Product Management 101: Product Operations (Product Ops)

As product management has grown from a little-known field to a key driver of business results, the function has expanded in scope. Today’s PMs have access to more data and software solutions than ever before. However, managing all of these tools and processes is a job unto itself. That’s where product ops comes in.

What is product ops?

Product ops (short for product operations) is an operational function that optimizes the intersection of product, engineering, and customer success. It supports the R&D team and their go-to-market counterparts to improve alignment, communications, and processes around the product. Effective product ops teams accelerate feedback loops, increase efficiencies, and improve feature adoption.

Product ops can be thought of as a role (or team) within an organization, as well as a skill product professionals can develop. Specific priorities within the product ops function may vary based on company maturity, industry, and the nature of the product itself.

Why is product ops important?

For product-led companies, the product is the focal point for each stage of the customer journey — from trial and purchase all the way through onboarding, expansion, and referrals — and product ops is key to the optimization of that experience. Just as sales ops, marketing ops, and DevOps became essential for their respective teams, product teams also benefit from an operational complement.

Product ops pros are often responsible for helping product management make more reliable decisions by equipping them with relevant usage data. Because product data is collected automatically (no manual entry, like with a CRM, for example), it tends to be among the “cleanest” data available to decision-makers. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 75% of software providers will rely on insights from embedded software analytics to inform product decisions and measure customer health.

What does product ops do?

Product ops responsibilities fall into five core areas:

Tools: Similar to other ops roles, product ops manages the product tech stack, establishes internal best practices, and ensures team members are using tools effectively.

Data: Product ops collects, organizes, and analyzes quantitative and qualitative product data and enables the entire organization to make the most of their insights. Data can include everything from product usage data, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and product stickiness to customer feedback, feature requests, and support tickets.

Experimentation: To help eliminate friction within the product experimentation process, product ops tracks, sequences, and implements all experiments, and creates processes to drive efficiency.

Strategy: Product ops fosters cross-departmental collaboration around the product, and uses their product insights to identify areas for improvement and inform business decisions.

Trusted advisor: By providing product information to key decision-makers, product ops is an important advisor to CPOs, VPs of product, and other R&D leadership.

Why does a company need product ops?

The main reason for establishing product ops is to take operational (and time-consuming) tasks off of product managers’ plates, so they can focus on building products that delight customers. With this also comes improved communication and efficiency, since product ops acts as a resource that provides product expertise for teams across the company.

Recommended Reading

“A Product Ops Meeting Template” by Sara Estes

We know, we know — no one wants more meetings. But with this template, your product ops meeting can be productive, informative, and even motivational.

“The Rise of Product Ops: the New Discipline Powering Product Excellence” by Shaun Juncal

What factors are contributing to the rise of this new function within product? In this article, Shaun Juncal of ProductPlan discusses the history of marketing ops and how it applies to the growth of its product management-based counterpart.

“Product Ops and the Mini CEO Dilemma” by Julia Baker

Many have described product managers as the “mini-CEOs” of the product. However, this mindset can discourage collaboration, innovation, and communication. Here’s how product ops fits into this controversial paradigm.

“Making it Official: When to Hire for Product Ops” by Kim Blight

Is it time for your team to bring on an “official” product ops person (or even team)? Here are some signs it’s time to formalize your product ops function.

“What the Heck is Product Ops? (And … Do We Need It?)” by Drew Falkman

Need a quick overview of what product operations entails? This quick read gives you a high-level overview of the what and why of product ops.

“Product Operations: Why Now?” by Christine Itwaru

We’ve all heard of sales ops, marketing ops, and DevOps. Now product ops is the new ops function on the block. Why is it suddenly on the rise?