Both new and experienced product managers often ask where this role came from and why it seems to have so much crossover with other roles such as Marketing and UX. While there’s no definitive history of product management, it’s often useful to consider our roots and understand how the role evolved over time. In this Sunday Rewind post, we look back to when Martin Eriksson provided a bit of background into the history and evolution of product management.
Martin explains how modern product management started in 1931 with a memo written by Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble. It started as a justification to hire more people (sound familiar to any product managers out there?) but became a cornerstone in modern thinking about brand management and ultimately product management.
Access further insights from the archives by delving into our Sunday Rewind series.
Product management and tech combine
As the role moved into the tech world, however, this separation from the development and production of the product was untenable. Most of the newfangled companies in the tech world was inventing whole new industries and they couldn’t just rely on packaging and pricing of a commodity to succeed. This brought Product Development back to the centre of the Product Management role, as it was imperative not just to understand the customer and their needs, but to align the product’s development with them.
This schism between Marketing and Product Management can still be felt in many organisations today Martin explains. Both departments feel they “own” the customer and understanding the marketplace. In most tech organisations, however, Marketing has evolved to be more about owning the brand and customer acquisition, while Product owns the value proposition and the development of the product, Martin believes.
Product management takes a seat at the big table
After discussing how product management joined the tech space and became agile, Martin explains how it further made its transition to collaborating with both marketing and engineering.
He says: “These days Product Management is increasingly a stand-alone function with a seat at the management table and reporting directly to the CEO. This is critical because it aligns the product team directly with the business vision and goals, makes them internal as well as external evangelists of that vision and gives them the independence necessary to make tough prioritisation calls.”
What’s next for product management?
Good product management is becoming a sustainable competitive advantage, and is continuing to evolve, Martin says. “It’s something that is become more widely understood and owned within organisations. It’s becoming a discipline in which you may be an engineer, a designer, a founder or a product manager – but all that matters is that you are at the core of the product and passionately work towards the betterment of that product in service of your customers.”
Read The history and evolution of product management in full to dive deeper into where product management has been and where it’s heading next.