It has been an exciting few months for the product operations community. We have seen the rapid rise in interest and focus on the ‘art’ of product management for prod ops to step in and support, enable and improve. We’ve seen the Day Zero project bringing the top prod ops talent together to research, discuss and align on what this fledgling role is all about and provide guidance to the world on the dos and don'ts, and we have even seen a prod ops Manifesto published to help guide the professionals themselves.

For me, it has been both exciting and an honor to be a part of these changing times, and to see so many familiar and respected faces presenting at this year's PLA Product Operations Festival was just brilliant. Particularly as I was nodding like a rocker at a heavy metal concert most of the time, aligned to whatever was being discussed.

From all of this (and I have to admit I wasn’t able to attend every session), it was clear there were some common themes across the talks and panels and from the fantastic speakers that I wanted to collate and briefly explore. Note that these are the themes I heard and took away, I am sure there were more, and I am also sure there is room for interpretation in this!

It is a role that needs confidence

You have to speak up, you have to drive, you have to play devil's advocate at times and question the status quo. You might need to query if teams have done the right research or simply tease out details for the benefit of others - either way, you can’t just sit back and watch.

It works best when you are a strategic partner

Align what you are doing with the company and division goals, plan around them, and see where strategically you fit into the mix to bring even more value. Be on hand to help with the unexpected and become a trusted advisor that others can rely on. Bring a different perspective that is unbiased or favors the people and the teams.

It is a role to support the product function, not the product people (though usually they also benefit!)  

You are here to support the business in all things related to the production, understanding, and logistics of the SaaS product. You are not there to specifically and only support the product teams and product managers in their needs. You’ll also be working with the rest of the business on how they interact with product, and ‘the product’.

It is an enabler, facilitator role

You are here to support, facilitate, enable, reduce bottlenecks, remove barriers, make things more efficient, and automate where sensible. You look at things that could be done better, faster, and stronger and then research, validate, and implement changes in collaboration with the key people involved. You are not there to simply take on routine and regular work that others do not want to do or do not have time to do. You are not there to do work in place of others - usually the product teams, but to enable them to do the work they are paid to do more efficiently.

Communication & collaboration is still paramount

This is more important than ever in the role that is based around people and how they work and work together. This comes in two parts too - enabling better communication between teams and departments, so folks have what they NEED, when they need it, and to the right level of detail.

Also important is the collaboration between you and the teams you are supporting and improving - going in and throwing changes at them is not the way to inspire or embed successful change (nor the way to make friends and allies!)...

Gain Allies

Speaking of which, it is crucial you are personable, supportive, collaborative, and empathetic in order to gain allies across the business to make implementing the changes the business needs and led by you that much easier - particularly if those allies are at middle or senior leadership, who can help you navigate personalities in their teams.

Enabling data analysis

Your teams being data-informed (a personal item here - to be informed, not driven!) is the cornerstone of the modern SaaS business as well as the Product Management and Prod Ops role.

You want to be providing data (and tools) to the teams to enable them to make decisions based on this and the other inputs they have access to. Work with the teams to understand what their goals are and what data they need. Support their analysis to help them come to the best decisions.

Go after the most valuable, net-positive wins, not the most impactful or the biggest initiatives

You don’t want to be making the big changes right away. You want to focus on what you can achieve in x period of time that will provide the biggest net value - likely this will be a number of smaller tweaks and improvements, a lot of low-hanging fruit.

Of course, this comes after an assessment period to see if making a change or putting a process in place is even valuable or practical. Not everything needs formalizing!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect your prod ops function to - for the love of < insert deity here>, pace yourself!

Focus on the value you are bringing and the impact this is going to have on your teams. While improvement is great, teams need time to adjust too. Work at a pace aligned with what the teams can cope with and not be disruptive to their own work and outcomes.

Flipping this around, you cannot make all the changes that are needed all at once - you should be pushing for ‘settling time’ to focus on value over volume. You are likely a one-man band or a small team, so plan your own goals appropriately.

What were your takeaways from the Festival? Were they the same? What else did you learn?

Stumbled upon something you like and want more?

Mark your calendar for the Product Operations Summit on September 19 & 20 in San Francisco.

Join us there!