Great teams assemble individuals with differing skill sets, perspectives, and experiences. They do this to achieve amazing things they’d ordinarily struggle with on their own. By serving as complementary pieces, their combined talents and capabilities are broad enough to tackle the task.
We’ve seen plenty of this in superhero comics and movies where a cast of characters with different abilities join forces. For example, Iron Man and Captain America leading the Avengers or Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman teaming up as the Justice League. Each brings something different to the table, and the end result is a success…or a sequel.
Many product teams now have their own team of super-powered individuals banding together for a common cause. They just typically don’t sport skin-tight costumes that show off their abs. They also tend to hold meetings on Zoom rather than in their secret lair. And instead of catchy monikers, they tend to go by the more humble titles of “product manager” and “product operations.”
Product operations vs. product management
It’s never product operations vs. product management. At the most basic level, product management figures out what to do, and product operations figures out how to do it. This differentiation permeates their collaborative relationship and is key to a successful ongoing alliance.
Before going further, let’s revisit the responsibilities and purpose of each role.
Product managers own the vision, strategy, and roadmap for the product(s) they manage. This entails customer and market research, internal prioritization exercises, and tying back product goals and metrics to organizational targets and KPIs.
Product managers are ultimately the ones accountable for the product’s success, whether measured by revenue, profit, usage, adoption, or customer satisfaction. They spend much of their time socializing and communicating findings from the field and their research to internal stakeholders. Furthermore, they constantly build alignment and consensus around improving and enhancing the product.
Product operations staff focus on processes and systems at the portfolio level. They’re measured more on how well the product development process and launch go rather than how successful the product performs. Importantly, they do know how the sausage gets made. However, product ops staff also play a pivotal role in making sure the entire operation runs smoothly. This includes making sure that everyone has the tools they need in the product stack. They also bring a more holistic view to the product team as they’re not solely focused on a single product.
Throughout the entire product development process, product operations staff engage in continual cross-functional communication. They smooth out bumps in the road before they’re reached and relay intelligence and updates as needed. With an aim toward consistency and repeatability, they’ll take on everything from creating templates and documentation to meeting agendas and communication channels.
As products get ready to launch, product ops can facilitate and coordinate the huge list of activities required. This runs the gamut from nailing down timelines with marketing to setting up training sessions for sales and customer support to ensure they’re familiar with both the new functionality and the new talking points.
Leveraging analytical capabilities
Product operations staff often include business and data analysts focusing on product data. Having these in-house resources within the larger product team umbrella provides innumerable benefits. This includes freeing up product managers for other tasks. They also add credibility for the entire product organization since they bring far more data to strategy debates and prioritization exercises.
Product operations can shift much of the reporting burden off of product managers’ plates. These experts can create, maintain, and refine all the reporting various stakeholders demand. This includes operationalizing and automating things when possible to provide exactly what each party needs in the format they prefer. They also ensure these communications are delivered consistently and at an appropriate cadence.
This also includes reporting and data analysis for product managers themselves. They no longer need to beg, borrow, and steal resources to acquire and analyze key data. Product operations stands at the ready for these requests. They effectively churn out lots of charts, graphs, and stats on how the product is performing. Furthermore, they can perform their own analyses to unearth trends and insights product management may not even be looking for.
This reporting and analysis bandwidth also lays the groundwork for a broader culture of experimentation. They can identify cohorts, segment users, and provide actionable findings for A/B tests trialing new functionality, UX concepts, and messaging.
Even after a launch or release, this reporting continues to add value by validating assumptions and measuring product’s KPIs. And if new reporting needs arrive that lack the required data, product operations can work with engineering to ensure proper instrumentation gets added to the product going forward.
Getting the timing right
Most product teams salivate over the possibilities product operations could bring to the table. However, not every organization is ready to add product ops to the mix. Budget concerns obviously play a part in that decision; prematurely staffing up product operations could have some negative blowback. The product team must recognize their own need for this function and be confident enough in their own standing to collaborate and delegate with product ops.
For product operations to add value commensurate with their cost, they’ll need some direction and guidance. Bringing on a surplus of product ops staff without a clear vision of their purpose and what their deliverables should be could backfire. Since it’s such a new discipline, some stakeholders may seize the opportunity to shut down the whole initiative if product ops doesn’t have a clearly defined role and expectations.
In general, while it’s always an advantage to have product ops onboard sooner rather than later, product teams can use a few guideposts to determine whether the time is right to add product ops to the mix.
- Is there a lack of consistency in the processes, documents, and terminology used across the product team?
- Are product managers spending so much time on processes, reporting, and communication that they’re unable to focus on more strategic matters?
- Does the product team not have the data it needs to make decisions, present business cases, and satisfy the demands of other key stakeholders?
- Are relationships between the product team and other departments strained due to poor communications, misaligned priorities, and other disconnects?
- Is the product team still using spreadsheets and other tools ill-suited for their actual work?
- Do product managers want to conduct experiments but don’t have the bandwidth, product data, or expertise they need to formulate and execute them themselves?
- Is customer feedback going unread and unaddressed because of time constraints or poor management systems?
- Are you rapidly adding product managers to the product organization but struggling to integrate them and instill common approaches and standards across the entire product portfolio?
If the answer is “yes” to the majority of the questions above, it’s probably time to invest in—or invest further in—product operations. Not sure how to best incorporate product ops when scaling up your product team? Our free ebook will show you the way. And remember, it’s never product operations vs. product management! They’re both part of the same great team.