Best Practices

Making it Official: When to Hire for Product Ops

While product operations has been around in some shape or form for years, the title itself is currently on the rise. In fact, nearly 5,700 individuals on LinkedIn have “product operations” in their job titles. With so many organizations working to bring on this role, now might be a good time for your product team to assess the needs on your end. 

At Sprout Social, we made “product operations” a full-time position this year. With a few years of product team growth under our belts, it was time to hone in on the processes and experiences our team needs to keep things running efficiently. For me, this meant taking on this role in a full-time capacity. 

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far and some questions you may want to ask your team if you are considering the role for yourselves. 

Determining When to Bring on Product Operations

A few factors went into our team being ready for a full-time effort devoted to product operations. The first was that the product management team itself had scaled exponentially. During this growth period, teams took on various processes to manage their duties. These included team rituals, documentation styles, and communication patterns. Before I took on the role full-time, several different teams managed the product operations function. From product management to product marketing to support, a wide range of groups were responsible for the various tasks associated with product operations.

This is actually fairly common within product teams, particularly at tech companies. Product operations exists, but only informally. Its core duties are either spread out across teams or the purview of a “shadow” product ops person.

With our product operations role, we wanted to streamline communication across departments without losing team autonomy. For us, it was more about keeping processes simple and eliminating extra steps, versus rolling out entirely new programs. This means that oftentimes, product operations works to shorten processes, or cut down on meetings that no longer provide value. 

If your product team is handling a huge tech stack and pulling data from a number of sources, it might be time to create a formal product ops role. Having a product ops person (or team) as a “single source of truth” when it comes to all of the tools your team uses can help you work more efficiently as you scale.

Getting Started With the Role

Once you have determined a need and made a hire for this role, the best place for that person to start is by interviewing members of your team. This should include members of the product organization, as well as partner teams like marketing, sales, and support. Asking these groups what their biggest pain points are when working with product is the best way to ensure clarity in your roadmap. 

Once everyone has been surveyed, see if any themes emerge from the responses. For me, the themes that I heard became my roadmap of work for the upcoming quarter. Starting with the teams’ pain points will show that your intention is to help them solve their most important problems — not to come in and change everything. Begin with simple, high-impact tasks that you can use to gain trust and build rapport across the organization.

Product Operations at Scale

Once you’ve had a dedicated person in this role for a bit, you can start to consider how to scale the work that the team is responsible for. While some product ops teams might focus on process and communication, others may take on data analysis and customer insights as their main areas of expertise. Our team is starting with process and documentation. Hopefully, we’ll start to tackle data next year. 

So, what’s the best way to ensure your team is set up for success? Just like any other product decision, start small and iterate. As your team takes on projects, you’ll learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you want to keep doing for the future. Starting small will help you figure out what gaps need to be filled over time.

If you haven’t already, check out the recently-released e-book all about “The Rise of Product Operationsfor an overview of the role, its key duties, and its importance to the larger product team and the organization as a whole.