Product Operations: How Do We Know if it is Even Working

Product operations may be the new kid on the block for product teams, but they’re becoming a much more common fixture. According to our 2022 survey, 32% of all companies now have a product operations person or team on their staff, trending even higher for larger organizations. Product leaders need to learn how to define product operations success.

Product ops has become more commonplace and established. Now they’re likely to receive the same scrutiny other groups within the company face. Namely, what are they doing, and is it making a positive difference?

Product leaders are already facing challenges when evaluating the work of product managers. They now have the additional burden of assessing the efficacy of product operations. This process should begin by revisiting product operations’ defined responsibilities, which vary from one company to the next.

Improving communication between the product team and stakeholders topped the list of responsibilities at 58%. Increasing the efficiency of the product team followed as a close second with 52%. Moreover, enabling internal teams with product education came in at 43%. Owning and managing the product stack, owning and managing product analytics, and creating customer feedback loops rounded out the top six responsibilities, all checking in at 42%.

Setting the Stage for Product Operations Success

Like any experiment or change, it’s beneficial to have a baseline to compare against. In this case, it’s identifying how things were going before product operations came on the scene.

Taking stock of the current/pre-product ops state of affairs makes sense. However, teams can gauge success even after product operations join the gang. Use the same type of survey to ask colleagues what things were like before product operations began. This won’t be as accurate, but it’s better than nothing and provides some comparison.

The other key ingredient in seeding success for product operations is to ensure everyone in the organization understands its purpose. The organization should know what responsibilities product ops are taking on. This shared, common understanding properly sets expectations.

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Assessing Success

Measuring how successful product ops has been at meeting these goals requires qualitative and quantitative analysis. Let’s look at each one and think about how to decipher the true impact of product operations in each area and how they help the product team scale.

Improving communication

Stakeholder alignment is a massive challenge for any organization, so it’s no surprise this is the top responsibility for product operations. Keeping everyone in sync, up-to-date, and on the same page is a tough job. It only gets more complicated when the number of players involved grows. According to our survey, 50% of companies with a production operations function feel “very” or “extremely” aligned.

Product operations succeed when they inform stakeholders more frequently and use the methods, cadence, and level of detail they prefer/require. The team can document that standardized, personalized communication. Moreover, the team can gauge stakeholder satisfaction via a survey or simply asking around now and then.

Product team efficiency

Ask a product manager what they did all day, and you’ll get a different answer every day of the week. It’s a job encompassing various tasks with priorities driven by several external and internal factors.

You could attempt to measure increases in product team efficiency. Each product team member can utilize time trackers to document where they spend their time. You can then use that information to track progress and spend more time on higher-value tasks. But if that seems too demanding an ask, you can once again survey the team. You can ask them if they think they’re now spending less time on extraneous activities.

This, of course, requires a preexisting understanding of what the product team deems high value versus low value. But the primary evaluation should focus on whether the product team now has enough time (or more than enough) to handle their core responsibilities. In our survey, 58% of companies with product operations said they experience greater autonomy in their decision-making.

For a less subjective measure, the team can track how long it takes them to complete key deliverables. They can then determine whether they’re now hitting their internal deadlines and targets.

Product education

This aspect of product operations is a little more measurable as the team can see how many training sessions were completed, how many staff members were trained through a product launch training program, and how often the product operations team updates everyone. Clear goals can set the frequency and volume of training and how many colleagues receive it.

However, the other side of the coin requires more qualitative analysis. Assessing the quality of the education requires measuring employees’ ongoing product knowledge and satisfaction with the educational materials and its deliverables.

Additionally, surveying different departments and seeing how they rate their level of education and if they want more, less, or something different in this area also factors into how well product operations is doing with this responsibility.

Product stack

Ensuring everyone has the right tools to do their jobs and collaborate is another product operations responsibility. Product ops can be judged on whether they have a tool in the product stack for each function the larger organization has prioritized.

They can also track if there are enough available seats. This allows them to understand what the usage and engagement metrics look like for each tool. Simply buying and installing a new product isn’t enough. The extended team needs to use it. Moreover, they must incorporate them into workflows and other processes to create consistency and justify costs.

Additionally, colleagues can be surveyed to see if they’re satisfied with the existing product stack or if deficiencies remain, either due to missing components in the stack, sub-par products needing replacements or upgrades, or a lack of training and education.

Product analytics

Internal customers getting the information requested is an excellent place to begin when assessing product operations’ contribution in this area. Delivering product analytics data at a reliable, steady clip that’s easy to digest and access is table stakes.

But beyond that, product operations should also uncover additional insights valuable to the rest of the organization. Surveying stakeholders to see if they’re getting useful, actionable product intelligence or seeing those findings develop into items on the product roadmap or changes in the customer experience indicates the team’s success in this capacity.

Customer feedback loops

Ensuring customer feedback gets collected, aggregated, routed to the right people, and ultimately acted upon if warranted is a challenging task in any organization. Product operations’ horizontal, holistic focus should significantly improve this area.

For starters, transparent processes should be created, documented, and socialized for each input channel, customer service, sales calls, or social media. Each piece of feedback getting logged, tracked, and resolved—even if the final decision is inaction—gives every idea a fair shake and prevents important nuggets of feedback from falling through the cracks or living forever in limbo.

Metrics for volume, turnaround time, closing the loop with customers, and impact on the product roadmap should be tracked over time. Ideally, volume increases, timelines shrink, and customer satisfaction improves.

You’ll Know it When it Happens

While there are plenty of objective ways to measure product operations, assessing its success ultimately depends on whether the rest of the organization sees the benefit of the function. Some improvements may happen quickly, while others show more gradual progress that may be unnoticeable in the day-to-day hubbub of the business.

This again heightens the importance of establishing a pre-product ops baseline, so there’s something to compare things to. Product operations can analyze the status quo before enacting any significant changes.

The most significant indicator that product operations work is that the team can’t imagine life without it as its value permeates. They help own the entire product development process, streamlining, facilitating, and educating up and down the org chart.

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