There can be a lot of pitfalls in product operations as it emerges, blooms and grows. So we asked some product operation managers if they had seen any product ops antipatterns play out in their organization.
Here’s what they had to say:
Other role’s tasks
“This most likely happens as the role takes up some of the tasks of other roles (product leadership, product marketing, maybe even research or data teams). But I think it needs to be clear that the product ops team is simply there to ensure operational efficiency, not to do the tasks themselves. If those teams exist then they should welcome the product ops team as a process improvement collaborator rather than an enemy!”
Chris Compston, Product Operations Principal at Farfetch
Don’t look for problems
“An interesting thought to keep in the back of your mind as a product ops manager is that if you go looking for problems, you’re certain to find them. Product ops is here to enable smooth sailing, not to build processes people need to navigate around. Process for process’ sake is the easiest way for us to discredit ourselves.
“We also need to keep in mind that just because we work in operations doesn’t mean we can’t be agile. I implore everyone working in ops to keep a lean mindset: Create an MVP, test it, measure it, and refine it. Most of the time the proof of concept solves the problem just as well as the big grand plan - remember: What’s the smallest thing you could do that would have the biggest impact?”
Antonia Landi, Senior Product Manager in Product Operations at AVIV Group
The value of product ops
“Early on when product ops was new to the company and folks didn’t quite grasp the value we could bring - now that we’ve successfully built programs to scale and the launch management support we provide is intrinsic, the demand for product ops support is incredibly high!”
Tina Laungani Stewart, Director of Product Operations at Twilio
3 key antipatterns
“Assuming that product operations is the only one who can solve the problem or manage change. In reality, product leadership is our biggest ally and not only. Many often overlook the opportunity of creating an extended network of people to discuss and work through topics with.
“Implementing a change that is too complex or too structured. Rarely have I seen a change go as planned and defining too many standards usually has the opposite effect to what was expected, easily becoming issues later on.
“Confusing product operations with product management. Indeed, product operations are often handled by PMs or product leaders initially, along with their regular duties. However, once the role of product operations is created, they must have the space to do that work and stop working on the product, or they will never be able to do their work properly.”
Hugo Froes, Product Operations Lead at OLX Motors
Product ops isn’t project management
“Yes. One that I’ve seen is treating product ops as project managers or executive assistants. It can be a bit of a trap to think that because product ops do operations, day-to-day tasks should be delegated to product ops to remove the burden from PMs. But I believe that, instead, the focus should be for product ops to understand why those day-to-day tasks are a burden and help optimize for them.”
Camila Gargantini, Senior Product Operations Manager at Oyster®
Not a secretary
“I have and I’ve had to fight hard against it. I think it has a lot to do with the culture of the company. In the beginning, because I didn’t do a good job of sharing the vision of product operations and what the goals were, people thought that it was more like an administrative supportive task. So it was like; scheduling these meetings, taking notes during these meetings, completing these forms, etc.
“I had to attack that early on and be very direct. To the point where I remember, I had one of our sales engineers reach out and say, can you set up a meeting between myself and the six product managers so that we can align on X topic? I said, are you looking for documentation? They said I need you to set up a meeting. I thought that’s not my job. I can help you in these ways, I can offer you my help here. But I am not a secretary. So those are some of the anti-patterns I’ve seen.
“I also want to be able to have the product managers understand why we are doing things in a specific way. Recently, I heard one of the directors of product say they wanted to talk about this new tool for roadmapping. So I thought, let’s go back to the original problem. If I’m a member of a senior leadership team, and I have 20 product managers, and they’re all using different tools, I’m going to get upset in a meeting where I don’t know I have to visit 20 different tools. So let’s stick to the program, and ensure they just understand it. I don’t want product operations to be seen as an administrative function or a policing function.”
Diana Soler, Senior Product Operations Manager at AppDirect
“I think one anti-pattern I’ve seen is product ops managers who end up just becoming very execution-oriented and just trying to do everything for a certain product area. I think product operations managers should think of themselves as the process creators and the system thinkers, as opposed to the doers. It’s great for product ops managers to build the processes, but they shouldn’t be the ones to always be manually executing. It’s really their job to create the system in the program versus just being executioners.”
Shintaro Matsui, Head of Product Operations at Amplitude