Product management used to be a “fuzzy” discipline within an organization, without a ton of metrics and scrutiny directly applied to it. But as data-driven decision making takes on increased significance, we’ve seen “product ops” emerge to fill in the gap between the leadership and vision aspects of the product management and the facts and figures that inform team members.

Products operations is to product management as marketing operations is to marketing. Both add rigor, routine, and measurement to fields that have traditionally trailed other departments in this area. Product ops is a role still very much in its infancy, but it’s starting to show up more and more in technology company org charts. The product operations team takes care of operational items and free up product management’s time to focus on business issues.

Product Ops responsibilities:

  • Manage the product management tool stack:

    Once upon a time product management didn’t have any tools of their own. It relied on office productivity software and piggybacked on product development tools such as issue tracking software to cobble together what they needed. With product management firmly established, there’s an entire industry now that provides solutions just for product managers. Invaluable time is lost as you decide which tools are best, manage them, and maintain them chews up invaluable time. Product ops are better suited to handle those issues and give time back to product managers.

  • Manage with data:

    While we used to beg for information, now we find ourselves drowning in it. Product ops will figure out which data matters, validate its accuracy, and translate it into something understandable and actionable.

  • Manage experiments:

    We all love A/B testing. Product ops can turn the business request to test something into an action plan for rapid experimentation. They’ll interpret the data results and surface them to the product team to make the next call.

If you spend too much time on administrative tasks, struggle to manage and decipher data, and are unable to adequately define and manage experiments then it might be time to add product ops to your organization. But what exactly is a product operations dashboard?

What is a Product Ops Dashboard?

A product operations dashboard provides a visual way to track a subset of KPIs. Whether it’s displayed on a TV screen in the office or is a commonly accessed bookmark in the team’s browser toolbar, the product operations dashboard is a real-time snapshot of metrics for your organization.

Its graphical nature makes it easy to consume and highlight movement in the metrics that matter. Be those good or bad “peaks and valleys” in the charts. When you concentrate on only a select few KPIs, it creates a baseline among stakeholders and contributors regarding how the product is performing.

Best of all, since it’s a set-it-and-forget-it tool (unless you change your KPIs and goals), it can run on auto-pilot after the initial set up. You might discover it quickly turning into one of your favorite and most useful product management tools.

Ready to build one of your own?

How to Build a Product Ops Dashboard

Creating your new dashboard isn’t all that different from building any other product, it just so happens your customer base will be your coworkers in this particular case.

Step 1: Understand your stack

Your dashboard will only be as good as the data that fuels it. Make sure you’re getting as much input that you’ll need for a solid understanding. The process starts by popping the hood and getting a comprehensive overview of what’s available.

You’ll need to understand what tools you’re using. You’ll need to understand how they fit together and how each team will use them. You also must know where and when data flows from one place to another, i.e. the triggers for different events and the digital trail those leave.

This will be a lot easier if your organization has already adopted enterprise architecture planning. Artifacts from those exercises cover most of the bases. If there’s not already a full guide to your architecture and data flows handy, it’s time to interview your CTO and/or architect to learn exactly what does what and which data sources are available.

Step Two: Determine KPIs

The dangerous part of dashboards is that it’s really easy to drown in the data. An overload of charts, graphs and statistics will distract you and your colleagues from focusing on the few that really matter.

Take a Minimum Viable Product-type approach to identify and select which KPIs make the cut. Remember, you can always make adjustments later. Ideally, each KPI you include on the dashboard represents a different goal or major area of focus.

For example, the KPIs represent a holistic snapshot of the product and it’s metrics:

Product development:

Pick a single metric that illustrates your engineering productivity so people can see if the team is performing up to expectations or falling behind.

Example metrics: Market/lead time, story points retired, velocity or another measure of how efficiently the team cranks out releases.

Base product metrics:

North Star metrics are always important, regardless of specific goals.

Example metrics: Daily/weekly/monthly average users, session length, retention rate, conversions.

Feature-specific metrics:

This could be the percentage of users who tried a newly released feature.

Example metrics: Number of new accounts using your core features or feature-specific goal conversions.

Revenue/growth related KPI:

What metric is most relevant to your product’s bottom line? It could be a high-level monthly recurring revenue measure or new user growth rate, or it might be more detailed such as average revenue per user for a particular cohort.

Example metrics: More marketing-focused metrics such as cost of acquisition or lifetime value could also make an appearance.

Customer satisfaction:

Adding new users is great, but it’s just as important to keep the old ones happy.

Example metrics: A rolling view of churn or net promoter score.

System health:

This metric gives a glimpse into how well the overall system is performing. Whatever indicates that things are working as expected and would tip-off that there might be an issue if it varied from the norm. If applicable, a security metric can also be tracked, such as endpoint incidents.

Example metrics: Reported error rates, uptime, application crash rates. transaction speed.

Step Three: Find a tool

You’re not the first product manager to create a product operations dashboard. Therefore, you don’t have to do all the hard work and build out an underlying platform that combs, slices and dices data, and churns out visual graphs and progress indicators. Instead, you can select from a variety of commercial tools to jumpstart the execution phase of this process.

Before you select your tool, make sure you factor in how much time and energy you’re going to get from your development team. If they have the bandwidth, you can go with an open-source solution and build out a customized product tailored precisely to your organization’s needs. More than likely, you’ll secure only a sliver of their time for a non-customer-facing project. If that’s the case, a commercial solution may be worth the price tag.

As you decide which tool is best for your purposes, consider how easy it is for non-technical users like yourself to run queries and generate your own reports. You don’t want to be reliant on engineering resources every time you have a question. It’s also a good idea to get one with built-in integrations to the solutions in your product stack. Built-in integrations minimize how many resources you’ll need to get it going.

The ability to embed the dashboard is another key factor to think about. You want to make it easy to access for maximum usage and exposure. Of course, you want it to look nice and be easy to read. There’s no excuse for clunky charts and illegible typefaces in this day and age.

There’s no universal right answer for which vendor to pick, but popular platforms for product operations dashboards include Geckoboard, Tableau, Scoro, and Grow.

Step Four: Publish & promote

What’s the point of doing all that work to create a product operations dashboard if no one knows about it? Now is your chance to show off and educate others on the value they can derive from your new project.

First, you’ll need an accessible location where your dashboard can be showcased. Everyone in the organization should be able to view it whenever they’d like.

The debut of the dashboard should coincide with multiple training sessions. In the training sessions, you will explain what it contains, why it’s included, and what to look for. With this common understanding, the dashboard can become an important tool for alignment and accountability within your organization.

And while it should never replace stakeholder updates, it’s a great way to keep them informed in the interim and break down the bottleneck of product management having to proactively pass on KPI-related information.

Product Operations Dashboards Are Worth It

Think of those hours you spend aggregating data from multiple sources, dumping it into spreadsheets, creating charts, and sticking them into slides that are stale before you hit “send.” That’s precious time saved with a product ops dashboard.

With a dynamic and automatic window into how the product is performing, teams are aligned and informed about how they’re doing. Most importantly, they will understand the impact of the product strategies on the metrics your organization values the most.