What is Product Ops?
Product ops, or product operations, is a role designed to help a company’s cross-functional product team operate. Product ops specialists own many of the product team’s behind-the-scenes initiatives. Such as:
- Facilitate user interviews and other market research
- Oversee quality assurance checks on new features
- Analyze data to help product management make better-informed decisions
- Develop business processes to streamline product development
- Manage the many tools (for roadmapping, prototyping, etc.) the product team uses
- Work closely with support and sales to improve the customer experience
What does Product Ops do?
Product ops make things more efficient for the product team and other parts of the organization. While they may have some firm responsibilities, they add even more value by taking on problems.
One area where they thrive is in creating additional connections and communications between teams. The skill ranges from setting up internal knowledge bases to facilitating regular cross-functional meetings to onboarding new staff.
Documentation is another central area of emphasis. From product docs to internal procedures, policies, and processes, product ops turn ad hoc approaches into repeatable, systematic processes. This uniformity ensures all the necessary boxes get checked, avoiding potential oversights or inconsistencies.
They’re also simply an extra body familiar with the product and processes that can jump in when needed. They take a holistic approach to the product development process. The method allows them to ask some of the hard questions.
5 Reasons Why Product Ops is a Must on Your Product Team
Let’s consider some of the disadvantages of not having this role in a modern organization.
1. Too many tools to manage effectively
Today, businesses have more technology than ever to develop and improve their products, from apps that monitor customer usage, digital prototyping solutions and product roadmap software.
Here’s the drawback: learning and training the team on these disparate tools. Utilizing these solutions becomes time-consuming with each new app introduced into the product stack. Moreover, working with their vendors and implementing best practices.
How product ops help:
A product ops team can add value to the company by administering these tools. Moreover, they can create the best practices for using them across the organization.
2. Ineffective curation and analysis of data
A related challenge modern product teams face is the exponential increase incorporating data that the average business generates every year. As a recent article in Forbes explains, 90% of all data generated in world history was created in the last two years, and experts estimate the rate of new data generated each year will only increase.
With all of their other responsibilities, product managers face increasing difficulty carving out the time to review and analyze all of this data that will inform the strategic decisions about their products.
How product ops help:
Specialists build systems to capture, review, and analyze usage information and other vital data. They present this data to product management to help PMs make better-informed product decisions.
3. Difficulty designing and implementing experiments
As a product team and its user base grow, administering and learning from experiments becomes increasingly complex.
Moreover, different product managers across the team will likely have their methods of devising, executing, and measuring the success of the experiments. Therefore, some experiments will yield less actionable data than others.
When no one is looking at the results of these experiments in aggregate, it creates a silo-based culture of product experimentation where the organization misses out on significant trends and insights.
How product ops help:
Yet another valuable role product ops can play to create a systematic methodology of product experimentation. The product ops team develops processes to make experiments reliable, actionable, and easier to implement. They create the best practices template that product managers across the organization can use to run and report on investigations.
4. Persistent quality issues
There’s nothing worse than designing a great product only to see its implementation plagued by problems. Whether it’s an inconsistent user experience, performance issues, not fully meeting the requirements, or just a whole bunch of bugs, these flaws can seriously harm the reputation of the product team and impact adoption, usage, and churn.
Because product managers seldom participate in every aspect of unit testing and quality assurance, they don’t always have visibility into how closely the actual product aligns with their intent. The issue can result in a sub-par offering hitting the market or critical issues and showstoppers not found until it’s too late, requiring rework, rollbacks, or other unfortunate outcomes.
How product ops help:
Product ops can be deployed to oversee or restructure quality assurance processes to minimize these disconnects and increase the product’s quality and velocity. The oversight may include deploying best practices and documentation to ensure all parties involved have appropriate visibility and understanding of expectations.
5. Lack of product education among stakeholders and extended teams
Product management is intimately aware of all the things their products can and can’t do. Product development similarly has a pretty good sense of what’s possible. But beyond the teams defining and building the product, there’s not always a comprehensive understanding of what the product does, how it works, and its inherent limitations.
This incomplete knowledge can have some significant downstream consequences. If marketing is ill-informed, they may create misleading or false messaging, target the wrong messages to different personas, or create assets that don’t represent the product’s capabilities correctly.
