The Evolution of Product Management: Past, Present and Future


PUBLISHED: January 18, 2024
Man working with collage of stop watches behind him to represent Gocious, an efficient product management startup

The product management industry is continually evolving—and understanding its trajectory is pivotal for current and aspiring product managers. Gocious, a Southern California-based startup that champions efficient product management, sheds light on the historical, current and future landscape of this important business function.

Product management: Then and now

Product management has transitioned from a behind-the-scenes role in the early days of product development to a pivotal position in the modern era. In the 1930s, Procter & Gamble introduced brand management, expanding the focus to include the entire product life cycle. This shift marked the emergence of product management, emphasizing the product itself rather than just the brand.

During the tech boom of the 1980s and 1990s, product management gained prominence in Silicon Valley. Visionaries like Steve Jobs and Marty Cagan shaped the space, emphasizing customer experience and creating products that solve real problems. The lean startup movement, championed by Eric Ries, introduced concepts like the minimum viable product (MVP), advocating rapid experimentation and user feedback, which industry giants, such as Dropbox and Airbnb, embraced.

Product managers now play a central role in steering companies toward success. The lean startup approach persists, emphasizing the importance of user feedback and rapid iteration. Digital-only subscriptions—a facet of the strategy at Dow Jones, for example—showcase ongoing growth in the online arena.

Product management trends

The future of product management involves continued growth and complexity. A discernible trend involves blurring the lines between product management and other roles like design and engineering. Product management is becoming synonymous with good design and good business. This calls for product managers to possess a broader skill set, collaborating seamlessly with cross-functional teams.

Another imminent trend is the increased reliance on data and analytics in product development. Product managers are expected to excel in gathering and analyzing data, performing A/B testing and using insights such as KPI and churn rate to inform decision-making. Heading into the future, product managers will likely be more data driven, customer focused and design aware, requiring adaptability and a commitment to continuous learning.

The rise of generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, introduces uncertainty. The future holds increased automation of tactical responsibilities, freeing up product managers for strategic leadership. Some argue that AI tools might eventually replace human product managers entirely, relying on predictive capabilities for customer needs and product features. The Gocious team, on the other hand, maintains that while AI tools offer valuable insights, the empathy and creativity inherent in human product managers remain unmatched.

As the role of product management continues to evolve, product managers must stay ahead of the curve. The fusion of technology, market dynamics and AI tools calls for versatility and continuous upskilling. However, the essence of product management is rooted in understanding people and solving their problems. While the role’s definition may shift in the future, the demand for skilled product managers who can navigate complexity in innovative and empathetic ways will endure, according to Gocious.

The startup believes in a future where product teams can seamlessly drive mid- to long-term portfolio strategy. By providing a centralized platform for product roadmap management and educating people about relevant terminology with its Product Management Glossary, Gocious aims to empower product teams to make decisions swiftly, foster collaboration and communicate product strategies effectively. The company recognizes the instrumental role that individuals play in delivering great products to market and seeks to be the tool set that facilitates their success.

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