Prioritization and Product Operations is Symbiotic

When product folks think about their top priorities, prioritization is usually at or near the top of the list. It uses all the product management muscles: internal collaboration and building alignment, market analysis, customer research, technical feasibility, marrying tactics with business goals and strategy, etc. Prioritization also puts product management at the forefront. They ultimately set the tone and make the hard decisions. Moreover, they own what makes it in or out of a given product release or roadmap. However,  prioritization and product operation go hand and hand. Product operations can help determine which projects and themes get top billing for the next phase of product development.

Finding a framework

Product teams have dozens and dozens of choices when selecting a prioritization framework. But which one you pick influences how engaged and included other stakeholders feel in the process.

As an objective party, product ops can help product teams choose a prioritization framework. As an observer, they also can help spot when it’s time to dump the framework you’re using and switch to something new, instead recommending frameworks that ensure the strategy is making an IMPACT and whether or not it makes sense to utilize multiple frameworks at this juncture.

Product operations focus on the practical logistics of execution. They right-size the prioritization framework and its starting parameters. This allows them to account for dependencies, future investments, and the current budget. This frees up the product managers to focus on strategic alignment and goals. They know that product ops won’t let them create an unfeasible product roadmap.

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Preparing for prioritization

Product teams shouldn’t show up to their prioritization meetings empty-handed. Sessions should provide the other participants with enough data and context. This allows them to make their own informed judgment calls.

This is another area where product operations add value to the prioritization process. First, product operations can check in with the various stakeholders to ascertain their pressing issues. They can then gather what information they need to make informed decisions. Consulting with these colleagues makes them feel included in the process.

Utilize the product stack

Next, product operations can use the product stack and their data analysis tools and capabilities to turn data into meaningful insights. This supporting information can then be shared with the entire prioritization team before the actual meeting begins. This allows everyone to operate with the same facts.

Then, in collaboration with product management, product operations can help set the agenda for which ideas are up for consideration and the best framework to evaluate them. If there’s anything on the docket lacking critical data points, such as technical feasibility, the relative level of effort, or cost, product operations can work with product development or other departments to get some rough numbers for the team, as the scale of different potential projects may play a role in how they get prioritized.

As an additional input to the prioritization process, product operations can also provide a “look-back” analysis. The analysis allows the product team to see which areas the product team has invested in previously. This may include breaking out what percentage of resources went to each major theme or aspect of the product. Moreover, they can see how those investments performed against the intended outcomes and goals of that work.

This objective, fact-based analysis serves as a counter to the whims, emotions, and shiny objects that other stakeholders—including other members of the product team—may have glommed onto. This way the group is knowingly deciding to double-down on one theme or consciously diversify their investments.

During the prioritization exercise

Product operations representatives may or may not be “voting members” of the group, but their presence is helpful either way. If questions arise, they may have answers at the ready or take that on as a follow-up task.

Additionally, they may have relevant information the group should consider that wasn’t covered in the pre-session materials. And as priorities get set, product operations can document decisions and any action items arising from the discussion.

Post-prioritization activities

After the dust settles and everything gets ranked, product operations’ role as communicator kicks in once again as they spread the word about what’s on the horizon to the relevant teams throughout the organization. This not only help everyone stay informed and up to date, but it also provides a chance for colleagues to voice any significant concerns about the new priorities. Uncovering these issues early is key as the plan may need some adjustments to the timeline or reshuffling if it uncovers major problems or challenges.

From here, product operations can also evaluate the product stack, instrumentation, and reports to see if they’re adequate for what’s now on the roadmap or whether they need to more work done or more equipment, software, or services to support those efforts. This includes creating dashboards and updates that track the progress toward KPIs or any other objectives for each prioritized initiative, facilitating accountability and visibility for all stakeholders.

Specific benefits for product managers

While product operations involvement in the prioritization process benefits everyone, product managers get a few perks just for themselves. Some key ones include:

  • Time savings: From scheduling the sessions to selecting a framework to socializing the results, product operations potentially takes a lot off the product manager’s plate so they can focus on core responsibilities. This means more time for strategic activities and customer interactions.
  • More informed decision making: Product operations’ holistic view of how each potential prioritized initiative impacts the overall organization and other schedules and timelines adds another dimension for the group making these calls. Understanding the real trade-offs and compromised different paths require leads to smarter plans and fewer surprises down the line.
  • A referee: Prioritization exercises occasionally get a little testy, particularly when there’s a major disagreement between senior stakeholders. While product managers often take the lead on finding common ground, sometimes they’re in the mix themselves. As an objective participant, product operations can calm nerves, pivot back the facts, and provide structure to reach a resolution.
  • Stakeholder alignment: Whether it’s during the preparation stage or after the final rankings, product operations remove some of the burdens to get stakeholders on the same page and operating with all the facts. This shortens the prioritization process itself and ensures harmony in its aftermath.

Production operations might be the new kid on the block for your product team, but don’t overlook their potential when it comes to streamlining and optimizing your prioritization process. Maximize the opportunity to save time and reduce drama and conflict by adding them to the mix.

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