The Origins of Product Management (part 3)

[NOTE: Click for Part 1 and Part 2]

The Jan/Feb 1991 issue of the Harvard Business Review included an article by technology marketing guru Regis McKenna entitled “Marketing is Everything”. In the article, he described the changes that technology was bringing to the marketing profession.

[Note: emphasis on specific words in the following text is mine]

In a time of exploding choice and unpredictable change, marketing–the new marketing–is the answer.

…The marketer must be an integrator, both internally–synthesizing technological capability with market needs –and externally–bringing the customer into the company as a participant in the development and adaptation of goods and services.

…Playing the integrator requires the marketer to command credibility. In a marketplace characterized by rapid change and potentially paralyzing choice, credibility becomes the company’s sustaining value.

Look at some of those words:

  • choice
  • change
  • integrator
  • synthesizing technological capability with market needs
  • customer as a participant
  • credibility

Clearly McKenna’s “new marketing” is describing core aspects Product Management. This is an evolution from the practices that Intuit developed in the 1980s. Technology was bringing choice and change at an incredible rate. For those of you old enough, 🙂 consider the last 20 years vs. the 20 years before that. Has the rate of technological change slowed down? Do we have fewer choices than before?

McKenna explicitly wrote about melding technological capability with market needs — something people today are calling product/market fit“.  Given access to technology and easier ways to utilizing it, the importance of understanding HOW to use the technology to address market needs had become important.

McKenna spoke about knowledge-based marketing that would work closely with customers on product development, identify new market segments that could be dominated, and create an ecosystem of customers/partners etc. that would help the company push forward and continue to lead.

Does any of this sound familiar today?

If we become an integrator for a moment and look at what McElroy, Cook and McKenna espoused:

  • McElroy – a focus on understanding sales and marketing problems and identifying and implementing solutions to improve awareness, sales and profit
  • Cook – a very strong customer focus built by truly understanding their needs and usage patterns
  • McKenna – building lasting customer credibility by applying technical know how to address changing market needs

a clear picture emerges that combines business, technical and organizational activities into a single departmental function.

That department is Product Management.

McKenna’s article was written about 20 years ago. While that represents several generations of technology and roughly two full economic cycles, it barely represents one human generation.

Change is a process, not an event. Unlike 20 years ago, when few had even heard of the term Product Management, today people are debating what it is or what it could be. Virtually all technology companies have some form of Product Management, though some companies wait far too long to bring it in.

While not a perfect situation, I certainly do consider that to be progress.  Our task is to help spread awareness and understanding of the role and the value Product Management can bring to companies at all stages of maturity.

In upcoming posts, I’ll drill more into defining, structuring and implementing efficient product management teams.


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One response to “The Origins of Product Management (part 3)

  1. Pingback: The Origins of Product Management (part 2) « On Product Management