Sales teams may also make promises or commitments about the product that the business does not want to or can’t meet, causing friction with prospects and new customers led astray. Not to mention customer service, account management, and operations needing a solid education in the product’s many attributes and details.
This task typically falls to product managers, but getting time with each of these cohorts and delivering a thorough debrief relevant to each team’s role in the business can be time-consuming, mainly when the product is frequently releasing updates. Significant picture roadmap updates are one thing, but the level of detail each team demands may be beyond their capabilities and bandwidth.
How product ops help:
Running and executing the product team’s internal education initiative is another area for product ops to step in. Cross-functional by nature, they’re already more familiar with each team’s activities and focus, allowing them to tailor this knowledge transfer accordingly. And since they’re already creating the knowledgebase and documentation, they’re in an excellent position to transmit essential product information to these parties in a timely fashion.
Product Ops: A Systematic Approach to Product Excellence
In today’s highly competitive business environment, where the barriers to entry in almost every industry have fallen substantially in recent years, a product team can no longer afford to develop products without well-thought-out systems and best practices established.
Creating those systems and processes is only the first step to building a company culture of product excellence. This is where the product ops teams come in. Because product managers have so many responsibilities, they often cannot devote enough time to making sure the cross-functional team is working according to its processes and best practices.
With a product ops team (or even one motivated product ops individual!), the organization will have a resource that continuously works to apply operational discipline to the entire cross-functional team. In other words, product ops help clear a path to ensure the rest of the team—product managers, developers, project managers, product managers, customer support, sales—can perform under the best possible circumstances. That’s why this is a must-have position.
Increasing Demand for Product Ops
Product ops weren’t on too many product leaders’ radars a decade ago. The position is rapidly becoming an essential function for high-performing, scalable teams. The cost-benefit analysis supports a strong case for adding and growing this function, especially once products start gaining traction.
Product ops make it easier to get product updates out the door. They add additional value for users. Furthermore, they handle many logistics, processes, documentation, and other aspects of the product development process. The position frees up time for product managers, product owners, scrum masters, and project managers. These professionals can focus on their core responsibilities.
Everyone prefers to be more efficient and spend time on core tasks. This leads to increased productivity and increased job satisfaction. By standardizing, templatizing, and automating as many product-related functions as possible, product ops streamline how things work so teams can scale and meet the new challenges that face larger organizations and more heavily used products.
The other factor driving growth within the product ops discipline is the massive influx of data. Thanks to instrumentation, always-on Internet connections, and an abundance of analytics, there is a firehouse of information continually streaming into the business. Product ops are uniquely positioned to help make sense of all that data, creating dashboards and separating the valuable bits from the background noise.
What to Keep in Mind When Hiring Product Ops Staff
There’s no set career path to become a product manager, which holds for product ops. The individuals taking on these roles possess various backgrounds, ranging from veteran product managers to junior business analysts to project managers.
It might be tempting to start with leadership when building out the product ops role at a company, but beginning with more junior staff is often a better bet. They can take on discrete functions that the product and business need right now.
Hire a product ops professional
Hiring a product ops analyst first is a safe move. They can add value immediately by taking over data analysis. The team can also report duties that previously fell on the product team. They help identify risks. They understand what drives growth and revenue. Furthermore, they create dashboards to give stakeholders a view into KPIs and other key metrics.
There’s also no real need for product management experience when considering product ops analyst candidates, giving you a much deeper talent pool to hunt in. Instead, the key skills these analysts need have more to do with manipulating spreadsheets than creating user personas.
Over time, the product ops team can grow and take on additional members familiar with product management and product development. They’ll take on the more complicated tasks of evaluating, refining, and creating processes. Their goal is to reduce friction, streamline things, and build organizational consistency.
These folks need a broader skillset that includes excellent communication and presentation skills and a knack for operational efficiency. Their effectiveness lies within the understanding that there are better ways to do things. And they can convince colleagues to do it in these new and approved ways.
Both of these roles should report to the head of product. The product ops function may grow large enough for a director-level leader. Much like a PMO, product ops will eventually find themselves involved in nearly every aspect of the business. They give the overall product team greater visibility and impact than ever.