I'm Javier Garcia-Alzorriz, Senior Product Operations Lead at Camunda, and with thirteen years of experience in optimizing strategies, improving processes, and fostering growth across various types of organizations. 

From my beginnings in a design consultancy firm to leading product operations in startups and large enterprises like Shopify, my career has given me deep insights into the dynamic relationship between product management and product operations.

In this article, I’ll decode the distinction between product operations and product management, sharing my FAME methodology —Focus, Altitude, Methodology, and Exposure— that has been instrumental in my success. I'll illustrate how these principles can be applied to create a cohesive and efficient product operations framework that supports and enhances product management. 

Whether you're a seasoned professional or new to the field, these insights will help you navigate and thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of product operations.

Understanding Product Operations vs. Product Management

Product operations can be described in various ways, but I want to delve into the dynamics and relationships between product operations and product management. 

To do that, let's first explore what product management is about.

What is Product Management?

Product management encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and skills. Some key aspects include:

  • Goal setting
  • Lifecycle management
  • Vision and strategy
  • Market research
  • Data analytics
  • Coordination
  • Reaching MVPs (Minimum Viable Products)
  • Roadmap ownership
  • Leadership
  • User empathy maps
  • Backlog management
  • Innovation

Product management is multifaceted, and each organization interprets it differently. Additionally, each product manager (PM) has a unique approach and strengths, leading to a focus on different areas. 

As organizations scale, the scope of a PM's responsibilities expands, often becoming overwhelming. This is where product operations come into play, providing essential support and ensuring efficiency.

The Role of Product Operations

In my experience, product operations and product management roles can be delineated as follows:

Product Management:

  • Innovation and strategy
  • User empathy
  • MVP development
  • Market research
  • Roadmap ownership

Product Operations:

  • Data analytics
  • Coordination of moving parts
  • Lifecycle management
  • Documentation
  • Backlog management
  • Feedback analysis

However, there are areas with blurry lines, such as leadership, communication, team meetings, and managing business objectives. Both roles must collaborate closely, particularly in these overlapping areas, to ensure seamless operations.

It's crucial to recognize that the division of responsibilities between product management and product operations varies across organizations. Each company has unique needs, skills, and personalities that influence this split. For instance, a startup's requirements differ significantly from those of a large enterprise with numerous product divisions.

Having worked in a startup, a large enterprise, and several scale-ups, I've observed that each organization demands different approaches at different stages. 

For example, an early-stage company might need a product operations role focused on rapid development and iteration, while a large enterprise requires more structured and coordinated efforts across multiple teams.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to defining product management and product operations. It's important to read the room, understand the team's composition, and adapt based on the business needs and product stage. Flexibility and adaptability are essential for effectively managing the dynamic relationship between these two critical roles.

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Product management lives at the intersection of business, technology, UX, and arguably now, CX. This important function plays a critical role in ensuring that products meet customer needs and expectations.