The Origins of Product Management (part 1)


One of the common problems when discussing the subject of technology Product Management is that there is no common definition of Product Management that all people agree on.

To better understand what Product Management is, it’s important to understand where it came from.

The origins of Product Management go back to the 1930s at Procter and Gamble. Back then, a manager at P&G named Neil McElroy wrote what is now referred to as the “McElroy Memo”.  P&G was famous for their culture of writing memos on important topics.

McElroy was the manager responsible for Camay soap — a lesser brand to the company’s leading Ivory soap brand. Camay was not selling well and he decided that a dedicated “brand man” (and supporting team) was needed to ensure that sales of the brand were being maximized.  Here’s an excerpt from that memo describing some of the issues that the “brand man” would need to address.

  1. Study carefully shipments of his brands by units.
  2. Where brand development is heavy and where it is progressive, examine carefully the combination of effort that seems to be clicking and try to apply this same treatment to other territories that are comparable.
  3. Where brand development is light:
    1. Keep whatever records are necessary, and make whatever field studies are necessary to determine whether the plan has produced the expected results.
    2. Study past advertising and promotional history of the brand: study the territory personality at first hand–both dealers and consumers–in order to find out the trouble.
    3. After uncovering our weakness, develop a plan that can be applied to this local sore spot. It is necessary, of course not simply to work out the plan but also to be sure that the amount of money proposed can be expected to produce results at a reasonable cost per case.
    4. Outline this plan in detail to the Division Manager under whose jurisdiction the weak territory is, Obtain his authority and support for the corrective action.
    5. Prepare sales help and all other necessary material for carrying out the plan. Pass it on to the districts. Work with salesmen while they are getting started. Follow through to the very finish to be sure that there is no letdown in sales operation of the plan.
  4. Take full responsibility, not simply for criticizing individual pieces of printed word copy, but also for the general printed word plans for his brands.
  5. Take full responsibility for all other advertising expenditures on his brands (author’s note – in-store displays and promotions).
  6. Experiment with and recommend wrapper (author’s note – packaging) revisions.
  7. See each District Manager a number of times a year to discuss with him any possible faults in our promotion plans for that territory.”

Putting aside the lack of gender neutral language (i.e. Study carefully shipments of his brands by units), here’s a summary of the 7 points:

  1. Understand the regions and volumes of product being shipped.
  2. For regions where sales are good or growing, understand why and try to apply those principles to other similar regions
  3. Where sales are light, investigate the situation to understand the problems. Devise a plan to address the problems and work with internal parties to ensure the plan is successful.
  4. Take charge for all messaging and advertising copy for the brands
  5. Oversee advertising and marketing expenditures for the brands
  6. Try new things, particularly with packaging of the brands
  7. Work with local sales managers to understand their perspective on what is and isn’t working in their region

It’s an interesting list. In essence, the “brand man” is responsible for the business success of the brand (product or product family).

The role of “brand man” or “brand team” was very successful at P&G and was emulated throughout the consumer packaged good industry.  And, after almost 80 years, Brand Management is well defined and is a pure marketing and business function within Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies.

The story doesn’t end here, but it’s clear that the principles of brand management had a significant role to play in the formation of technology product management.

Saeed

Related articles:

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
22 Responses to The Origins of Product Management (part 1)
  1. Coffe_in says:

    RT @onpm: The Origins of Product Management (part 1) http://t.co/sLBTdATC


  2. RT @onpm: The Origins of Product Management (part 1) http://t.co/sLBTdATC


  3. [...] if you look back at the origins of Product Management it’s clear that’s how it was envisioned by James McElroy at Procter and Gamble almost [...]


  4. RT @onpm: The Origins of Product Management (part 1) http://bit.ly/bf3Sei


  5. good two-part series from @onpm on origins of product management – http://is.gd/auyun


  6. Great read from @onpm on the origins of product management: http://ow.ly/1hwYi

  7. Jason Brett says:

    Reading "The Origins of Product Management (part 1) « On Product Management" ( http://bit.ly/93OPXZ )


  8. [...] PDRTJS_settings_91398_post_4097 = { "id" : "91398", "unique_id" : "wp-post-4097", "title" : "The+Origins+of+Product+Management+%28part+2%29", "item_id" : "_post_4097", "permalink" : "http%3A%2F%2Fonproductmanagement.net%2F2010%2F03%2F10%2Fthe-origins-of-product-management-part-2%2F" } NOTE: Part 1 can be found here. [...]


