How do you get started in the Product Ops space?

Gerisha Nadaraju, host of the Product Ops Podcast, sat down with Gwera Kiwana, Senior Operations Analyst at 11:FS.

Gwera explored how she identified the need for Product Ops and how she's navigating the challenges of getting the function off the ground as a one-woman team.

Here, we’ve got some of the key highlights from the Q&A, but if you want to listen to the full interview, just click below. 👇

Q: How did you hear about product ops? When did this first come on your radar?

A: If I was to go back to the origin story, it came up at Monzo really. Monzo has an incredibly robust product function and scaling, they're currently at just over 4 million customers, I believe, and have pretty large teams as well.

There were roles and work that I did while I was there that were close to product teams. So working at Monzo, and seeing that be fleshed out within the customer operations while I was there, especially tethered very closely to the internal product that was being built. I learned that there and then moved over to 11:FS and was still solving problems. As a generalist, it's quite easy to hop around and I've been very fortunate to be able to move around and learn and see gaps and propose solutions.

This is something that's just been baked into my career and what I've been doing without having much of a title for it. And being in ops is like having a really great high-level overview of everything. Product Ops, for me, came from starting to have conversations with friends and colleagues in the product space, and understanding where things could develop and how product teams could be more efficient.

So using the idea of engineering and development they have DevOps, that's something that's come out of that. Product is only ever really growing and getting broader and having more impact, so it's really about creating a function that supports that.

From that, reading and attending talks and joining various forums to learn more. I definitely think this podcast is a really good introduction to product ops. But yeah, it's been a bit of a long and winding journey to product ops really.

Q: I don't know if you have this in place, but how are you defining product ops as the solution within 11:FS?

A: I'll give you a super high-level definition. So Product Ops really is operations that truly help make our product teams and outputs more efficient, scalable, impactful, and also delightful. At 11:FS we like to use the framework of jobs to be done to help shape problem statements and solutions as well.

The jobs to be done for product ops are three elements. So promoting operational excellence, at the low level across 11:FS and for now, across consulting projects.

Two, to scale those learnings. So really make sure that we're able to scale what we've learned and processes and policies in place. And then lastly, drive successful billable work that generates income.

Q: This might be early days, but have you thought about what type of person you’re looking to hire for in terms of traits etc?

A: Prod Ops, the way I see it, the persona that I see outside of the person being curious and data-focused, and all the other great things, it looks more M-shaped.

So going broad in one area and deeper in three. The broad area would be product management, having a pretty solid foundation of how product management works, and how product teams are structured, and the work that they do and working in agile as well.

But then taking that broad knowledge and going deeper into three pillars; operational excellence, risk and compliance, and customer support.

Q: In your journey on product ops, what have been your biggest challenges that you've experienced to date?

A: There's been a couple - time and focus really. During the pandemic, it's tough to really be sitting in the same room with someone and pitch something to them and really connect and explain this audacious thing that I'd like to do.

I'm very lucky that I'm able to lean on people in my team with whom I have good relationships to support and champion that with me as well. Also, really sharpening my communication skills, because we can't go off of body language anymore.

But also time so this is something on top of my day job, this is something I'm doing to basically really set up structure and scale long term. That's been a bit of a struggle. Lastly is really just showing value early. It's all well and good to show a really cool deck and talk about all these grand things you'd like to do, but really showing value super early is very important to me.

Something I've done is teaming up with another person within the business who's setting up a research ops function and working together to show value early on. We did what's called a friction audit, where we looked at our client journeys, and what client journeys look like from beginning to end, from all levels of engagement, all the way through to building out propositions.

We identified areas where there's friction, or areas where product teams or the research function can provide a solution or at least smooth things out a little bit and help us move quickly but also in control. Identifying the low-hanging fruit there that can show value quickly and build trust.

The low-hanging fruit piece for myself and my colleague in research ops has been documentation. That's one thing that we've spent a lot of time focusing on and understanding, figuring out the right tool to use to document across the business, and also working together to really understand why we're doing this.

It's actually led us to quite interesting places, we've trialed a couple of different tools. We've ultimately landed on building something out that allows us to really spin up projects quickly and have some kind of longevity as well with the learnings that we've had on those projects.

That's one thing I'm working on right now to really overcome one of the struggles, which is showing value, tackling the low-hanging fruit, which is documentation.

Q: If you had to think of one resource or tool or support that you actually found very helpful in navigating your product ops journey, what would it be?

A: One would be Product Led Alliance, they have a Slack account that has a channel dedicated to product ops and the people in there, the discussions are really useful and insightful.

Also, in the time I've been there, it feels like a really safe space to raise questions and ask for support. That's a really good community.

Having people in my life and in my career who I can turn to. I think everyone at every point in your career needs to have another person or at least one or two people who you can ask stupid questions to, and really sense check and say, "Hey, am I going in the right direction here?"

It's easy to be in the weeds, in your own weeds, and always having someone else sense check is really great. So I'm very lucky to have communities around me that allow me to do this.

Then I'd say Pendo. Pendo has written extensively on Product Ops. It was a really great place to start and a bit of a diving board for me to learn more about Product Ops and then refine it more for the industry that I'm in.

Lastly, is really just flexing my muscles really and learning a little bit more in product and, as I mentioned, the M shaped expertise. Really maintaining that foundation of product management and learning as much as possible. I'm scrum certified, which I think is really helpful to me.

Q: If I had to chat to you again in six months’ time, what are you hoping to achieve by then? Or what do you want product ops to look like in 11:FS by that time?

A: Six months, in the startup world six months is like 10 years. It's a long way away. But definitely in six months, I'd really like to have and will have a more clearly defined role, org structure, people structure as well to facilitate what I'll be doing at around that time, which will likely be hiring to grow the team. By then I'd like to have a really clear structure of the function to support those who are coming into the role and set them up to do their best work.

You can listen to the whole interview with Gwera as part of the Product Ops podcast series - or catch up with all the previous episodes here.

The Product Ops Podcast | Product-Led Alliance
Each week, the Product Ops Podcast (POP) will bring you unique perspectives and actionable insights from people working in this emerging, exciting, and pivotal function.