THE EVOLVING PRODUCT MANAGER
As a product manager, you’ll regularly find yourself at the intersection of content, UX, Digital, Marketing and more besides. We’ve talked before about the qualities that a PM needs to possess, but let’s explore how and why that is.
Step back in time
It started in the early 1930s at Procter & Gamble as a simple memo, written by Neil H. McElroy, as an attempt to hire more people. Later it would be seen as a turning point in our modern thinking about brand management, and subsequently product management, as we know it today.
McElroy’s 800-word memo was a manifesto declaring the responsibilities of ‘Brand Men’ in developing all aspects of a brand, from sales to managing the product such as advertising and promotions. He took the unique approach that this would be achieved through field testing and interacting with clients. A major restructuring of Procter & Gamble followed, leading to a brand-focused workforce.
The company adopted a new ethos from the memo: all product managers became the ‘voice’ of the customer, and decisions would be made as close to the customer as possible while developing a brand.
It worked – and by no mean distance. McElroy later became Secretary of Defence and helped create a little institution known as NASA using this policy; while advising at Stanford University he influenced two young entrepreneurs by the names of Bill Hewlett and David Packard. The hardware firm they founded credits the approach with a record 50 years of consecutive 20% year-on-year business growth between 1943 and 1993.
Lean, mean, and producing machines
Toyota adopted this policy under Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda (nephew of Toyota’s founder). Like other Japanese companies after the Second World War, they were forced to be lean by post-war straits; not enough money and resource led to a ‘just in-time’ style of manufacturing.
This would grow into the Toyota Production System, which focused on two key essentials recognised by any product manager: Kaizen (improving business continuity while driving for innovation), and Genchi Genbutsu (going to the source to find facts and making correct decisions).
If that sounds anything like a Jurassic precursor to Agile, that wasn’t the case. In fact, the process was more waterfall (research, requirements, build; lather, rinse, repeat).
The original PMs at Procter & Gamble were very much part of the marketing function, focusing on nailing the packaging, promotions, pricing and general brand marketing, the same with all PMs working in FMCG today.
Their key priorities were sales and profits, and because of the slow nature of developing and testing an actual product, the emphasis of a product manager developed on the final 3 Ps of the marketing mix: promotions, price and place.
Fast forward: what being a PM means today
If looking at how the role has evolved shows us anything, it’s that the more things change, the more they remain fundamentally the same. Being a PM today means the same as it did before PMs were ‘a thing’: your job is to build better products, to innovate.
Whatever your specialism and your day-to-day work, you’re at the core of the product and its champion throughout the wider business. You’re in a unique position to share your knowledge with a raft of different functions and to absorb parts of them – make the most of it.
Check out more about Product Manager Jobs at Intelligent People – click this link