  9. The Origins of Product Management (part 1) http://ow.ly/1g31B /via @beriberikix

  10. davinam says:

    RT @onpm: New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing

  11. Jason Miceli says:

    Saeed,

    Completely understood – I’ll attempt to clarify a bit further what I was thinking here. In general I believe PMs have the responsibility to discover / recognize whatever needs to be done in order to achieve ultimate product success. There are countless examples of this:

    - A PM recognizes there are delays on the provisioning side, and so they work to determine why this is the case and then either jump in directly with that group to resolve or escalate the issue as needed.

    - If there’s a functional issue within the Sales team in terms of methodology, training, etc., again I believe the PM should step in to recognize this, do what can be done from a PM perspective, and/or raise awareness to Sales and Executive Management as needed.

    - When everything seems to be working properly internally yet product success has not yet been achieved, the PM should have the wherewithal to recognize that perhaps the issue is the company chose the wrong product/features, the wrong customer market, the wrong price, etc., and once again figure out what that means to the company and take appropriate action.

    So, I agree PM should not be considered “global doers”, but at the same time whenever any internal group has a problem and doesn’t know how to resolve it themselves, they need a central authority to go to – in my opinion that’s Product Management. From there it’s PM’s responsibility to handle the situation in an appropriate fashion, whether that means diving in to work with the groups directly (as appropriate), coordinating working sessions for other folks to meet work through resolution, raising awareness or escalating to executive management, etc.etc. In the words of John Mansour @ ZigZag, “Product Management is the conscience of the company.” I do believe this to be the case, and absent of PM taking on this responsibility each group would be left to their own best guess as to how to proceed in a given situation, which in the end could be disastrous for both the product and the company.

    That’s my .02 anyway! Hope this adds some clarity to what I was thinking, and of course feel free to disagree with me further – love having dialogs like this!

    Thanks again, Jason

  12. saeed says:

    Jason,

    You’re welcome. :-) And thanks for the feedback.

    The phrase you use — “by doing whatever needs to be done” is something I’d like to address at some point in the future. I’ve heard it used many times in talks about Product Management and Product Managers. I understand the sentiment, but don’t necessarily agree with it. I think that given the immaturity of the profession, and thus lack of a clear definition of the overall responsibilities, that’s what ends up happening to PMs in a lot of companies.

    Saeed

  13. Jason Miceli says:

    Excellent background – thank you!

    The piece that stands out to me is this, “In essence, the “brand man” is responsible for the business success of the brand.” Given the lack of agreed common definition of Product Management, I have always defaulted to the notion that PMs exist to drive their products to business success, however that’s defined and by doing whatever needs to be done. Of course this represents a massive charter, and it’s one that comes with a very heavy weight. Still, if the singular goal of a product manager is true product success, and comp structures reflect that mission as well, everything starts to take shape and really comes into focus.

    Thanks for the insight!!

    • saeed says:

      Jason,

      You’re welcome. :-) And thanks for the feedback.

      The phrase you use — “by doing whatever needs to be done” is something I’d like to address at some point in the future. I’ve heard it used many times in talks about Product Management and Product Managers. I understand the sentiment, but don’t necessarily agree with it. I think that given the immaturity of the profession, and thus lack of a clear definition of the overall responsibilities, that’s what ends up happening to PMs in a lot of companies.

      Saeed

  14. Manager Guru says:

    RT @rcauvin RT @onpm: New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing


  15. RT @onpm: New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing


  16. RT @ManagerGuru: RT @onpm New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing


  17. RT @onpm New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing (via @ManagerGuru)


  18. RT @onpm: New blog post – The Origins of Product Management part 1 – http://bit.ly/dpPLtm #prodmgmt #marketing

  19. Jim Holland says:

    Saeed – Thanks for providing the heritage and insight on Product Management. We’re looking forward to part 2 – and your insights and commentary on product management.

We really want to hear your thoughts...