As products mature, they move through developmental phases. Product teams focus on finding the right fit in the market in the introduction and growth phases. The teams then scale and expand to stay competitive. The next phase is the maturity phase, which is regarded as a time of optimized efficiency. These are all signs of a mature product organization.
Product organizations also move through similar phases to support maturing products. There’s often a state of controlled chaos in the early stages of a product org. Product managers fight daily fires. They spend a good deal of time recreating the wheel. Managing the tech stack or repeatable tasks often diverts focus away from the heart of a PM’s role.
Mature organizations seek air-tight efficiency through standardization of repeatable processes and established best practices. Moreover, they typically share core characteristics: customer-centered, value-driven, growth-focused, and agile. Another sign an organization is mature is that key cross-functional groups are aligned and focus on a single goal. Moreover, everyone understands their role and supports a unified plan. There are no lone wolves, no rogue players.
Three hallmarks define a mature product organization if your organization has its sights set on maturity.
Hallmark 1 of a Mature Product Organization: Unified Product Leadership and Strategy
In a 280 Group survey of 850 product management professionals, respondents said they believe their organizations could increase profits by 34% by optimizing their product organization by clearly defining processes, roles, and strategies.
Effective communication across cross-functional teams and stakeholders is essential for a mature prod org and long-term success.
In his article “What it takes to become a mature product organization,” Nic Smythe, director of CX, product, and design at Thoughtworks, identifies communication and collaboration as critical challenges for prod organizations moving towards maturity. He writes:
“If you build cross-functional product teams, you can’t expect them to be effective without the right tools and capabilities. If there’s no way for people to communicate and collaborate easily across functions, dropping them into a cross-functional team won’t suddenly make that happen. A lack of communication is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that organizations hit when they first start building mature product teams — but it doesn’t need to be. As long as communication channels and processes are kept transparent, and people feel empowered with the technology capabilities to work towards shared, team-owned outcomes effectively, they’ll naturally do so. You can’t expect that to happen without those capabilities.”
In other words, communication and collaboration must be intentionally architected.
Articulate a Clearer Vision
The cornerstone is a well-thought-out product vision, strategy, and product roadmap. These cornerstones make it easier to articulate the vision across an organization. Moreover, product teams can prioritize initiatives that should be pursued or set aside. However, this depends on whether or not they support the product vision.
Keeping everyone on the same page weighs in as one of the most significant challenges a product team faces. A close second is managing the constant requests from sales, support, and other cross-functional teams. Standardizing communications across the organization is key for addressing both of these challenges. A mature product org typically appoints a product ops manager or team to maintain and update documentation. This creates significant time savings for PMs and the entire product team.
Hallmark 2 of a Mature Product Organization: Standardized Processes via Product Operations
A mature product organization has gained valuable experience over time and growing a larger team. A single product manager is now responsible for wearing all the hats across the product team. Product operations is an emerging discipline that focuses on process and efficiency within growth-led teams (in fact, Mind the Product calls product ops the “backbone of product-led growth).
Think of product ops as a center of excellence designed to help product teams operate as effectively as possible by establishing and implementing standardization around metrics, infrastructure, business processes, best practices, budgeting, and reporting.
A dedicated product ops manager or team can devote full attention to the bigger picture by applying operational discipline across cross-functional teams. In other words, a product ops team helps clear a path to ensure the rest of the product team—PMs, developers, project managers, customer support, and sales—can perform under the best possible circumstances.
Critical product tasks or processes considered routine and repeatable, such as user interviews and roadmapping, are often handed off to product ops. In doing so, mature product organizations increase efficiency and streamline processes and communication.
Product Operations can standardize tasks and processes
While there are many ways an established product ops team supports a product org, there are a few important ways product operations can help standardize repeatable tasks and processes. These often include:
- Facilitating user interviews and other market research
- Overseeing quality assurance checks on new features
- Analyzing data to support product management make better-informed decisions
- Developing business processes to streamline product development
- Managing tools (for roadmapping, prototyping, etc.) that the product team uses
- Working closely with support and sales to improve the customer experience
Rise of product ops
In The Rise of Product Ops: The New Discipline Powering Product Excellence, Shaun Juncal writes: “While product managers often have a wide skill set, managing (and administrating) all the different tools that make up the modern product stack isn’t always the best use of those skills. As product teams grow, the administration component becomes bigger and bigger, and this is where product ops comes in.”
Product ops team can add value to the company by owning, administering, and maintaining the product stack and the product dev tech stack (i.e., the tools it needs to build and maintain a product) and creating best practices for using them across the organization. The value frees up the product team to develop and maintain a product, not the tools.
According to Smythe of Thoughtworks, “Product ops, or product operations, is a capability designed to help mature product teams function as effectively as possible. It ensures the team has everything they need to succeed, delivering the capabilities required to tackle new activities like speaking directly to customers, analyzing product data, and working with customer-facing stakeholders to improve CX.”
Whether it’s a solitary product ops manager or a prod ops team, this product engine role has the power to transform the efficiency of the entire product team by streamlining critical routine tasks and facilitating better communication across the whole organization. And these steps, in turn, help product teams build even better products that deliver long-term success for their organizations.
Watch our webinar: Do We Even Need Product Ops?
Hallmark 3 of a Mature Product Organization: Data-Driven Decision Making
Keeping customers satisfied and increasing their delight is critical for a mature product organization. Customer satisfaction keeps the churn low and ensures a consistent hold on market share. One way to do this is to focus on user experience and channel feedback into actionable insights.
By cultivating a deeper understanding of the user experience via customer interviews, testing, and experimentation, product decisions are more informed and lead to product improvements and improved CX.
In this data-rich era, having access to data is no problem. Mature product organizations know precisely how to navigate the deluge of data and shape it into thoughtful, informed decisions. “A product ops team,” writes Juncal, “can lay the foundation for a successful, data-driven team of product managers.”
By strengthening the product feedback loop, mature product organizations also gain meaningful insights for future decision-making. This loop involves creating and managing user feedback, opinions, and suggestions to improve the product.
Another essential component of informed product decision-making comes from learning from experiments. But designing and implementing meaningful experiments can be challenging without the support of a dedicated product ops team—especially in terms of scale (e.g., growing a user base, expanding the product team, etc.).
“Yet another valuable role product ops can play to create a systematic methodology of product experimentation,” advises Juncal. “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 experiments.”
The key to building a sustainable culture of experimentation within the product team, of course, is having consistent processes in place to ensure that the experiments are as reliable and actionable as possible.
Hallmarks as Goal Posts
A mature product org is a well-oiled, finely tuned machine, a balanced ecosystem where all parts contribute to the success of the whole. Lastly, if your organization doesn’t yet embody these hallmarks of maturity, you can use them as a guide.