Product operations teams are instrumental to the success of the modern business. They’re responsible for aligning stakeholder expectations, streamlining the product development process, and optimizing the product lifecycle, resulting in faster time-to-market, enhanced customer satisfaction, and sustainable business growth.
While there are many clear benefits to building out a product operations team, there are also a number of obstacles to overcome.
In this article, we’ll deep dive into the main challenges that companies face when establishing a product operations team, and strategies you can adopt to solve them.
What is a product operations team?
A product operations team focuses on the operational aspects of product development and management within an organization. They’re responsible for overseeing and optimizing the entire product lifecycle, from ideation and planning to development, launch, and post-launch.
They’re accountable for the efficient execution of product strategies and coordination between various stakeholders, and also collaborate closely with cross-functional teams to ensure seamless communication and the successful delivery of products that meet both customer needs and business objectives.
Why does your organization need a product operations team?
A product ops team can benefit your business in several ways. They can help to streamline workflows, enhance existing processes, and identify areas for improvement, resulting in improved operational efficiency and a faster time-to-market for products.
Product operations plays a key role in maintaining alignment within an organization. They work closely with teams like marketing, sales, and engineering to ensure they understand everything about the product, including how to build and sell it.
To support other teams’ understanding, product ops are responsible for developing educational resources to provide regular updates, sharing data, and facilitating communications between teams to prevent cultural siloes.
A product ops team can also save product managers (PMs) a significant amount of time. They can take more low-level tasks off PMs’ hands, including research, data management, and implementing processes for the wider product team.
The team can provide valuable insights and conduct data-driven decision-making for PMs, freeing up their time to focus on developing, launching, and implementing improvements to products.
7 key challenges of building a product operations team
Now we know what a product ops team is and why it’s so valuable, let’s be aware of the challenges that come with establishing this type of team in an organization.
Attracting and retaining the right talent
One of the biggest challenges of building a product team is being able to attract and hire professionals with the diverse skill sets required.
Product ops requires skills such as project management, strong communication, research, data analysis, documentation management, product knowledge, and business strategy. Finding individuals that possess all of these key qualities can be a tricky task, especially in such a competitive job market.
Along with these skills, it’s important to ensure that any new team members align with your organization’s culture in order to work effectively alongside other teams.
The product ops team may introduce new processes which could disrupt your existing company culture, so it’s important to monitor this and ensure that these new ways of working align with your current values.
Defining clear roles and responsibilities
The product operations function crosses over many different areas of the company like product management, engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, etc. Therefore, it’s important to define the roles in your product ops team and set out clear responsibilities to ensure you get the best work out of your team. Otherwise, you could end up with overlaps and confusion among your employees.
Implementing new company-wide processes
A key function of the product operations team is to establish new processes to optimize product development and enhance cross-department collaboration. This can be a major task because best practices first need to be defined in order to execute tasks that lead to high-quality outcomes.
Once best practices have been set out, standardizing them across the organization is another hurdle to tackle. Each department may have its own set of operational procedures, and altering these to align with new standards can be met with resistance and slow adoption of these changes.
Effective collaboration and communication
To align the various teams and departments within an organization, product ops must be able to communicate effectively with them.
To do so, the product ops team needs to understand the goals of each team, identify common objectives, and facilitate collaboration to achieve these objectives. This is a mammoth task that requires strong product management skills, the need to establish the right communication channels, and ensure all teams receive regular updates to keep everyone aligned.
In many organizations, different departments often operate in siloes. The product ops team needs to break down these siloes, which can be difficult as it involves altering well-established ways of working.
To facilitate successful collaboration, the team must build trust among departments and create opportunities for teams to work together.
Managing stakeholder expectations
Balancing the different priorities and expectations of various stakeholders is another challenge you must overcome when building out your team. In fact, it requires effective communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and decision-making skills from the team.
Product ops must be able to maintain stakeholder enthusiasm by communicating positively to them about their plans, aligning them towards shared objectives, and prioritizing activities that provide the greatest value to the organization.
Scaling and growth
As an organization expands, so will the demands of the product operations team. As such, they must be able to design and implement processes that can scale with the organization.
Businesses require growth in response to shifting market conditions, emerging competitors, and customer demands. As such, product ops teams must maintain a culture of flexibility and adaptability to keep up with these changes.
When establishing any new function, it can be a challenge to demonstrate its necessity to the rest of the business.
Additionally, a product operations team often works behind the scenes which can make them less visible, leading to misconceptions about its true value.
The product ops team must be able to articulate how their activities contribute towards increased operational efficiency and the success of a product.
6 strategies for building a successful product operations team
Now you know about the main challenges of building out a product ops team, let’s talk about a few strategies you can implement to help overcome them.
Comprehensive job descriptions and training
Develop detailed job descriptions which clearly define roles, responsibilities, and the skills required so that you attract the right candidates. Also, ensure that your job descriptions include competitive salaries as well as your company’s benefits scheme in order to attract and retain talent.
It’s also important to implement ongoing training and development, with role-specific modules to equip new and existing team members with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their roles.
Collaborative process design
When implementing a new company-wide process, make sure you involve all teams that are affected in the process design and planning to ensure buy-in and minimize resistance. Ensure that the benefits of the new process are clearly communicated to the wider company so that everyone understands why it’s being enacted.
Gradually implement the changes over time, and gather feedback from teams to continually refine elements of the process.
Establish communication channels and collaboration tools
Effective communication is essential to a successful product ops function. Therefore, it’s important to set up clear lines of communication to help the team carry out their jobs.
Set up regular cross-functional meetings, knowledge-sharing sessions, and team-building activities to foster better collaboration and ensure all teams are kept up to date with the relevant information and updates.
It’s also a good idea to implement collaboration tools in your organization to streamline workflows and support inter-team work. There are a number of options, such as Slack or for instant messaging, Asana or Trello for project management, and Zoom or Microsoft Teams for video conferences. You just need to do the research to decide which tools are best for you.
Get your stakeholders involved
Regularly communicate any progress and changes to your stakeholders, and involve them in the planning and decision-making processes. Ensure that your stakeholders are always kept in the loop regarding progress, challenges, and successes, and that they have realistic expectations about what the product team can achieve.
The product operations team coordinates with various functions that all operate in different ways and have different objectives. Therefore, it’s important to talk to all these functions to understand their goals, pain points, and where and how they operate in the product lifecycle. This will also help you to clearly define the roles and responsibilities within your product ops team.
Establish scalable processes
To ensure that your company can seamlessly scale, the right systems and tools need to be identified to both support business growth and the increased demands of the product ops team.
Consider setting up process automation for tasks like reporting and data entry. This will save time, reduce errors, and allow the product ops team to focus on more complex tasks.
You should also conduct regular performance reviews to identify skills gaps and develop personalized training programs so that team members can grow alongside the business with minimal disruption.
Showcase your successes
To show the value of your product operations function, establish metrics and KPIs to track the team’s impact on the success of the business.
Regularly report on the team’s activities and record their achievements, and highlight any improvements, success stories, case studies, and initiatives made by the team to demonstrate its value to the wider business.
Building a successful product operations team can seem like a daunting endeavor. But by understanding the potential hurdles and implementing the strategies detailed in this article, you can develop a reliable and empowered team that can streamline your product lifecycle, foster effective communication and collaboration, and accelerate your organization’s growth.
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