The Ultimate Guide to Product Operations

Many product-centered companies are finding that, as they grow, they need to add product operations support. Like the more established disciplines of sales operations and marketing operations, product operations helps product managers focus on their high-level responsibilities. 

While product operations is relatively new, more businesses are discovering the value of having a team devoted to this discipline. As companies scale and data, tools and communications need more oversight, product ops can help.

When you understand the value of product ops and how it can support the product team, you can use its insights to fuel your company’s growth.
With clear knowledge of the ways product ops can analyze data, standardize processes and tools, and develop best practices, you’ll see why this team is an essential part of any company as it grows. Learn more about the responsibilities and benefits of product ops in this detailed guide.

What does product operations do?

Product operations is a relatively new discipline that’s designed to help your company’s various teams work efficiently and effectively. Product ops helps ensure that product teams are working toward the same goals using the same tools and benchmarks. By analyzing internal and external data, standardizing processes, streamlining communications and developing best practices, product ops makes it easier for your company to scale operations quickly.

Product ops helps ensure that product teams are working toward the same goals using the same tools and benchmarks

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What responsibilities does product ops have?

Every company will use its product operations team differently to support its growth. But generally, product ops is responsible for gathering, organizing and analyzing data that companies can use to monitor their progress and build their strategic plans. As companies grow, they collect large amounts of data about their business, customers and processes. But all this data may be stored in different areas and hard to access. Product ops can dig into the details and share their insights with product managers and other key players. You may want your product ops team to:
  • Centralize and analyze financial metrics such as revenue and expenses and customer metrics such as churn and usage
  • Gather research on your customers and your market from internal and external sources
  • Recommend consistent processes and practices companywide, so there aren’t differences in operational standards between different departments or divisions
  • Streamline routine tasks with the best tools and processes
  • Prioritize feedback
  • Document processes and guidelines
  • Evaluate the quality of new features
  • Administer and manage the tools used by the product team
  • Gain insights that lead to better products and better experiences for customers
  • Work with the sales and customer support teams to gather insight into potential and existing users
  • Help train new product managers and implement a continuing education program
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What is the difference between product management and product operations?

While product management and product operations have different responsibilities, product managers may be responsible for both areas in younger and smaller companies. As companies grow and add product ops, product managers will need to offload some of their work. Product managers are responsible for high-level tasks and delegate more day-to-day tasks to product ops.

Much in the same way that a coach supports a team’s success, product ops can help product managers succeed. Product managers are responsible for a company’s products, from development to launch to upgrades. They must strategize, develop the product roadmap and communicate with internal and external stakeholders. They make changes based on data and analytics.

Product ops boosts productivity for product managers. They collect, organize and analyze the data that product managers need to make their strategic decisions. They can provide information the product managers need, and they often notice trends that might have gone overlooked, since they spend so much time analyzing data. Product ops gives product managers more time to focus on big-picture planning and communication and delivers the information they need to make fast decisions.

When is the right time to add product ops?

Smaller companies generally don’t need product operations—product managers will handle the responsibilities of product ops. But as your company grows, you’ll likely find the need for this specialized discipline grows along with it.

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When you’re starting to see that the lack of centralized data is impacting your company’s productivity, it might be time to add product ops. You may notice that different product managers are collecting and using data differently. If you need a shared database to manage customer contact information or standardized product roadmaps, product ops could help.

Eventually, the product ops responsibilities will require too much time away from your project managers’ key responsibilities, and you’ll want to hire a dedicated product ops analyst, manager or VP. Down the road, you may want to build a product ops team, with people responsible for analytics, tools, research, roadmaps, outreach, budgeting, etc.

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Why you should add product operations to your team

With product operations, your company can streamline tasks and free up product managers’ time to focus on the high-level strategizing and communicating central to their job. A product operations team can:
  • Manage user feedback and respond to customers
  • Share the insights they learn from customers with product managers and others
  • Analyze product data to help product managers know what features to focus on
  • Select the best tools (tech stack) and processes for teams to use, train product managers on using them and work with vendors to keep those tools up to date
  • Establish best practices and share them with the product team
  • Consolidate and distill large amounts of data and share key takeaways with the product management teams
  • Develop methods for A/B testing and other types of experimentation and help conduct those experiments
  • Optimize processes for sprint planning, roadmapping and other tasks that need to be repeated often
  • Ensure that the product roadmap is in sync with overall business goals
  • Facilitate collaboration between the teams that build your product and the teams that serve your customers
  • Advise leadership, particularly in research and development
  • Organize internal communication methods, so everyone has the information they need
  • Provide a centralized location where team members can find data, resources, templates and guidelines

How product ops uses data

Data is the backbone of success for product operations. As companies grow, they often have a vast amount of data that lives in different places, from Slack groups to employees’ hard drives to email attachments. Product ops centralizes and consolidates this data and shares insights with product managers so product managers don’t have to spend their time trying to extract value from data.

The product ops team can share key takeaways from the data and serve as a resource if project managers want to dive deeper into any data sets.

The product ops team can use data to help:

  • Inform decisions and align strategies and goals
  • Keep the product team focused on business objectives
  • Develop a successful product roadmap
  • Scale the business smoothly
  • Plan launches
  • Evaluate testing results
  • Prioritize feature requests and identify features that may need to be removed
  • Focus on key commitments
  • Streamline processes
  • Evaluate pricing
  • Design experiments
  • Identify new product opportunities

How to measure the success of product ops

Measuring product ops success

Businesses face some challenges in measuring product operations because the discipline is relatively new and looks different in every company. To start, be sure your company has defined the responsibilities of the product ops team. Then, you can think about what success looks like in your company and look at the metrics that point to that success. For example, you may want to measure product ops’ impact on:

  • Delivery of product analytics on an agreed-upon schedule and in an easy-to-understand format
  • On-time delivery of new releases
  • Stakeholder alignment and satisfaction
  • How much time product managers spend on higher-level responsibilities rather than administrative tasks
  • The number of new employees who are trained or experienced employees who receive continuing education
  • How well new processes are adopted
  • How well the tech stack/product stack is managed
  • The length of time from product ideation through key deliverables to launch
  • Turnaround time for customer feedback loops

If your company is thinking about adding product ops, it would be helpful to get baseline measurements for key metrics. That way, you have a reference point for comparison after your product ops team gets hired and starts working.

How do you help your product ops team succeed?

You’ll know your product operations team is succeeding when your product managers and other stakeholders come to count on them. To help make that happen, try these strategies:

  • Start with a defined set of responsibilities for the product ops team centered around data, tools and training.
  • Establish product ops as its own function, not as a subset of another team.
  • Give the team space and time to forge relationships with others throughout the company. It’s easy to focus on the value of product ops in terms of data and analysis, but don’t overlook the importance of personal connections.

It’s ideal to implement these strategies when you’re launching a product ops team, but applying them to your existing product ops team is still possible. In that case, include them when you’re defining responsibilities and workflow.

Learn more about the best ways to integrate product operations

As your company grows, your product managers no longer have enough time to handle all the demands placed on them. That’s when it’s time to add product operations to your business. This team can collect and analyze data, oversee and implement tools, and train new and existing employees, freeing up product managers to focus on strategy and other high-level responsibilities. Expand your knowledge of product operations—register for Pragmatic Institute’s Launch course today.

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