I was asked the other day by a friend, “What is Product Management?” I gave my usual 30-second elevator speech describing a small business owner within the firm focused on marketing, price-point, charge-back, volume forecasting, etc… I continued the discussion about the perpetual focus on a product or a service beyond the project. As friends, we had many discussions in the past ranging from work, R&D, sports and politics and then it dawned on me; in honor of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, a great example of an outstanding Product Management from political history was John Adams. Essentially, the 2nd President of the United States was our first successful Product Management. His product was the great “American Experience”.
For the purpose of this discussion, the “American Experience” is a mixture of a land ruled by laws, a democratic process, a strong sense of republican activities and separation of powers with checks and balances. This Product had several champions, but it was essentially a single Product Manager; John Adams that guided the development, growth and maturation of the “America Experience”. Following the standard routines within the Product Management Lifecycle, John Adams was able to (as Steve Jobs said), be the “…gravitational force that pulls it all together.”[i]
Development: In setting the example, John Adams became the de facto Product Manager in the sense that he became the Subject Matter Expert or single point of contact.
- In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, Adams represented the accused British Captain Thomas Preston in firm in the belief, as he said, that no man in a free country should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial.(pg 66, John Adams, David McCullough, 2001)
- Promoting the new ideas of government, John Adams was asked for expertise and wrote, “Thoughts of Government” for the colonies of North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia and New Jersey (pg 101, John Adams, David McCullough, 2001)
Growth: Engaging the customer base, Adams risked everything by enabling the customers of the service become the champions of the enhanced product. These “Early Adopters” become the most ardent supporters of the new type of government.
- The initial resolution of independence that was passed on May 15, 1776 was to force a yea or no vote in the colonial legislatures where several colonies looked to local governments for passage. This strategy (although against his natural instincts) was an Adams strategy that enabled “Fruits of independence ripened on the imperial vine”. (pgs 49-51, Revolutionary Summer, Joseph Ellis)
- In support of the war effort, John Adams was on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, nominated George Washington to be the Commander in Chief, became the first de facto Secretary of War, petitioned the government of Holland for support, Ambassador to France and negotiated the peace treaty with England.
Maturity: The initial product, the “Articles of Confederation” was a good start but omitted key components of a successful government; a common currency, central government, a standing army, etc… Once again, Adams, in England, was left to influence the masses on new government from afar. He took this improved service and implemented it with the same passion as defending the English Captain years earlier.
- Wrote the papers, “Defence” emphasizing that Government of laws and not men.
- Elected the first Vice-President serving for two consecutive terms and subsequently elected the second President
- Was able to see his son elected to the Presidency.
What made Adams unique in this collection of patriots, intellects, soldiers and revolutionaries were his continuous contributions that came from the man from Braintree, Massachusetts. Everyone else retracted, distanced themselves or retired for brief spells in the development of the American experience.
- Washington (the supreme Project Manager) after ensuring success in the war, retired to Mount Vernon after the war only to come back 10 years later in 1789
- Hamilton (finance) quit his post as Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s second term
- Jefferson (Marketing) chiefly known for his eloquence in the Declaration of Independence had a spotty record of consistency from fleeing the governor’s mansion as well as quitting his post of Secretary of State in Washington’s second term. (pg 313, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow)
From idealistic lawyer, convention architect, thought leader, ambassador, Vice-President, President and symbol of the revolution; John Adams had a direct hand in the beginning for 30 years and indirectly for additional 26. This is the epitome of Product Management. Adams was armed with a clear problem statement, desire for continuous improvement, subject matter expertise, passion for the service and unyielding belief that its starts and ends with the customer.