History of Product Management

History of Product Management

Product Management can be traced back to the 20th Century through a chain of events that happened through a young and enterprising economist who dared to ask, “How can I sell more soap?” This was Neil H. McElroy, a Procter & Gamble employee.

He wrote a memo in 1931 that totally revolutionized the industry. Now, while his memo wasn’t directly about Product Management, it sought to explain the need for the company to employ more people whose focus would be brand management. In the memo, he wrote about the need for “Brand Men.” These men would take up the roles of advertising, managing the products, and promoting them while also tracking sales. Yes. That does sound slightly familiar to the description of Product Management. Doesn’t it?

The Early Years

In the early years, Product Management’s strong focus was on branding and the need to build a closely based brand on the customer’s needs. This was heavily based on consumers’ interactions and what they expected to get from their products. Brand Man, or what was known as early PM, became the consumer’s leading voice on the internal scale.

Mc Elroy continued paving the way for the PM role by becoming a valued influencer for all the young entrepreneurs. David Packard and Bill Hewlett, who are the founders of Hewlett-Packard, ultimately decided to take Product Management to the next level.


Bill and Dave used what they knew about customer interactions and branding and applied them to their company and made decisions on products and development using this knowledge. In fact, today’s HP’s structure is based on product groups that are directly involved in the manufacturing, development, and sales of each group. With these early developments, the PM role in most companies began focusing on making their products, services, and brand relative to the customer and mostly what they knew would sell.

The Evolution of Product Management

The 60s

By the ’60s, there were plenty of new brands emerging in multiple industries, and consumers were getting better and better at choosing the good from the bad. However, brand managers needed to focus on the quality of the products and their advertising and marketing efforts as well.

This is definitely something the modern PM of today oversees regularly. As time went on, many companies were able to develop PM roles, and they directed most of their focus towards products that were well suited for their consumers.

The 70s

At this time, for the companies with fast-moving consumer goods, a product manager’s role was pretty much that of a marketing manager because it was primarily concerned with pricing, packaging, promotions, and marketing. Product development was left to other people within the company.

The 80s

By this time, the Product Manager’s role was still young in the computer hardware and software industries than in the consumer packaged goods industries.

The pioneer company that started incorporating this concept in their business was Intuit. Intuit is a computer and software company that sells tax preparation, financial, and accounting software to individuals, accountants, and small businesses.

The 90s

In these years, companies started applying consumer product management principles to their software products, and the tech products started becoming more consumer-focused. After Intuit started the movement, Microsoft, together with other tech giants, also followed suit. In the beginning, Microsoft did not have a Product Management discipline and what they had was Program Management. As time passed, many other companies realized that the engineers alone could not meet the technical requirements needed to create coherent products for users. There was a need for a translator.

The 2000s and Beyond

Since the 2000s, a Product Manager’s role has dramatically evolved, and universities have been stacking accredited Product Management programs in their schedules. Graduate courses specifically deal with brand and product management, although most of them are concentrated on the consumer goods industry and not so much the tech world.

Because there isn’t any ultimate training for Product Management, most companies tend to create their own rules. For example, companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook have shaped their modern-day Product Manager and ended up setting the trend for product development. In fact, the Product Manager in each of these companies varies greatly, although they all deal with the three main areas, which are design, engineering, and business.


So what does the future of Product Management look like?

Unfortunately, not all companies understand the need for a Product Manager, but more and more people realize the need for having a product culture. Most of them have already started acknowledging that success is data-driven and Product Planning is vital to its success.

As the competitive landscape keeps widening, companies will need to become more adept at the new “Normal” and actually invest in a qualified Product Manager’s services. The future is bright for Product Management.

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