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Focused on Flow

Michael Chen shares how instrumental the MMM program was to his career growth and his ability to create innovative workflow products at Asana.

Michael Chen (MMM ‘16) is all about flow. 

As a product lead for workflows at project management platform Asana, Chen’s daily duty is to delve deeply into how people get their jobs done effectively and guide a product team to create software tools that make doing that work more enjoyable – or, as Chen said, “perhaps a little less painful.” 

Michael Chen To be successful, Chen must seamlessly guide his team of engineers and designers through building a set of products that resonates with users’ needs while also partnering with Asana’s sales and marketing teams to ensure buyers see the value of the products. 

To do that, he relies on lessons learned in Northwestern's MMM program, a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. Chen credits MMM as being an instrumental part of his professional journey. 

"The type of collaboration, camaraderie, and trust that it takes to build products for the largest enterprise customers is reflective of the experiential opportunities that takes place in MMM classes,” Chen said. 

Those experiences helped lay the foundation for Chen’s career pivot from consulting to marketing to product lead. 

He spent the first four years of his career as a brand strategy consultant before turning to MMM. His goals heading into the program were twofold. 

“I wanted to pivot my career from primarily delivering PowerPoint decks to one where I could lead the execution of the strategies that I had presented in said PowerPoint decks, and I wanted to build a network of peers with the same curiosity and drive that I had to create something meaningful,” Chen said. “Now, after the fact, I can wholeheartedly say that MMM’s hands-on opportunities helped me become a successful operational leader, and its unique cohort setup helped me build the invaluable lifelong friendships I have today.” 

After MMM, Chen held product marketing positions with LinkedIn and Slack before becoming head of marketing at Modern Health and then transitioning to Asana. Each stop in his career, which may not intuitively connect, he said, has helped him gain a new set of skills and led him to his current position.   

“Every experience you have worked in will teach you something that contributes to your next role, whether it’s a soft skill like people management, a hard skill like research methodologies, or the intuition you build to make better decisions,” he said. “The hardest step in charting your own path is taking that step forward, but if you choose to stand still, you are making a decision in and of itself.”   

Confident in his career flow, Chen has been doing anything but standing still. His efforts in leading the workflow team at Asana were recognized by Fast Company, a monthly business magazine focusing on technology, business, and design. It honored Asana as a finalist for enterprise systems in its 2022 Innovation by Design Awards.   

“Today, we recognize that human-centered design can and should span into B2B products and the workplace,” Chen said. “Fast Company’s nod of approval shows me that all the effort we put into research and design has helped make an impact for the customers we are ultimately building for.”   

Because of how the MMM program has helped guide his career flow, Chen strongly recommends it to those looking for a similar boost.   

He said he understands the uncertainty and hesitancy that can come with picking a master’s program and offers prospective students the same advice he would give a younger version of himself. 

“Take the risk you are thinking of taking with MMM, because you will find yourself in the most unique situation of having a two-year timeframe to make protected decisions that you can learn and grow from,” he said. “The relationships you’ll build and the lessons you’ll learn will be like none other.” 

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