Product operations is a role that improves the efficiency of cross-functional product teams by facilitating communications, improving processes, and providing other forms of support.
When done right, product operations form the cornerstone of modern software companies. As such, it’s no surprise that successfull companies devote so much manpower to their development and support. With so many developers, designers, and managers involved, this creates a key difficulty in product development—collaboration.
To create successful products, collaboration is vital for these interdisciplinary, cross-functional teams. And so, businesses developed product operations to provide essential support and help ensure that these teams operate efficiently.
In this glossary article, we explore the importance of product operations and describe its best practices. We’ll also illustrate what to look for when hiring team members to fill in this type of role.
Table of contents
- What is Product Operations?
- The Importance of Product Operations
- The Duties of Product Operations
- What is a Product Operations Analyst/Manager?
- Product Operations: Every Product Team’s Best Friend
What is Product Operations?
Product operations, or product ops, is a structure that supports the product team’s cross-functional operations. It involves a variety of tasks, including designing new processes, helping cross-functional teams communicate effectively, and organizing a variety of data.
Think of your product like a building that is constantly under construction. In this metaphor, product ops are the scaffolding that holds up the building and supports construction teams as they get work.
The Importance of Product Operations
While a product manager may be in charge of the overall product management process, they can’t be everywhere at once. Product teams involve a lot of interacting members across several disciplines, such as sales, engineering, QA, and analytics. As such, it is difficult for a product manager to help these teams collaborate while they work on their own tasks.
To solve this problem, product operations roles exist to facilitate more efficient collaboration between teams. In doing so, they take many tasks off the product manager’s to-do list, such as documentation, training and onboarding, and cross-functional communication.
Product ops also help teams get the data and tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Without them, teams risk getting bogged down by the additional workload of managing the tool stack and organizing data.
Of course, the product ops role or team isn’t a replacement for a project manager, nor do they completely remove the process of managing and analyzing data from the hands of the product team. Product ops augment these and other critical tasks while helping design processes that can make them flow more efficiently.
The Duties of Product Operations
In a nutshell, product operations teams help to make the product team’s life easier. This manifests in a wide array of roles and responsibilities. We list some of the most important ones here.
Continuous Improvement of Processes and Repetitive Tasks
As product development goes on, teams fall into patterns of repetitive tasks, such as sprint planning, ideation, and user research. Despite them being routine, these tasks and processes aren’t always carried out in the most efficient manner.
Product ops provide a fresh perspective into these processes and constantly develop ways to streamline them. This streamlining would otherwise take up a significant cognitive load on the product team without the help of product ops.
Modern product management involves a vast amount of product management software. It wouldn’t be unusual for a team to use dozens of tools across different stages of the product lifecycle.
Over time, these tools may need updating, replacing, or elimination as necessary. Product ops oversee this product management tool stack and ensure it’s running as efficiently as possible. That way, product teams can focus on using software that benefits them, and not worry about whether or not they’re the best tools for the job.
Product teams can grow or change rapidly in response to the company’s growth. New hires need to be able to transition into functioning team members as quickly as possible. HR can only do so much to help a new hire get to work. Ideally, a product manager would help get new hires up to speed, but they are often pulled in a lot of directions and just don’t have time.
With product ops, product teams can maintain a detailed onboarding process that helps newbies become productive team members quickly. The product ops role can also facilitate this onboarding process themselves, allowing the rest of the team to keep working as the new hire is brought up to speed.
Prioritization is a key task for product managers when dealing with limited time and resources. They employ a wide array of frameworks and methodologies, such as the MoSCoW Method and the Kano Model, to help inform decisions about prioritization.
It’s ultimately the product manager’s role to decide how tasks and features are prioritized. However, they need to be informed by data about the product and the market to make these decisions.
Product ops can support prioritization efforts by collecting data about the product and organizing it in intuitive ways. This will help the product manager determine the importance and priority level of the tasks at hand.
What is a Product Operations Analyst/Manager?
The person in charge of product operations is the product operations manager, or product operations analyst. Their role includes the tasks outlined above, as well as the following:
- Analyzing and managing data such as product analytics, user feedback, and social media listening
- Managing tools and software used the different teams
- Assisting with necessary market research
- Coordinating decisions made about product direction across all teams
- Facilitating communication between product teams and senior management
What to Look For in a Product Operations Manager
A product operations manager is a generalist role that serves a lot of interdisciplinary needs. Therefore, the desired skill set for the role is similarly diverse. Even so, there are some consistent requirements to look for in a potential candidate:
- Problem-solving skills, especially with regards to workflows and processes
- Background in conducting market research
- Extensive attention to detail, especially for documentation
- Expertise with data collection and analysis
- Strong diplomatic and interpersonal skills to resolve friction between cross-functional teams, management, and new team members
- Experience with product management tools and project management software
Product Operations: Every Product Team’s Best Friend
Product operations are the glue that bonds every product development team together. Without them, product managers are often overburdened. As such, any role that makes their jobs easier and more efficient is important to fill within your company or startup.