If you're in the tech or startup world, you've likely heard of "Product Operations." Companies have stayed at (or soared to) the top with best-in-class Product Ops. Netflix's Product Ops team helps the entire company make better decisions with data. This means more effective product/feature launches, better prioritization of work, and clearer cross-functional collaboration and communication.
In this article, we'll dive deep into the world of Product Ops. We'll cover what it is, why it matters, and how to use it to boost your company's efficiency and success. Whether you're a seasoned Product Manager, a budding entrepreneur, or a student researching careers, read on to understand the powerful potential of Product Operations.
Pressed for time? Here's a quick tour of the world of Product Ops:
- What's Product Ops? It's the glue that holds product development together, ensuring seamless collaboration across departments like Sales, Support, and Engineering.
- The POM's Role: A Product Ops Manager (POM) orchestrates the product's journey from idea to launch, balancing analytics, tool management, and cross-team coordination.
- Why It Matters: It's not just about making products; it's about making them smarter and more user-aligned. Product Ops streamlines processes, enhances communication, and leverages data for better decision-making, leading to improved products and customer experiences.
- CommandBar's Approach: Here, Product Ops is key to turning data and feedback into actionable improvements, optimizing tools and meetings, and maintaining a clear focus on product goals.
- Business Benefits: Embracing Product Ops means smoother product lifecycles, more effective sales strategies, and a boost in overall efficiency and customer satisfaction.
- The Bigger Picture: In the rapidly evolving tech landscape, Product Ops is essential for keeping up with market demands and staying ahead of the competition.
What is Product Operations?
Product Operations is a relatively new term. It emerged in the high-speed, data-flooded environment of tech companies. There were two critical factors here:
- As companies matured, their processes were forced to scale. It became increasingly important to make processes consistent and efficient. It was challenging for departments (like Sales, Support, Marketing, Engineering, Product, and Design) to stay coordinated.
- Data pipelines transformed from a slow trickle to a river. Companies struggled to make sense of the data they were collecting.
Product Ops was born to solve these challenges and turn the new capabilities into differentiators. But what exactly is Product Operations? While there are varying descriptions, think of it as connecting the different organizational functions to achieve an efficient and effective product development and management process. As Stripe's Head of Product Ops, Blake Samic, says, Product Ops is "the connective tissue between teams building your technology and the teams who interact with your users."
What about Marketing Ops and Sales Ops?
Many focus areas are the same for Product Ops, Marketing Ops, and Sales Ops; however, because they specialize in different functional areas (i.e., product vs marketing vs sales), the details vary in important ways. Hubspot has a great guide on Marketing Ops, and Salesforce offers a stellar Sales Ops overview.
Core Components of Product Operations
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
The product journey is far from a straight line. PLM is all about navigating this windy product road from conception to retirement, ensuring it meets its milestones at every stage. It includes tasks like setting product roadmaps, monitoring development progress, and even handling post-launch analysis. The blueprint steers the product's course, keeping it aligned with the company's overall strategy.
While Product Managers are responsible for defining the roadmap and product specs, Product Ops teams are a massive helping hand with stellar PLM.
Product success depends on multiple teams playing their part to perfection. Cross-functional collaboration requires a seamless flow of communication and coordination among these teams. Product Ops ensures that Design, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success are in sync, working together towards a common goal. When ideas flow freely across departmental borders, the product roadmap benefits. It is formed by a balanced, diverse set of insights.
Imagine navigating a ship without a compass -- nightmare scenario, right? Product analytics serve as the compass for Product Managers. With the rise of user tracking, session replay, and event logging, product teams have access to unbelievable amounts of data. Product Ops collects product usage data, engagement metrics, and user feedback. They dig through this data to glean insights, which guide the broader product strategy.
Tools are the tireless behind-the-scenes cast that empowers product teams to perform at their best. Selecting, implementing, and maintaining the right tools greatly impacts the entire organization.
At tech companies, employees spend at least half their time using a software solution. The Product Ops function ensures the right tools are in place and that they are being used effectively. They might conduct training sessions, record looms to walk through standard flows, and develop templates to help their teams get the most out of these tools. In some organizations, Product Ops owns implementation, collaborating with other teams and vendors as needed.
