As a longtime product manager and product leader, I’ve seen plenty of business-process fads emerge over the years. They all come with the promise of enhancing product teams’ efficiency and success. Most have failed to live up to the hype. But I can confidently tell you that one of the most exciting developments in our field in years has been the recent rise of product operations.
If you’ve been hearing this term but aren’t sure what it means, or if you’re wondering whether it makes sense to create a product operations role at your company, keep reading. In this post, I explain where this new discipline fits into an organization. I’ll also share why it can be a valuable addition to any product-centered company. And I will help you determine if a product ops role makes sense for your business.
But first, let’s define the term.
Product Operations in Plain English
Product operations, or product ops, performs two broad, strategic functions in a business. First, it helps keep the product team connected to the various stakeholders across the company. And it implements business processes and tools to help everyone work more efficiently.
That’s the high-level explanation. Next, let’s review some specific functions that real-world product ops teams perform to achieve those strategic goals.
What do product ops teams do?
Because product operations is becoming increasingly prevalent in businesses today, it figured heavily into the survey questions we prepared for ProductPlan’s 2022 State of Product Management Report.
Among the product professionals who answered that, yes, their organization has a product operations person or team (52% in companies with 100 people or more), here’s how they described the responsibilities of this role:
- 58%: Improving communication between the product team and stakeholders.
- 56%: Increasing the efficiency of the product team.
- 43%: Enabling internal teams with product education.
- 42%: Owning and managing the product development tech stack.
- 42%: Owning and managing product analytics.
- 42%: Creating customer feedback loops.
The Connective Tissue That Facilitates Product Success
Let’s dig into a few of the key responsibilities above. Understanding the responsibilities will give you a clear understanding of a product ops team’s primary goals and tasks.
Improving communication between the product team and stakeholders.
Effectively managing communication is one of the most essential roles a product ops team can provide.
Teams across a company can easily become consumed with their tasks and priorities. As a result, they lose a sense of the bigger strategic picture. Moreover, if these stakeholders request updates from each other in ad hoc ways, the process can become unreliable and inefficient. Worse, they might stop talking to each other altogether.
Product ops acts as the connective tissue among all stakeholders working on the product. They standardize and manage communication and collaboration for everyone. They can do this, for example, by:
- Scheduling and hosting regular meetings for the whole team.
- Standardizing communication channels—say, using a dedicated Slack channel—for inquiries, tickets, or product updates.
- Maintaining product documentation and making it accessible to all relevant stakeholders.
Increasing the efficiency of the product team.
Time is one of the most important gifts product operations can offer the product management team. Product managers are busy overseeing the many strategic and tactical details needed to bring a product to market.
An increasing challenge for product managers today is choosing the right tools to manage their products. And making sure they’re getting the most value from the tools they already have.
Product operations can help here by taking responsibility for sourcing, onboarding, and administering the product tech stack. They can do this by:
- Working with the product managers to learn their current processes, needs, and challenges,
- Identifying the right tools for the company: analytics apps, roadmap software, project management tools, etc.
- Evangelizing new tools and training stakeholders across the company on using them
- Administering the tools to ensure everyone who needs them has reliable access.
Owning and managing product analytics.
Another challenge product managers face is collecting and analyzing the ever-increasing amount of data generated by their user base. This data can be a goldmine of business intelligence. But product managers rarely have the time to devote to mining it properly.
So, here’s another valuable role product operations can play. They can take responsibility for gathering, organizing, analyzing, and deriving insights from this wealth of data that the product’s users generate every day. They can do this by:
- Collaborating with the product team to learn what types of analytics or other KPIs provide the greatest business intelligence. And then collect and analyze those data.
- Present regular reports with key findings from these analytics.
- Conduct product experiments to test theories and continually improve the customer experience.
Product Ops is Already Proving Itself
The value of product ops is becoming apparent at product-led companies in every industry. Among the thousands of responses to our State of Product Management Report, we found that businesses believe this new role is helping them achieve their strategic goals. For example:
- 50% of companies with a product ops person/team feel “very” to “extremely” aligned with their organizations.
- 58% of product teams with a product ops person/team experience greater autonomy in their decision-making.
- 25% of product teams with a product ops person/team say their internal stakeholders read their roadmaps often.
Is a Product Operations Role Right for Your Business?
I can’t make a blanket claim that every business needs a product operations professional—let alone a whole team of them. There are too many questions, including whether a company has the budget for the role.
But I believe that any product-led organization that can afford a product ops team would benefit from it. Of course, this assumes that the company hires the right people and gives them the tools and support to succeed.
If you’re still unsure, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to clarify the answer. Take a look at some of the questions featured in our article, The Rise of Product Ops: The New Discipline Powering Product Excellence:
- Are our product managers spending so much time with administrative and logistical issues that it’s undermining their ability to focus on their strategic responsibilities?
- Is our team unable to engage in the product experiments they’d like to because everyone has too much on their to-do list?
- Does our team have a reliable and strategically sound process for collecting and analyzing product data and making decisions based on those findings?
As the article puts it: “If you’re experiencing any of the challenges above, perhaps it is time for you to consider creating a product ops role, or even a product operations team. On the flip side, consider adding a product ops role to help improve your team’s effectiveness before you face any of these common growing pains.”