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Applying MPD2 Lessons to Watson and IBM

Erik Didriksen talks about how MPD2 helped him rethink product management and how he grew during his time in the program.

Erik Didriksen spent years debating whether he wanted to pursue an MBA or a specialized master's degree. He wasn't looking for a career pivot. He wanted to further his passion and knowledge for product development.  

His search found Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD2) program. MPD2 is designed to prepare students to become senior leaders able to create advanced and ground-breaking new products while successfully managing creativity, executing design processes, and leading product development.  

Erik Didriksen

Didriksen (MPD2) was working at IBM after more than a decade at Allstate Insurance and Bank ofMontreal. He found more information about MPD2 and figured the program would be a perfect fit.  

He was right. 

"The program helped me develop an understanding of the additional complexities involved in the development and manufacturing of tangible products," Didriksen said. "Having always worked with intangible products like insurance, banking, or software, I didn’t have this perspective, and it was helpful to better understand the space." 

Didriksen participated in the part-time program while working as the program director for product management at IBM, where he led product development for Watson Natural Language Processing. MPD2 helped him recognize how any product developed today requires an experience component with it.  

“Good products can be made great with the right envelope of experience," he said, "and great products can be confusingly impossible to use when user experience is ignored or deprioritized.”  

That experience could be the purchase of the product itself, the support journey of a user, an app to accompany a consumer product, or a packaging-focused first-time user experience.  

"Consideration for both the physical and tangible and the experiential and intangible portions of a product experience are critical to success," he said. 

Today, Didriksen is focused on that product experience while serving as head of product for Watson Orders, a product that listens to spoken customer orders and then executes on them. Currently his attention is on using his company's software to automate the order-taking process in restaurant drive-thrus.  

He is still paying attention to the program that helped him realize the power of product experiences. In 2022, Didriksen was one of 10 individuals named to the program's new advisory board. He is one of two alumni on the board, and he sees it as his responsibility to help program administrators understand the experiences of recent program graduates. He also believes he has a responsibility to share his B2B software industry perspective as a complement to the B2C centric experiences of many of his other board members.  

Ultimately, his goal is to do what he can to push the program forward. He grew as a leader during his time in MPD2, and he wants future students to be able to experience the same thing.  

"Whether you’re looking to pivot careers or accelerate a move, MPD2 prepares you well for life as a product manager," Didriksen said. "Product management is an area that more industries are shifting resources toward, realizing that value creation requires tremendous coordination, and that only comes when you’ve got the right people in place." 

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