Tool management is not just about maintaining the status quo. It also involves following the latest advancements and evaluating new tools. This can range from running pilot programs to assessing company feedback and measuring outcomes.
With effectively managed tools, organizations work more efficiently, make data-driven decisions, and stay aligned. It's yet another way that Prod Ops contributes to a robust and successful product strategy.
If you've ever sat through a meeting that seemed to wander aimlessly, you'll understand why this component is crucial. Meeting optimization is about making every meeting as purposeful and brief as possible.
- Setting clear agendas in advance
- Facilitating meetings to keep them on track
- Following up after meetings with notes and action items.
Meeting optimization goes beyond individual meetings. The Product Operations team assesses the overall meeting culture within the product team. If meetings take too much time, they might look for ways to streamline, consolidate, or axe meetings. In many cases, collaborative software tools enable these efforts.
Essentially, this pillar is about respecting everyone's time and ensuring that meetings enable progress. When meetings are optimized, product teams communicate more effectively, make faster decisions, and maintain momentum.
What does a Product Operations Manager do?
A Product Ops Manager (or POM) is pivotal in the organization. The focus areas of a POM can be pretty diverse, varying based on the nature of the product and the organization itself. However, they generally ensure that the organization succeeds at the pillars from the previous section:
- Product lifecycle management
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Product analytics
- Tool management
- Meeting optimization
Like an orchestra conductor, they don't play an instrument. But without them, the symphony would be a mess. The POM is responsible for ensuring all parts of the Product process work harmoniously together, from the genesis of an idea to the moment a product hits the market.
Product Operations Manager skills
POMs are quintessential jacks of all trades. The ideal Product Operations candidate has all of these skills:
- Communication: Excellent communication is paramount, as they're often the bridge between different departments and stakeholders. Beyond their own communication, they usually establish communication norms for the company.
- Analytics: Analytical skills and background are also crucial, as interpreting data to drive decision-making is a significant part of the job.
- Project management: Project management skills are another must-have, as POMs need to keep projects on track and resources well-allocated.
- Organization: POMs need to have S-tier organizational skills because their responsibilities have such breadth.
- Product understanding: Finally and most importantly, a keen sense of the product, the customer, and the market enables the POM to ensure that products meet customer needs and succeed in the marketplace.
Why should you care about Product Operations?
Product Ops is the backbone of successful product development and product management. Here are a few reasons you should employ Product Ops at your company.
An excellent product team offers great features and is meticulously managed. Product Ops plays a crucial role here.
Without proper processes and communication standards, a product team is hamstrung by roadblocks: miscommunication, disjointed workflows, and inefficient tool usage. Product Ops removes these roadblocks. Streamlined processes, clear communication protocols, and optimal tools allow Product Managers to spend more time on what matters and to better stay in sync with their counterparts (designers, the product marketing team, and engineers).
Product Ops helps along each product lifecycle stage, coordinates cross-functional teams, and ensures data-informed decisions. Each piece allows Product Managers to prioritize work intelligently and iterate more effectively.
There is often a gap between Sales and Product. Despite best efforts, communication in both directions can become sub-optimal. Feedback from Sales doesn't factor into the product strategy. Product developments are not clear to Sales. In turn, Sales are not empowered to solve their prospects' problems effectively.
Product Ops makes Sales <> Product communication and collaboration seamless. Simple steps -- like sharing weekly walkthroughs of product updates and opening product feedback avenues for the Sales team -- allow Sales to (a) become masters of the product; (b) effectively turn customer and prospect feedback into product improvements.
Improved Customer Satisfaction
Ultimately, it's all about the customer experience. A well-oiled Product Ops function keeps the customer at the center of every decision. They collect user feedback and customer usage metrics. They make this data accessible to the team, extract insights, and research the market. As a result, product changes are more likely to resonate with users and improve customer satisfaction.
Does my company need a Product Operations Manager?
Not all companies, especially smaller ones, need a dedicated Product Operations Manager.
But suppose you are answering "yes" to the majority of questions below. In that case, you should seriously consider adding a Product Operations Manager or at least dedicating a significant amount of someone's time to Product Ops activities.
- Do I find myself consistently overwhelmed by administrative or process-oriented tasks, taking away from my core product management activities?
- Are our product development processes often hampered by miscommunication or lack of coordination across teams?
