Product people facilitate decision-making for their teams. A key component to that decision-making are models for prioritization regarding customers, problems, solutions, and stakeholder needs. Product operations are effectively PM’ing the PM experience. We apply the same decision-making and prioritization methodologies to the way product people do their work.

A key component to this is knowing who we are focusing on. Without knowing exactly who we should be solving problems for and why we will end up in one of the many product ops anti-patterns, some of which Marty Cagen talks about in his latest post.

So who is the product ops customer? Who are the different groups that are “users” of our work?

Product people, of course! But this isn’t always clear in the budding product ops discourse.

Product ops’ possible “customers”

There are a few possible customers in any product team for product ops people. In discussions with product ops people, I’ve heard quite a few including the end customer and managers.

Danny Myers, the famous restaurateur, would prioritize his employees over customers in his restaurants. I’d take a step further and push customers even further down in prioritization:

  1. Product people.
  2. Product team partners like engineering, design, data science, user research, etc.
  3. Product leadership, managers, and executives.
  4. The customer.

The reason is that the charter of a product ops person is to make the working conditions conducive to great things. We aren’t there to build the thing. We are there to make sure the people that build the thing are well supported and free of problems.

Anti-patterns caused by the wrong prioritization

There are some key anti-patterns I’ve noticed when other customers are prioritized over that of the product people on your team:

End customers prioritized over product people

This gets product ops people focused on doing the actual product work which ends up being the work that product people don’t want to do. Product ops isn’t there to do the minutiae that product people don’t have time for they can’t focus on figuring out how to make that work better. They end up doing the bullshit product work.

Management prioritized over product people

When we focus on what managers want we end up turning the screws on product people. We make them fit into the way management wants to work, not the other way around. This could be onerous status meetings or team health status. We should always be focused on how we solve roadblocks and bottlenecks for the product people first and then the requirements of management.

Other teams prioritized over product people

This means that product ops will focus on doing work that other teams should do rather than asking them to take on their work. I’ve seen this be a consolidation of:

  • User research (the research team and their research ops group),
  • Metrics presentation in dashboards (the data science team),
  • Organizing the release plans (the project management team and other agilists),
  • And even general operations work (the org’s ops team).

There can be a fine line of product teams taking on custom operations workflows that should be applied to the whole organization.

If you see one of the patterns above start rear its ugly head, take a step back and see if aligning with what your product people need might improve the situation. It may require that you then destroy some previously agreed to process.

Don’t ever forget your customer is the product person

When you take on the mantle of product operations you are still doing a lot of activities that a regular product person would do: understanding your customer, identifying important problems, and experimenting towards ideal outcomes.

Now that we know who our customer is, we can start to focus on what our actual “product” is that provides value. I’ll cover that in a future piece.

If we prioritize the wrong customer we will build systems, processes, and experiments that actively work against the people we should be caring for the most: product people.

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