Building products that hit the mark and resonate with users is tough. When product managers are distracted from addressing pain points, and identifying and solving user problems, things get even harder...
This is where product operations comes in.
Product ops is a function aimed to help product teams achieve better outcomes, streamline processes, and manage data and technology. But the function is very much in its infancy, with very few resources out there on the role.
We wanted to change this. Without meaning to sound cliché (although we totally mean it 😉) we want to be the 'one-stop shop' for product ops content. Hence the creation of the Product Ops Portal! A handy hub, full of useful articles, podcasts, videos - the lot.
But right here, we’re going to break down the fundamentals of product ops, unpacking the key responsibilities, pillars of the role, and what to focus on when building a product ops team.
What’s so important about product operations?
In a product-led org, the product is typically the central through-line for almost every stage of the user journey. It’s critical to optimize the processes a user goes through while experiencing the product.
Product ops exists to help PMs curate the best experience for users and steer product management teams in the right direction to make prioritization decisions.
It’s become an increasingly critical function for connecting the teams who are building a product; from engineering to customer success and sales.
“There is a focus on data that I think sells the whole product ops role short. Access to data could be a problem that needs to be solved for PMs, which makes product ops a good candidate to solve it. However, I’d argue that these teams tend not to have well developed data science or user research practices that should own that data. A PM is a consumer of it but usually not the creator.”
Chris Butler, Head of Prod Ops at Cognizant
The key responsibilities of product operations
Of course, the key responsibilities of the function can vary depending on the org, but there are some consistent areas that have become tied to the role.
Supporting the onboarding process
As product teams scale quickly, it’s important to ensure new hires are able to get up to speed in the most efficient way possible. New members of the team need to be able to adapt, plug in and keep up with the current team, without slowing them down.
Product operations can make this process a whole lot easier, by helping to clearly define an effective onboarding process. They can outline a clear path from day one that helps new hires integrate quickly and smoothly, to become a productive member of the team.
“The hiring and performance evaluation processes are a key part of product ops (in partnership with HR, of course).”
Streamlining critical and routine tasks
During product development, there will be repetitive tasks that can take up a large amount of a product team’s time. From analyzing feedback to roadmapping and interviewing users, these tasks can slow down the progress of any product team.
Prod ops can manage these tasks and identify ways to streamline the processes involved, to ensure they take less time to complete and help the product team achieve more impactful results.
Managing the right tools
Product managers have a wide variety of tools available to them, and over the last few years, the tool stack has only continued to grow. PMs now seemingly have a tool for every need, from user testing to analytics and roadmapping. Safe to say, it can all get a little overwhelming.
Product teams are of course capable of managing all these tools but this can impact productivity. Prod ops can accurately identify the needs of the product team, manage and optimize the stack accordingly. They can build a stack of tools that specifically cater to the needs of the team, which ensures less time wasted shuffling through tools and allows PMs to focus on actually building the product.
Staying on top of best practices
Product-led growth is constantly changing, and PMs need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing trends, methodologies, and best practices in order to really maximize productivity and stay competitive.
Product operations can greatly help product teams by keeping fully up to date with these changing trends. They will be able to identify the methodologies and practices that cater to the specific needs of the product team, highlight areas of improvement and boost efficiency.
Ensuring resources and data are easily accessible
PMs need to manage huge amounts of data and resources during the product development process. In order to boost efficiency and productivity, PMs need access to these resources and key data at crucial stages to improve the product and back up repeatable tasks.
An effective product ops team will be able to identify and organize the right resources and manage crucial data to empower product teams. This can include story templates, user guides, frameworks, etc. Prod operations can ensure resources can be accessed and key insights can be accessible from relevant data whenever required.
Managing user feedback
Successful product-led growth relies on product usage as the primary driver of acquisition, conversion, and expansion, and happy users are of course critical to this. The product experience is the user experience, and analyzing feedback is essential to growing quickly and efficiently.
Product ops can play a central role in leveraging user feedback by handling how this valuable process is managed. They can not only help to improve the user experience by collecting feedback across highly engaged channels. But also facilitate improvements through translating feedback to product teams, as well as analyzing, testing, and experimenting.
The pillars of product ops
Prod operations enable product teams to spend more time actually building products and delivering value to the org. Now that we’ve explored the key responsibilities of this emerging function, let’s unpack the pillars and base principles of the role.
Prod ops drives quality
Product engineers spend time fixing issues, but a lot of this time is just figuring out what’s actually broken. Prod ops reduces the time it takes to fix issues by identifying, analyzing and designing processes to prevent them. Empowering product teams to spend more time building higher quality features and products, without slowing down to resolve errors.
- Identifying and investigating user issues to drive resolutions.
- Analyzing key quality metrics and building dashboards to track product health.
- Conducting product audits across platforms to identify bugs or missing features.
- Creating processes for intaking and triaging bugs, testing new features, documenting issues, and tracking resolution.
Prod ops facilitates strategic alignment
As an organization scales rapidly, it’s more and more difficult to maintain strategic alignment. This is why it’s critical to have processes in place that ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. Product ops can create these processes, which will help to facilitate strategy planning, enable prioritization and focus teams on achieving key goals.
- Building frameworks for aligning the organizational, team, and individual goals.
- Creating dashboards for tracking and reporting on measures of success.
- Implementing project management software to track and report on progress across teams.
Prod ops bolsters organizational communication
Communication is a cornerstone of effective product management. Of course, PMs always need to effectively communicate with their teams, but product ops can help to bolster this by establishing effective processes for cross-team communication and knowledge sharing.
- Implement processes for routing info through communication channels, such as uploading product roadmaps to a shared drive.
- Build shared channels, drives, and email lists.
- Create templates for status updates and quarterly reviews.
What to focus on when building a product ops team
There’s no ultimate way to successfully establish a product ops team at your org. Typically, how a product operations function looks at a certain organization, depends on the specific needs of that org, and the problems that need solving. However, there are some key principles you can focus on...
Focus on outcomes
To determine whether or not a prod ops function is really delivering value to your org, you need quantifiable measures. But these should be geared towards outcomes and not outputs.
What do we mean by this?
Well, say the function identified 50 issues with the user experience and product engineering needed to fix these. You need to identify if those fixes will lead to outcomes the org cares about such as upticks in engagement, saving time for engineers, etc.
It’s all too easy to mistake motion for progress. You need to be intentional with every process and initiative. Aiming these towards solving a problem and serving the product and org.
Focus on the narrowest set of solutions
You need to determine the exact problems your org is facing and then look at the key competencies of product ops. By doing this, you can identify which ones will actually help solve your problems. Then you can create streamlined solutions that avoid unnecessary overhead.
Focus on starting small
It’s best to focus on one pillar of product ops, to begin with, instead of trying to implement everything all at once. You likely don’t already have the resources to build out a big product ops team. So by focusing on say, strategic alignment, you can start small and build outwards. As you build you can track and measure performance, making adjustments along the journey to make sure you’re delivering value.
Focus on flexibility
Applying rigid principles and protocols to the creative process of building a product will of course stifle any product development progress. It’s critical to strike a fine balance between having a clear structure and having the ability to remain flexible when needed.
The function has developed into a key enabler for product teams, and is now more pivotal for building higher quality products and establishing processes to enhance strategic alignment and communication.
Product ops is here to stay and will no doubt continue to facilitate communication, make resources more accessible, keep teams aligned to common goals and unlock the full potential of product orgs.
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