- Can our product management and development tools/resources be improved to be more powerful and effective?
- Is our product lifecycle management inefficient or inconsistently executed?
- Do we struggle to translate product analytics into product decisions?
- Is our cross-functional collaboration limited, resulting in siloed decision-making?
- Are our meetings unstructured or inefficient?
- Do we see gaps in our product management processes as our company grows?
- Is our ship velocity slower than expected due?
Outcome-oriented examples of Product Operations
Product Operations in product-led growth (PLG) companies, like CommandBar
In the world of SaaS, being a PLG company is like being a master chef who lets the food do the talking. The product isn't just part of the business; it's the star of the show, driving user acquisition, expansion, and retention. Just as a master chef relies on an efficient, well-coordinated kitchen to deliver culinary masterpieces, PLG companies need robust Product Ops functions to ensure their product shines.
Let's bring this to life and jump into how we've integrated Product Ops at CommandBar, based on a few of the core pillars outlined above. We'll only cover a few examples. Otherwise, this could be a solo post.
These practices probably will not be a perfect fit for your company. That's not the point, though; they should illustrate (a) what Product Ops looks like in practice and (b) the impact Product Ops can have.
Product lifecycle management
Let's look at the early side of the PLM: idea generation. We funnel internal ideas and customer feedback into a slack channel #product-feedback. Our team then triages this list, adding roadmap items, updating existing specs, or explaining why we won't go in that direction yet.
What is the outcome?
- Transparent process: If team members want their feedback to be considered, they know they should share it in the dedicated channel.
- Clear communication: There's a single source of truth -- everyone knows where to check for this content. The person that shared the feedback is also updated on the outcome (roadmap, added to existing spec, or punt).
- Efficiency: It's faster and more accessible for the team to (a) share feedback and ideas; (b) process new items; (c) keep track of items.
In the early days of CommandBar, we wired up a ton of data collection tools: Segment, FullStory, Heap, Google Analytics, Hubspot, etc. Battle won, right? Not at all. We learned the hard way that collecting data is like collecting rainwater for your farm: unless you use that water, it's completely pointless.
Jump to today -- we have systems for pulling insights from the data, then turning insights into product changes (features, improvements, bug fixes). I'll share a few of the critical pieces.
- Rituals: We have recurring meetings dedicated to digging into product analytics. This doesn't need to be a meeting, but having a calendar slot helps ensure that people review analytics at some point, even if it's async.
- Send data to the tools people "live" in: To make it easier to use data, we pipe data into the places where people spend the most time: Slack (everyone), Salesforce (Sales), and Hubspot (Marketing). Daily summaries of key metrics, automatic field updates, threshold-based alarms, etc., improve the company's data fluency and usage.
- Vocabulary: This one is basic but so important. Defining and consistently using the same analytics terminology improves communication and clarity. The seemingly harmless term "user" can cause headaches. Is a "user" a customer of ours or one of our customer's users?
What is the outcome?
- Consistency: With the analytics "rituals," the team has a set cadence for reviewing data and distilling takeaways. Scheduled reports in Slack also enable the team to bake data analysis into their daily routine.
- Data-informed decision making: Data is accessible across systems, interacted with more often, and easier to parse. This has translated to product ideas and features born from data.
In weekly team check-ins, there is a standing slot for ideas on optimizing meetings. This has been crucial for helping the company evolve as it scaled.
In the early days, there was a company-wide daily standup. That meeting meant 30 minutes per day for every member of the company! That's a lot of time and money. After team feedback and a few iterations, this evolved to async updates via the tool Status Hero, where everyone can share their daily plan and surface any blockers.
What is the outcome?
- Focus: Cutting the standup translates to roughly 100 hours of company time added back per week. Less time in meetings generally means more focus time, which improves productivity and happiness.
- Visibility: Anyone on the team can quickly determine what someone else is working on. It's also crystal clear when there are blockers, making unblocking more efficient.
Want more real-world examples?
Hopefully, it is clear at this point that a finely-tuned Product Ops machine can elevate a good product into a great one.
As you dig deeper into Product Ops, remember that others have walked this path. Our "Happy Paths" podcast shares insights from the product leaders and builders of some of the world's most influential tools (like Gmail and Slack).