Product Teams

5 lessons from starting a product operations team

Published May 21, 2020

As companies reevaluate business priorities and adjust the product roadmap to meet customers’ current needs, a product operations function becomes even more crucial. Not to mention when employees are working remotely, having clear communication around (and data on) the product is essential.

But if you’re in the early stages of starting product ops, how do you determine what initiatives are the most important, or ensure the rest of the company is bought into your mission?

In a recent webinar, Christine Itwaru, Pendo’s head of product operations, discussed her experience starting product ops last year and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Here are five pieces of advice she shared:

1. Start small and iterate as you go

One of Christine’s biggest pieces of advice was to start small: don’t try to do everything all at once. When first getting product ops off the ground, choose a few projects or initiatives to tackle first, and build from there once you’ve shown initial value in the work you’re doing. Over time, this process of testing, analyzing, and iterating will help you narrow in on what’s most important for your partners across the company, and what will have the biggest impact.

As Christine said, “you can try to do all the things, but you likely won’t do all the things well.” 

2. Remind stakeholders of the “why”

Since product ops is so cross-functional, your (and your team’s) relationship with stakeholders throughout the organization is extremely important. For Christine, she spent a lot of time at the beginning meeting with members of various teams to understand their pain points and how product ops could help. This process helps build a foundation of trust and set product ops for success in cross-departmental collaboration.

It’s also important to remember that people often reject new processes or changes to how they’re supposed to do their work. Because of this, try to always remind others of the “why” behind your decisions, especially when you have to say no to something.

3. Set clear priorities — but know they may change

Something that has helped Christine and her team a lot is establishing three key focus areas, and making it clear to other teams what product ops is and isn’t going to do. This enables them to better prioritize, since they can check every request that comes in against these three core initiatives.

That being said, product ops teams also need to be nimble and recognize that the goals you set may need to shift as you adjust to changes in the market or to business needs. For example today, Pendo’s product ops team is hyper-focused on retention, both by supporting revenue teams in their deals and arming product managers with the right information to make timely decisions.

4. Tie numbers to what you’re doing as much as possible

If you’re just getting started with product ops, you might not have KPIs nailed down or even the data available to measure them yet. If this is the case, Christine emphasized the importance of setting up some form of tracking and measurement for everything you do. For example, measurement can happen in the form of setting key milestones for the processes you’re creating — like having processes agreed upon by X date and training completed by X date. If product ops is focused on creating internal or external documentation, you can set goals for the number of articles created and track how often other teams are accessing them.

 5. Find the right people for the job

Product ops might start out as a team of one or two, but as you grow, finding the right people for the job is crucial. Here are some characteristics that Christine looks for in a product ops team member:

  • Customer-centric
  • A problem-solver who takes an iterative approach
  • Data-driven
  • Able to build connections throughout the company
  • A strong communicator
  • Empathetic

If you want to see Christine’s full presentation, check out the webinar recording here: