Where did Product Management come from?

Product Management
February 2, 2023
2 mins read

As the world embraces digitalisation, the role of a Product Manager becomes an essential link between the customer experience and the development process. It may seem that Product Management is the result of the digital era, but the history of Product Management dates back to the 1930s.

Although there is no particular history of Product Management, the role has evolved with time. With more and more people entering the product landscape, now is an excellent time to understand where Product Management came from.

Initially, people didn't realize they needed Product Management, and they relied on awkward workarounds without strategy and plan.

To develop branding and unique selling propositions, it is necessary to understand the voice of the customer. In this century, brands began understanding that various competitors in the market provide the same product, and creating a unique identity with the customer experience is necessary. After that, big brands started understanding that physiological and emotional approaches to commerce mattered.

Evolution of "Brand Man" as a concept for Product Management growth

Neil H. McElroy
In Frame: Neil H. McElroy

It's uncontroversial to state that Product Management's early years had a firm focus on branding. The main plan was to build a brand closely based on what the customer needed. The focus of products moved towards the interaction with the consumers and the expected results from these products. The "Brand Man" (or early Product Manager) became the consumer's voice on an internal scale.

Product Management was coined in a 1931 memoir by Procter & Gamble employee Neil H. McElroy. McElroy mentioned in his memoir the need for "Brand Men" who would manage products, advertising, and promotions while tracking sales. While the memo was not about Product Management specifically, it thoroughly explained the need to hire more employees focused on brand management.

McElroy continued to facilitate the Product Manager role when he became a valued influencer for young entrepreneurs Bill Hewlett and David Packard, a familiar idol for product backing and the pioneer who eventually founded the international IT company Hewlett-Packard (HP), ultimately took Product Management to a new level.

Growth of customer-centric Product Management

Further, Rafayel Mkrtchyan, in the growing years from the 1950s, described the Product Manager as "the creative head product and the customer-facing person who decides what to build and, most importantly, why to build it." The former is the most accurate description of the role of a Product Manager in the flying field of Product Management.

A significant hand of growth did go to HP, as HP and Product Management went together hand in hand, as both Bill and Dave took what they knew about branding and customer interaction. They firmly directed their knowledge and further applied it to the company's decision-making mechanism on products and development. HP's primary focus for the internal structure was that the team instantly worked on each product group's development, manufacturing, and sales.

The 60's Product Management Transformation

With the pre-requisite developments of Product Managers’ role in the 1960s, various leading organizations began to focus their efforts on making their brand, products, and services proximate to the consumer. It established that prioritizing consumer needs for product management would be needed for what they knew would sell.

By the '60s, new brands emerged across multiple industries, and their consumers were better at bifurcating between the good and the bad. Simultaneously, brand managers needed to focus on quality while boosting market positioning.

Persistent Growth of Product Management

Over some time, companies developed Product Manager roles, and they focused on creating appropriate products according to the target market's desires.

With the rise of the tech industry, there was a significant rise in the concept of Product Management roles. Various developed and developing companies turned their focus to Product Management which helped them focus on the technical aspects behind their products and services.

However, many quickly realized that concentrating on a product's technological perspective was insufficient. Moreover, the focus had to be turned toward the consumers and users. This is where a Product Manager would act as the liaison between the tech requirements of engineers and end-users.

By Y2K, the role of a Product Manager became much more dominant in the tech world and many other industries than it ever had been before. While today, not all companies have a specific PM role, many are beginning to see Product Management as an absolute necessity and a vital component for a company's success and its overall product development.


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