Developing digital products has always been a team effort, but the focus — perhaps understandably — is often on the product management team.
But take a look behind the product roadmap, and you’ll discover a small-but-mighty team that keeps things ticking over under the hood: Product Operations or Product Ops.
Without the Product Operations team, many of the world’s most successful digital products would never have seen the light of day. So, if you’re in the world of product management — and especially if you’re building around product-led growth — you need to know about Product Ops.
So here’s what you need to know.
Product Operations is a business function focused on supporting the operations of the product team. The role of Product Ops is to create efficiency, reduce friction, and facilitate the delivery of better end products for the product management and engineering teams.
The precise definition of a Product Ops team will differ from organization to organization. Still, the team is broadly responsible for supporting the behind-the-scenes aspects of product management and development. This includes driving efficiency through performance and progress analysis, leveraging data to make more informed decisions about development trajectory, and serving as a cross-departmental communications liaison for the product team.
In a nutshell, Product Ops take care of pretty much everything other than managing and developing the actual product. The role may be covered by a single person or an entire team, depending on the complexity of the product. With so many businesses pursuing the heady goal of product-led growth, a Product Ops function is becoming a necessity.
A fitting analogy for the way a Product Ops team works in parallel with a product team is the concept of the Sales and Marketing team. These business units have similar goals and operate in similar areas, are functionally distinct, and yet rely on one another to achieve the best results. Consider sales collateral as an example: the Marketing team produces material for the Sales team to use as part of the sales process — they don’t generally make it themselves.
There are certain things that a Product Ops team is not responsible for. They’re not there to manage the product roadmap or take care of any technical aspects of product development.
They’re also not a product marketing team or a data science team, though some of their responsibilities may cross paths with these functions. It’s all about removing the friction between the product team and delivering a better product.
Because Product Operations is something of a moving target — its definition changes depending on the company and their needs — what the team actually does is hard to pin down.
But don’t worry — it’s not impossible.
Here are just some of the areas of responsibility a Product Operations team or a dedicated Product Operations Manager may find themselves concerned with:
Implementation of the tech stack. Whether for communication, productivity, or development tracking, Product Ops will be the team that deploys and configures new technology-based solutions for the product team.
Management of best practices. Maintaining established workflows and processes can help product teams deliver better results, and it’s often the Product Ops team that is responsible for the nuts and bolts of this process.
Data analysis. As product teams go about their work, they produce huge volumes of data but naturally don’t have the time to mine relevant insights for process improvements. Here, a Product Ops team can help the product team improve over time.
Management of the customer experience. A core aspect of developing great products is engaging with and collecting customer feedback. Product teams are focused more on the day-to-day development of a product, meaning the job of managing customer experience often falls to the Product Ops team.
Internal cross-team liaison. Another area that busy product teams can sometimes neglect is internal communication. Whether it’s outlining new features or sharing the upcoming roadmap milestones, having a Product Operations team there to manage internal communication can save a lot of time and streamline product development.
Management of documentation and onboarding. The everyday processes of a product team might come naturally to the product managers and engineers already working within them, but to new starters, they can be daunting. A Product Operations team can step in here to ensure all processes are well-documented to assist in new staff onboarding.
Product-led growth is far more than a buzzword: it’s a legitimate strategy for SaaS and tech companies to create differentiation in a crowded marketplace. It’s also an excellent way to ensure the customer experience remains front-and-center of an organization’s goals.
But what exactly is product-led growth — and how does Product Operations factor into all of this?
In short, product-led growth is a strategy that involves putting the driving focus of a business solely on the product itself. From generating new sales to improving customer satisfaction to raising brand awareness, the product-led philosophy requires that all of this is done through the lens of improving the central product, increasing MAUs, and therefore MRR.
Of course, because product-led growth is so focused on the product, the teams developing and supporting that product naturally become quite busy quickly. It’s here that Product Ops steps in to serve the supporting role that an in-demand product team requires.
With a Product Ops business function in place, the product managers and engineers can focus solely on improving the product by developing new features, squashing bugs, factoring in customer feedback, and simply delivering a better product — and more growth.
Below this growth, the Product Ops team will take care of everything else, managing the nuts and bolts of actually running a successful development and ensuring that processes run smoothly at all times. If the primary goal of the product team is to increase product adoption and reduce churn, the primary purpose of the Product Ops team is to remove all aspects of friction that sit between the product team and achieving those goals.