Product operations, or prod ops, is an emerging discipline designed to help product teams operate as effectively as possible. The role builds a foundation of excellence through metrics, infrastructure, business processes, best practices, budgeting, and reporting.
For example, Mind the Product calls product ops the “backbone of product-led growth” and describes it as follows: “Product ops is ultimately responsible for ensuring product teams are held accountable to their outcomes and ensuring the product organization is set up to scale consistently and with low friction.”
Therefore, Prod ops are to the product team what a trainer and nutritionist are to an elite athlete. Ultimately, the efforts of the former impact the overall performance and success of the latter.
When done right, prod ops 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. Moreover these steps, in turn, help product teams to build even better products that deliver success to organizations.
What is Product Operations?
Consequently, product managers (PMs) have an endless to-do list, and it’s the nature of the role. While the specific responsibilities of the product manager role may vary across organizations and industries, all PMs have two fundamental things in common: They have a lot on their plates and are passionate about the products they’re building and shipping.
But there are only so many hours in a workday, which means that PMs don’t have much extra time to create and enforce best practices and processes with the cross-functional team, the product team, or customers.
Product Operations’ Job Responsibilities
A product ops manager (or team) exists to support the product team by:
- Facilitating user interviews and other market research
- Overseeing quality assurance checks on new features
- Analyzing data to help 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
A dedicated product ops manager can devote full attention to the bigger picture by applying operational discipline to the entire cross-functional team. Therefore, product ops help clear a path to ensure the rest of the team—PMs, developers, project managers, customer support, sales—can perform under the best possible circumstances.
On the Mind the Product blog, Jonathan Hau writes:
“Product ops saves us time by cutting down the work on to figure out how to organize and systematize routine practices. It frees up time for product managers to focus more of their time doing strategic thinking, user research, problem discovery work, and data validation. Though, the value can be even greater later on by supporting consistency and not accruing debt in the organization.”
Let’s explore how product operations can help do some heavy lifting within a product team.
1. Strengthen Product Feedback Loop
A prod ops team directly impacts the product feedback loop by creating and managing user feedback, opinions, and suggestions to improve the product. The process also includes responding to customers.
In Building an Effective Product Loop on the Product Guy blog, Marvin Mathew writes:
“Ruthless prioritization translates to product teams spending time building the right thing at the right time. This discipline is the bread & butter for a winning product team, but building an effective product process takes a lot of trial and error. The objective is to receive feedback and prioritize it internally against (1) company objectives (2) customer pains/experience (3) Quarterly Product OKRs and ship out solutions.”
The process remains cyclical and requires focus and commitment to produce meaningful insights for future decision-making.
2. Improve the Customer Experience
A product ops team isn’t on the front line of product development, so how can it directly impact the customer experience?
A prod ops team plays a central role in understanding the customer experience through insights delivered via interviews, feedback, testing, and experimentation. Insights derived through these channels inform future product decisions that lead to product improvements and improved CX.
3. Own and Maintain the Product Dev Tech Stack
The tech stack gives a product team the tools to build and maintain a product.
One of the many ways a product ops team can add value to the company is by administering these tools and creating the best practices for using them across the organization.
A product ops manager serves as the point person tasked with ensuring the latest best practices, processes, and tools are in place and available for product developers and engineers so that the product team can focus on building and maintaining a product, not the tools.
4. Own and Maintain the Product Stack
Managing the product stack is, in and of itself, a full-time gig.
“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,” writes Shaun Juncal in The Rise of Product Ops: The New Discipline Powering Product Excellence.
Especially in larger organizations, product ops manage the product team’s vendors. Furthermore, they establish best practices and processes around the product stack tools.
5. Analyze Data into Insights for the Product Team
Data enables the product team to make wise, informed decisions. Of course, having enough data isn’t the problem, and having too much information or data that’s unreliable and inaccurate is what plagues product managers today.
“With all of their other responsibilities, product managers face increasing difficulty carving out the time to review and analyze all of this data that will inform the strategic decisions about their products,” Juncal says.
Product ops provide critical support by building systems to capture, review, and analyze data. They utilize this data to help PMs make better-informed product decisions.
“In a growing product organization, a product ops team can lay the foundation for a successful, data-driven team of product managers,” adds Juncal.
6. Enable Product Team to Run More Experiments
Another critical 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.”
A sustainable culture of experimentation within the product team requires establishing consistent processes in place. These processes ensure that the experiments are as reliable and actionable as possible.
7. Streamline Routine Tasks
Conducting user interviews and roadmapping are critical aspects of product management. They are, therefore, excellent candidates for streamlining to increase efficiency for the product team.
In the article Product Operations: What It Is & Why It’s More Important Than Ever, Casey Paxton writes:
“In any team, there are tasks or processes that are repeated, and likely take up a meaningful amount of the team’s time. Examples include interpreting user feedback, conducting user interviews, sprint planning, and roadmapping. Product operations will take each of these repeating processes and identify opportunities to streamline them so that they take less of the team’s time and yield more impactful results.”
The product team should pass critical tasks considered routine and repeatable to product ops.
8. Standardize Communications
Keeping everyone on the same page is one of the most significant challenges a product team faces. Secondly, managing the constant requests from sales, support, and other cross-functional teams., all hungry for custom content and training.
Product ops can reduce the burden on PMs by standardizing communications across the organization. For example, setting up a weekly call between PMs and support team leaders can reduce back and forth interactions. And putting product ops in charge of maintaining and updating documentation on processes, guidelines, and other critical materials creates significant time savings for PMs and the entire product team.
9. Optimize Onboarding
Product adoption plays a significant role in a product’s success. Therefore, product ops assist teams looking for ways to improve the adoption rate. Consequently getting new product managers up and running in their new roles strengthens the overall product team.
Product ops support onboarding by streamlining the process to ensure a positive customer experience from the get-go. However, as a product team grows, product operations help new PMs get established quickly.
Adding Product Ops to Your Product Team
The questions below can help you know if now’s the right time:
- Are your PMs spending more time with administrative tasks than core responsibilities?
- Does your product experimentation culture feel out of control?
- Do you doubt the reliability of the data your team uses for decision-making? Are you unsure of the path to fix your data problem?
Lastly, product ops are about supporting the product team to make it easier to increase efficiency. The increased efficiency allows the team to innovate quickly, and ultimately build better products.