Antonia Landi presented "When Your Users Are Experts Too" at the Product Operations Summit.
As well as outlining the benefits and challenges that come with building internal tools for PMs, Antonia also explored why every company that's serious about product ops needs an internal tools strategy. 🤘
As I was writing a draft of this article, I shared it with my manager. His feedback? “This is boring”. And he was totally right! “I think this kind of article needs conflict” he said - and that got me thinking...
The previous version of this article talked about my experience, and how lucky I am that I work at an organization that doesn’t need to be convinced of the merit of product ops. But why does product ops exist, if not out of a necessity to resolve conflicts?
I can confidently say that I’ve never worked at a product-led company before now. Whether I was in a product role or not, I always ended up being the one to write out processes and frameworks that streamline or simplify existing workflows. I was always the nerd that would read product books in her spare time, (sometimes naively) trying to implement some of the things I learned over the weekend at companies that ultimately didn’t really want to change.
So when product operations as a field came along, I finally felt heard. This is what I had been doing my entire career (along with my regular product management job), but up until that point, I didn’t have a name for it. For me, it was a sign that companies in Europe were finally realizing just how important product was to their success. And while I think we’re moving in the right direction, there is still a struggle.
User research at scale
Where I work, product operations was born out of the necessity for more user research. Our brands were doing their own research as and when needed, sure, but methods, best practices, and documentation differed wildly. And because nobody was speaking the same language (figuratively and sometimes literally), collaboration and knowledge-sharing was nearly non-existent.
Because research is such a huge topic for us at Aviv, we founded a Research Ops department: Led by experts in their field, Research Ops focuses exclusively on making research easy, and making research results and insights available to everyone in the group - no matter where you are in Europe.
And while I wouldn’t say that Aviv isn’t a product-led company, there are definitely a lot of things we can do better. Harmonizing the way we do product over an entire continent poses unique challenges, after all. Does everybody have the same understanding of key results? Do we say ‘user’, ‘customer’, or ‘client’? How do we deal with the regional differences in our business?
The future of product operations
For now, I am still a part-time product manager, working on internal tools for other product people. I actually really love this part of my job because I finally get to do user interviews, work in a lean way with a very talented designer and developer who are just as enthusiastic about making delightful products as I am.
But I can already sense my role shifting: towards communication, documentation, and community. A colleague once jokingly described me as a ‘Product Influencer’ and the more I think about it, the more he hit the nail on the head. I see myself as an advocate for good product processes - the human element behind why we do what we do the way we do it. A big part of fostering collaboration is providing an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their wins and learnings, and that’s not something that can be done by prescribing a framework.
Just like product management means different things at different companies, I think product ops will be exactly the same. Just as we now have PMs focusing on growth or technical topics, we will have product ops managers that focus on communication, internal tools, or data. Take a look at the wide variety of DevOps flavors, and it will give you an indicator of what’s to come in our Ops role as well.
Product ops exists because product is hard. So hard in fact, that it’s no longer just one job. Product people need enablers - people that support them so that they can focus on what is most important. But the reality is that not everyone understands the value of being product-led, and that - let’s be frank - most of us in Europe still just execute the highest-paid person’s opinion.
Will that change anytime soon? Probably not. But at least we now have a name for all the previously invisible work we were doing. At least now, we can talk about all these ‘not technically product management’ topics we were all silently doing already, and we can start learning from each other.
What’s next for product ops? Being heard.
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