmates and the teammates that they’re going to have throughout the entire duration of the program.” (08:32)

Innovative delivery methods for an innovative program

The first thing to stress when discussing the Master of Digital Product Management is that you won’t be learning coding. Instead, the MDPM trains you to be a digital product manager – someone who understands the tech side but isn’t responsible for writing code. 

As Connor elaborates, “It’s not necessary for [students] to have a deep understanding of coding because really within industry, digital product managers don’t need to have those skills either.” (10:13

The content that future digital product managers really need is delivered through three separate learning streams

Knowledge stream

To establish a foundational mindset, Smith begins the MDPM with 10 courses in both computer science and business. The knowledge stream gives students the confidence and the context for the more applied learning styles that come later.

Application stream

In the application stream, students take the skills learned in the previous section and apply them to real-world business issues. This is where they’ll be faced with cases to crack and simulations to work through to see the role of digital product management in the real world. 

The application stream is a crucial area for gaining valuable experience. Connor explains, “We have a number of professors who are also practitioners. They’re consultants within industry…so the professors can pull in very topical real-world examples…and use that to apply the concepts that they’re teaching [to] students.” (06:06)

Experiential learning stream

The experiential learning stream is the next step up from the application stream where you’ll team up with around five other MDPM students and get matched with a real company. Over nine months, your team will design a response to your client’s issue. The experiential learning stream will push you out of your comfort zone, helping you grow both as a person and as a digital product manager.

Giving students a competitive edge in their careers

The curriculum puts graduates of the Master of Digital Product Management at a great advantage. However, the benefits go beyond just the program content.

Smith’s Admissions Team seeks out talent from a vast range of backgrounds – not just business and computing – which turns sessions into a valuable exchange of knowledge and perspectives. “Oftentimes, a lot of the learning that takes place for students is not just from the textbook, it’s not just from the professors standing in front of them in the classroom,” Connor says. “It’s from the [collective] experience of their classmates.” (03:12)

However, what really sets MDPM graduates apart from the rest is their complex understanding of both areas. Not only do they learn the technicalities, but they build synergies between business and technology that will be essential to digitalize business processes and future proof work.

Kathryn sums it up succinctly: “They’ll learn how to become a translator. They’ll learn how to become that bridge that we’re looking for between the tech and the business functions in many of today’s organizations, and that’s really where the value of the program resides.” (04:14)

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