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Product Operations (Product Ops)

What is Product Ops (Product Operations)?

Product Ops, short for Product Operations, is similar to other operations functions like Marketing Ops, Sales Ops, Revenue Operations (RevOps), and Development Operations (DevOps), which connect teams’ everyday work to business outcomes. Product Ops helps bridge the gap between product, engineering, and customer success. 

Whether it’s a single person or an entire team, the goal of Product Ops is to streamline and improve the product team’s work so there is a more consistent approach to managing tools and processes and the various facets of what it takes to run a successful product team. This leads to improved collaboration, better cross-functional alignment (especially with go-to-market teams like sales and marketing as well as executives), and ultimately increased output and more likelihood of meeting business goals. 

Fast facts: 

  • 52% of product teams have a dedicated Product Ops function
  • 19% of teams have plans to build this capability
  • 96% of companies with over $1 billion in revenue report having a dedicated Product Ops resource

Why is Product Ops important?

Whether it’s with too much data, inefficient processes, or lack of alignment between teams, it’s easy to get bogged down in the modern product world. And this is why we’ve seen the rapid growth of Product Ops as teams strive to build excellent products.

Here’s how Product Ops can support each pillar of Product Excellence:

  • Deep user insights rely on funneling a steady stream of user feedback to the product team. Product Ops decides and manages the tools and processes that collect this feedback. This has become increasingly important as product teams have access to more data than ever from both internal and external stakeholders.
  • A clear product strategy requires teams to be aligned around well-defined business objectives. Product Ops supports the product team in defining and pursuing their objectives (thanks to their deep knowledge of and access to data) and helps guide them back if they start to veer too far in another direction.
  • A coherent product roadmap is the result of cross-functional collaboration and decision-making. It communicates the outcomes the product team is striving toward and how they support the organization’s overarching goals. Product Ops ensures there’s regular communication with other teams and executives so everyone is aligned on business objectives and the product team’s role in supporting them.

In one sense, Product Ops has a strategic goal—to connect the day-to-day activities of a product team with a company’s business objectives.

“Product operations is the secret sauce to really making a product company run at scale—it pulls everything together and connects software development activities to business outcomes.”

Melissa Perri
CEO of Produx Labs

And on the other side of the coin, Product Ops can take some of the administrative burden off of product managers. This frees up bandwidth and optimizes the product team’s efficiency. Describing the role of Product Ops in Mind the Product, Jonathan Hau, Product Operations Manager at InVision, writes: “We have to reduce the cognitive load on product management, enable product teams to work effectively, and establish a cadence and culture around best practices.”

What does Product Ops do?

There are a few main areas of responsibility for Product Ops. These include:

  • Tools and Process Optimization: Product Ops manages the product managemnet tech stack and documents best practices so all team members use tools and follow processes consistently and effectively. Product Ops also oversees experimentation practices. 
  • Data/Reporting: Product Ops collects and communicates both qualitative and quantitative data from within and outside the product team. This can include data from experiments, product usage, customer feedback, feature requests, and support tickets as well as data from sales, marketing, and finance. 
  • Infrastructure: Product Ops maintains templates, guidelines, how-to references, and resources so the product team can operate efficiently. Product Ops can also oversee onboarding for new team members and continuing professional development for existing team members.
  • Strategy/Alignment: Product Ops ensures clear and consistent communication between product and other teams, helping to identify areas for improvement and define business objectives. Product Ops can also act as a trusted advisor to executives, sharing relevant data to help leaders make informed decisions.

What problems does Product Ops solve?

Product operations is about streamlining and simplifying, whether it’s the use of tools, the collection of data, the approach to experimentation, or the overall product strategy. Here are a few common product team problems and how Product Ops helps solve them.

The problem: You have too much customer feedback and you don’t know how to manage it

Product Ops oversees the collection, structuring, and distribution of customer feedback to ensure you’re building the right products and staying focused on your customers’ needs.

The problem: There’s a lack of alignment between product and go-to-market teams like sales and marketing

Product Ops owns product usage data and communicates themes and trends with sales and marketing. It can also work the other way, sharing sales, marketing, or finance data to highlight new insights for the product team. Product Ops also acts as the glue between the data in product, Marketing Ops, and Revenue Ops. This helps launch teams make smarter decisions.

Problem: It’s hard to know which features should be sunsetted or removed

Product Ops helps product managers better prioritize their work, identifying which features are most valuable, which cause friction, and which are driving the right metrics and business outcomes. This information gives the product team more confidence in their decisions to sunset or remove features.

Problem: The product team doesn’t have a consistent approach to running experiments

Reddit’s co-VPs of Product Kavin Stewart and Alex Le call this the “Las Vegas strip problem,” where you end up with volcanoes next to the New York City skyline next to the Eiffel Tower. Product Ops acts as a “traffic cop,” keeping track of all experiments to make sure they don’t overlap or interfere with each other and documenting experimentation processes to promote efficiency and consistency.  

Hiring for a Product Ops role? A few points to keep in mind

Who’s responsible for Product Operations? In earlier stages, companies might assign Product Ops responsibilities to someone on their existing team or to multiple team members (each doing this as a small percentage of their overall role). But as the product(s) and company grows, it makes sense to create a role (or several roles) that are specifically dedicated to Product Ops.

Denise Tilles, VP of Strategy at Produx Labs, recommends creating two separate roles: a Product Operations Analyst (focused on data and reporting) and a Product Operations Manager (focused on process). Here’s how Denise distinguishes between the two roles.

Product Operations Analyst

  • Has consulting/data analysis background
  • An Excel power user (advanced knowledge of pivot tables and formulas)
  • Doesn’t necessarily need strong product background

Product Operations Manager

  • Loves creating efficiencies and streamlined processes
  • High EQ
  • Understands how products get built; ideally has coached others in agile and lean methodologies

As the field of Product Ops continues to develop, there are plenty of job descriptions out there to draw inspiration from.

For example, GitLab defines three main categories of responsibilities: evolve and refine the product management system, automate internal and external communication, and facilitate improved product input from stakeholders. They also include this explanation in the Product Operations Group Manager’s job description:

As the Group Manager, Product Operations, you will be responsible for ensuring the broader Product Management team is operating at a high level. Your “customers” will be a variety of internal constituents, including the VP, Product, the CEO, the Product Management team, and other cross-functional departments. This role reports to the VP, Product.

Samsara defines the Product Operations team’s mission in the job description of the Product Operations Manager role

The Product Operations team’s mission is to enable our Product teams to operate efficiently at scale. We achieve this through providing three distinct capabilities—providing data-driven product/business insights, establishing well-defined cross-functional and product development processes, and serving as a strategic thought partner to our product teams.

If you’re planning to make your first product operations hire, Oji Udezue, VP of Product at Calendly shares some tips. In addition to carefully considering the outcomes and deliverables for the role, he says, “Make sure you think about how you will introduce this role to cross-functional leaders and how you think they should work with the rest of the organization. Since it’s usually a newish role, explain to your PMs how you expect them to work with this role so they’re not wary of it and help it succeed.”

As product teams expand, evolve their practices, and gain access to ever-growing amounts of data, the demand for Production Operations will continue to increase. Assigning a person or team to manage Product Ops will help ensure that the product team stays focused on strategic work that’s aligned with business outcomes. And that brings product teams and organizations one step closer to Product Excellence. 

 

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