Who, what, why, when, and where is product ops?

Product operations, product ops, or prod ops, previously a role almost exclusively seen in large silicon valley tech orgs, has been gaining pace across organizations of different shapes and sizes of late, with an increasing amount of content and conversation appearing to discuss this emerging function.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that product ops is a ‘mere’ support role, and while the primary objective of the function is to assist the product team, in reality product operations teams play a vital role in product development and delivery and can be a vital piece of the product-led puzzle.

We’re here to give you the lowdown on product ops and why you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in 2021.

Who’s hiring Product Operations Managers?

More organizations than you think.

A quick job search for the role will show results for companies ranging from Google, Amazon, and Facebook, to Uber, Deliveroo, and Virgin. Whilst these are all larger organizations, the scope of businesses hiring for product ops roles is increasing.

Deliveroo employs POMs to serve as the “link between the business and product” and has them working closely with the product team, dev team, and the internal financial stakeholders.

Facebook is looking for specialists in product data as its product ops hires, whereas Google is looking for “Product Strategy and Operations Associates”, focusing more on building a broader strategic function for those in product ops teams.

What is Product Operations?

Now we’ve established there are some major players hiring for the role, what exactly is it? As with other product roles, the definition is evolving and varies from company to company.

However, the key responsibilities that are coming to define product ops are:

  • Deciding on and maintaining the tech stack
  • Communicating the product vision to senior leadership
  • Communicating the business vision to the product team
  • Streamlining processes and optimizing the ability to scale
  • Informing and implementing strategic decisions affecting multiple teams
  • Collecting and presenting product data from a range of sources to multiple stakeholders
  • Building and delivering educational materials to support product managers as well as other functions
  • Maintaining (or enforcing) alignment between product and engineering, in line with the rest of the business

This list is sure to grow as the role gains more traction and more companies see the potential of product ops, but the key thing to take is that the role consists of supporting multiple teams by providing the best materials, data, and clear communication across the business.

“Supporting our operators is our key to success. Life in Product Operations lives in the critical juncture between our 24/7 ops teams and the product developers. Our role is to ensure great products are built to meet the operational demands, a healthy flow of communication persists, and both teams feel supported.
“Our team also works heavily with software and hardware, supports many cross-functional partners, and frequently joins our teams on the ground to ensure smooth product rollouts.”

Kevin Coduto, Product Ops Lead, Lyft

Here are a few more examples of what the role means at different orgs, grabbed from a few live job descriptions (at the time of writing) on LinkedIn and Indeed:

Product Operations Manager, Soho Homes

  • Ownership, organization and management of the critical path; ability to pull together NPD/Design and collaborations across the business to ensure development, sign off and launch runs to date
  • Commercial mindset - devising the long term strategy for product
  • Managing the category plan for new development and maximising potential on continuity ranges (I.e suggesting range extensions, identifying additional colour ways)
  • Source and establish off the shelf opportunities and collaboration partners to maximize seasonal product partnership opportunities
  • Requires excellent relationship management
  • Manage off-the shelf developments/collaboration partners
  • Maximising product potential; Excellent data interpretation/ analytical skills
  • Strong ability to read numbers and use them to forecast and plan buys accurately to maximize potential of the product collection (this would be the line plans, ranked buys)
  • Liaise with E-Comm, wholesale, retail and marketing teams to determine how to maximize product potential across all sales channels

Product Operations Manager, Just Eat

  • Connect with the various Practi and Just Eat stakeholders to make sure that integration and deployments are moving forward quickly
  • Work with commercialization group on understanding the requirements of the various deployments
  • Assist Just Eat teams with deployments across multiple regions/locations
  • Run training sessions with the front of house, back of house and restaurant management
  • Maintain and document implementation plans
  • Keep teams on track with timelines of necessary tasks, status updates and meetings
  • Collaborate with technical staff in the testing of new software and POS technologies
  • Guide restaurant partners and JE’s staff through the remote installation process of Practi’s systems
  • Anything possible to push on Practi’s objectives of releasing android version of EPOS as well as help the commercialization team select and deploy Practi’s system to various restaurant partners
  • Working cross-functionally with teams including product and technology, data, operations and commercial to ensure work is scoped, broken down, sequenced and resourced in a way that delivers maximum business value, minimizes risk and achieves our company objectives
  • Forming cross-functional programme plans and ‘joining the dots’ across the business; understanding the problem space in depth and managing/mitigating any dependencies, risks, issues, blockers and actions
  • Planning, driving and coordinating the execution of all operational functions to successful implementation, often with competing priorities and resource requirements
  • Taking ownership of programmes and getting stuck into the detail to actively drive progress or resolve problems, while remaining open to feedback and able to ask for support, escalating issues where required, to ensure programmes remain on track

Product Operations Manager, Twitter

  • Build and maintain strong relationships with stakeholders in Product and Operations
  • Analyze data and report insights and trends to several cross-functional teams across the company
  • Work directly with Product to thoroughly understand experiments, upcoming product changes and roadmaps and communicate those with internal stakeholders
  • Strategize on ways to improve the Pinner experience by prioritizing top issues and feedback about the product and core features
  • Work cross-functionally amongst teams such as Product, Design, Engineering, Product Marketing, Research, and Community Operations

When did product ops emerge?

It is a relatively new function that has come into existence through the growth of the product team’s responsibility as the primary driver of revenue in product-led organizations.

Oh, and the big bang-esque explosion of data.

According to EMC, over the past 10 years, the amount of data in the world has jumped from 1.2 trillion gigabytes to 40 trillion gigabytes. Forbes conducted a survey that found 95% of businesses cite the need to manage unstructured data as a problem.

The role of product ops has been borne out of necessity to utilize this data and decide upon which tools (another exploding market) their organization should use in order to scale, and scale efficiently.

As well as the eternally mind-blowing increase in how much data is being created and collected, the boom in product-led GTM strategies has meant product ops has found its place as a key support function to optimize business goals through aligning product, engineering, sales, customer success, and the c-suite.

With more data and tools available to enhance the product development process, as well as this extra emphasis on the product as the galvanizing force of the organization, product ops are there to ensure the machine stays well oiled.

Where can I learn more about product operations?

We’re glad you asked, because on February 9th we’ll be hosting the Product Ops Summit.

This is the first and only dedicated resource for those in product operations, and we’ll be hearing from giants such as LinkedIn, Box, Github, and more.

The issues that our industry-leading experts are going to address include:

  • Definitions of product ops
  • Ensuring Clear Communication Channels
  • Creating metrics/working alongside data teams
  • Developing educational resources for PMs
  • Ensuring consistent user feedback loops

If you’re interested in product ops and want to learn about all of the above, and more, be sure to grab your ticket and get involved with the discussion.

Why should I care about product ops?

The companies we’ve mentioned who are investing in product operations functions are trendsetters. What they do, others tend to soon follow.

Whilst product ops primarily exist in these larger tech-first companies with more mature product functions, organizations that are looking to scale quickly, especially those with a product-led approach, will soon be embracing the new role.

It’s becoming a necessity for any serious organization to grasp the amount of data available to product teams and make sure it can be utilized. With the growing prevalence of the product at the forefront of the business vision, the teams building those products need support.

There’s also the broader, meta-trend that means product operations is going to start appearing in a variety of job descriptions, even if not specifically under a POM job title. Understanding those core responsibilities will allow you to adapt to a growing product org and not get left behind in the data-driven future (and quite frankly current) process of product development.