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Product Management: Introduction

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Product Management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product’s lifecycle: from development, to positioning and pricing, by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost. To build the best possible product, product managers advocate for customers within the organization and make sure the voice of the market is heard and heeded.

Product Management is the development, marketing and sale of a product to a customer. Product management starts from when a product is merely just an idea and continues all the way through the lifecycle of a product, including when the product arrives in the customer’s home. A product manager drives the strategy for a product or group of products. Product managers are often responsible for educating the executive staff on the need for the product in the market.

Product management differs based on the company and type of products. However one thing is consistent, the product manager represents the customers’ needs. The product manager is responsible for bringing together the technologybusiness, and users. The technology includes the actual product itself. The business represents those that have the ability to bring the product to market, and the user is the customer that has a desire for this product. Other than the chief executive officer (CEO), the product manager is the only other person in the company who has a focus on bringing all the aspects of a product together.

Example

Imagine you work for an established shoe company. You have taken on the role of a product manager for the specialty market in tennis shoes. After researching the market you learn that there is a growing trend for breast cancer survivors and their family members to become more physically fit. Several of the company’s well-known competitors have already released a new line of pink gear into the market. You bring the idea of creating a line for that cause to your executive staff, indicating a desire to tap into that market as well.

You work with the research department to survey customers about their interest in this potential line. After receiving favorable feedback, you work with the product design team to develop a new shoe which is layered in three shades of pink and white. Unlike the competitors, you convince your team to imprint a word on the heal of each shoe, such as ‘hope’, ‘freedom’ and ‘life’ to make a lasting statement. After receiving a prototype for the line of shoes, you work with the marketing department to create a line of print ads that picture women’s shoes running through dirt leaving an imprint of a word behind. You then track the daily sales of the new shoe line and provide reporting back to the executive staff.

Phases of Product Management

A product manager is the product champion, meaning that they are the person who stands behind all phases of the product from inception to development to release. Although the roles vary by company the phases are similar for each product manager.

A product manager role starts with an idea that is walked through these product stages:

(I) Define market and customer

(II) Define problem and value proposition

(III) Define requirements

(IV) Research competitors and products

(V) Sales and marketing launch

(VI) Stakeholder communications

(VII) Report and analyze results

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  • Business: Product management helps teams achieve their business objectives by bridging the communication gap between dev, design, the customer, and the business.
  • UX: Product management focuses on the user experience, and represents the customer inside the organization. Great UX is how this focus manifests itself.
  • Technology: Product management happens, day to day, in the engineering department. A thorough understanding of computer science is paramount.

The history of product management

Product management was born during the great depression, when a 27-year-old marketer proposed the idea of a “brand man”– an employee to manage a specific product rather than a traditional business role. Since the 1930s, the continued success of this function has led to the growth of product organizations across industries and geographies.

  • 1931 — Neil H. McElroy, a marketing manager at Proctor & Gamble, writes a 300-page memo on the need for “brand men,” who manage specific products.
  • Late 1930s — McElroy is an advisor at Stanford University, where he influences two young visionaries: Bill Hewlett and David Packard.
  • 1943-1993 — Hewlett-Packard sustains 50 years of 20% Y/Y growth by implementing the “brand man” philosophy in their new company.
  • Late 1940s — Toyota develops JIT manufacturing principles, later adopted by Hewlett-Packard.
  • 1953 — Toyota develops the kanban method.
  • 1970s — Tech companies in the U.S. start developing lightweight processes, in opposition to cumbersome processes that emerged from manufacturing industries.
  • 1980s — Developing agile processes, combined with greater acceptance of “brand management” roles, takes hold in many technology and software companies.
  • 2001 — The Agile Manifesto is written, which, in large part, broke down department silos and outdated process, to make room for a unified product management role.
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