In this article, I will review the content of the Product Manager Nanodegree from Udacity. You can use this to decide whether it’s a good idea to pay for the nanodegree. Where possible, I will offer free alternatives to the content – if you are not particularly interested in getting the certification itself, these might be a better idea for you.
The course description states that it takes 4 months to complete the nanodegree at a pace of 10 hours/week. It’s a bit hard to estimate this one because there are a lot of exercises and it depends on how much time you invest in each one, but I managed to go through all the material in a couple of weeks, without spending too much time on it. If you’ve previously worked close to a product manager, in a design or development team, you will definitely skip some of the lessons, so you will go faster through the nanodegree.
The nanodegree is divided into 4 courses: Product Strategy, Product Design, Product Development and Product Launch. Each of them ends with a project that is reviewed by Udacity, and that need to be passed in order for you to graduate. Besides the teaching, each lesson from the courses contains a couple of exercises that let you get practical experience on the subjects.
This course covers what the role of a Product Manager is, and what skills you will need to pursue this role: how to communicate efficiently, how to negotiate with your colleagues and how to present your project. It also goes over understanding the market and the opportunities for your product and how to develop the business model.
Mostly, this course lays the ground for the rest of the nanodegree, but you can easily find all the information online, for free. For example, you can get more detailed information on business modeling from their How to Build a Startup course. There are also tons of information online on how to make a great presentation.
The project for this course will have you create a Power Point presentation on a product you intend to build and make a video where you pitch it for 10 minutes. The cases for the product are already given, and there is also a template for the presentation, so you only have to worry about the content.
The second course is very cohesive, as it takes you through all the phases of a “design sprint” – starting from understanding and defining the product, to prototyping, testing, and what how to handle things after that.
As opposed to other courses, it’s not heavily based on information, but rather on exercises that you need to do in order to understand each phase of the design sprint – and when I say “need”, I mean “should”; there’s no one checking in on your exercises, but it’s how the material is structured, so it’s a good idea to do them.
The project will have you simulate a design sprint by providing some material that is supposedly created by your “team” and have you act as the product manager. Fun to do, but you have to put in some work.
This one was a bit painful to go through. There’s A LOT of information here. Compared to the flow of the previous 2 courses, where you are mostly focusing on exercises, the transition is a bit brutal – there are lessons with 3-4 videos of 5-6 minutes. It also feels like they were just crammed together – the first lesson, for example, starts by telling you how to gain knowledge of the market and product and ends with “the art of saying no” and how to negotiate. Definitely not as cohesive as the previous course.
Depending on your background, you might not even need to go through the videos, though. A lot of them are about Waterfall, Agile, Kanban, Scrum, what user stories are, how to build a backlog, etc. If you’ve worked in a development/design/product development team before, you’re probably already more than familiar with these concepts.
For the project, you will manage the development of the product you’ve started on with the previous courses. This means writing some user stories, working with the backlog, and other stuff you would do in an Agile environment.
The last course goes back to having a mix of talking and exercises for each lesson. It’s nicely edited and I think it has the highest quality compared to the others. It would have been nice to have all the courses edited and structured like this one.
As far as content goes, the course covers how you should prepare for the product launch, how to coordinate with other partners and teams, as well as what to do after your product is launched. This is a lot of information that you will most likely not need for a long time, but it’s good to have a general idea of how the whole process goes, and what to expect – definitely material to come back to once you get closer to your launch.
For the last project, you have to simulate a product launch – including a launch plan, go-to-market strategy, and defining the next iteration for the product.
While it’s a bit difficult to learn how to be a Product Manager without actually working as or close to one, I think the nanodegree does a good job of running you through the process of defining, designing, developing and launching a product. It doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly be prepared for all the situations you’ll encounter, but it’s a good foundation and it gives you a direction if you are planning to pursue such a career.