The History and Evolution of Product Management

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history and evolution of product management

The history of the most celebrated lingo for tech businesses bewilders even the experienced product managers today. If someone traces back 50 years of the business timeline, the term ‘product management’ was nowhere in the picture. As the industry mavens started realizing the core value in product business lies in understanding consumer comfort, the industry started revising the traditional concepts. 

The thoughts evolved, user experience came in the picture, resulting in a sharp transition of organizational focus from ‘profit-centric’ to ‘customer-centric’. Sectors like product development, marketing, and branding started gaining momentum. Amongst that mired of the concept mix, ‘Product Management’ emerged with no major alarm, marking the renaissance of the new-world organizational trade-off.

The Origin 

One can say that the beginnings of product management coming into its own, was sprouted on   FMCG grounds back in 1931. What lodged the concept was the need for ‘brand men’ at an American consumer good manufacturer, Procter, and Gamble (P&G). Neil H. McElroy a junior executive at that time – he went on to become the president of P&G – justified the job role in a short, now famous,  memo which allowed these brand men to own every aspect of the brand from cradle to grave from understanding the needs of the market, product development, and production and taking the product to the market.

In the 800 word memo, Mcelroy clearly defined how ‘brand man’ will operate in the system while addressing the product problems. They will be responsible for duties like market-survey for product viability and curb the product-related shortcomings by managing each division from manufacturing to the marketing of the product. The objective of the brand man is to break the organizational silos and introduce a whole new concept of ‘brand-centric engagement’.With McElroy, the industry concepts revamped where the business started balancing centralized bias with decentralized, self-operating segments.

The Firsts

In the early 40s, two of Elroy’s mentees David Packard and Bill Hewlett rallied forward the concept of product management . The duo adopted brand-centrism as the organizational cornerstone at Hewlett-Packard (HP). HP happened to be the first autonomous entity that bloomed the first line of product managers in the industry. The customer-centric approach in facing market challenges for HP’s products was probably a factor that they maintained a 50-year growth record of a 20 percent year on year rise.

Set out to build a company and make a contribution, not an empire and a fortune.”

-David Packard & Bill Hewlett

HP simply brought the decision making closer to the customer by creating a ‘product group’ for each deliverable. Each new set of divisional structures acted as self-sustaining organizations from product ideation to shipping. As the functional units grew to more than 500 headcounts, it will bud-off into smaller units in avoiding brand cannibalization.

Later centering the umbrella term ‘product management’ evolved the lean manufacturing system. The proposed brand verticals lead to small yet minute changes in the products in maximizing the user experience. The credible integration of customer eccentricity paved the road for successful product management as making HP a celebrated hardware and software product brand in Silicon Valley.

The Tech-Transition

Following footprint many companies traded HP’s product management protocols, making way for more product managers to flock-in. The highest approvals were received from the growing FMCGs which pushed the matrices towards marketing, sales, and profit generation. Whereas the formulas like the final three Ps of Place, Price, and Promotion or Shimizu’s four Cs: Commodity, Cost, Communication, and Channel, contributed as the classical practice to quench the market needs.

The recipe was working fine for the FMCG organizations but the tech-brains were a tough time at the front-end in executing the product management operations. At the end of the 20th century bustling with innovations in technology and the software business. Packaging and pricing held no meaning for the tech entrepreneurs and lack of standards disappointed the end-users. The crippling factors that hurt the agenda of customer-centricity for the tech industries were- high development cost, lack of skilled professionals, tech-biased innovations, and complexity of the process.

The existing knowledge-gap knowledge of tech innovations and lack of market application widened until Intuit stepped in to turn the cards. The tech-brand was owned by a Scott Cook former ‘Brand Man’ from P&G with his founding companion Tom Proulx upturned the complete scenario. With the first software product ‘Quicken’ – money manager, for personal finance and for non-finance management uses,Intuit was the first to align  the product development principle with software that served the public intents.

Even some of the greatest technology-led revolutions, or allegedly technology-led, really were only made possible because of trends already present.”

-Scott Cook

The ‘Intuit-moment’ was later perfected by tech giants like Microsoft under the lead of Bill Gates. Matching the Macintosh version, Microsoft launched Windows, releasing the first version of Microsoft Excel in 1987. The responsible behavior of Microsoft’s product managers identifying software that translates the need to become the sole mantra in popularizing Microsoft products with acceptance from the software users.

The Agile Move

At first, the integration of product management with product development stalled for both tech and non-tech organizations. Product development came with a mammoth task from market research, collecting evidence to establishing prototypes. If the prototypes failed to satisfy the customers, the year’s work would land in a trash can, until the next drill. Before the process-heavy curriculum would have tired out the product developers, 17 software engineers met at The Snowbird Resort, in Utah in 2001, and issued an Agile Manifesto to iron out the kinks.

The documented standard for product development and heavyweight software development processes was briefed in a short document with 4 values and 12 principles. It asserted a heavy-handed and process-oriented waterfall method, associating Scrum and other methodologies like DSDM and XP. Primarily, these principles changed the relationship between product management and working engineers through agile communications. Secondly, it closed the gap in asserting the research specifications to the development phases of the project.

The assets of the Agile Manifesto bridged the need-gap of user experience in the technology products with proper disciplines, from the stage of discovery until the development of the product. Now, the agile principles are regularly practiced by all enterprises and startups. The application of the agile principles are no more constrained to applied in product management rather has more abundant uses at business development as well. Today’s blue-chip organizations like Google, Apple, Amazon closely work with the Manifestos perspective mentoring product managers to entail the best user experience with the products.

The Trend line Across Timeline

Product management has a major role to impact both the marketing and production of the products. As a result, it gave rise to a heated concern on prioritization and focus. The critical assignment of product management mirrors the mission and vision of the organization and promotes brand evangelists for both intra and inter-organizational concepts.  On the other hand, leads who take priority calls for the organization are responsible to derive future stats, to improve the product for the future. 

The statistics concluded that even the great financial crisis of 2008 didn’t have a significant effect on relative interest in product development. On the contrary, even under the strike of an economic disaster, investment for product development remained the same. The most significant example will be the major leagues in the industry remain unaffected solely due to adept product management measurement to tide-over the situation.

My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”

Andrew Mason

Except for 2011, the relative engagement in product management remained unquivered. Rather on a closer take, it has matured over time. In the early 20s the concept that felt impossible due to limited resources and limited training opportunities, well today it has taken a savvy turn. Now, we have an array of software tools trained to handle the data for the product managers. These help in building product strategy development, road mapping, managing customer feedback, and others for a fast and efficient way to avoid epic product flops.

Those who are not familiar with new- edge methods in product management, Miles Education has just the right courses to revamp the sheer veteran in you.

4 thoughts on “The History and Evolution of Product Management”

  1. I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definitely enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog.

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