Product Operations: Why Now?

We’ve all heard of sales ops, marketing ops, revenue ops, and DevOps. These operations functions have been prevalent in the B2B SaaS tech space for what seems like forever. Now there’s a new ops role on the block: product ops.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen more and more attention directed at this “ops” arm of product management. And we aren’t the only ones noticing the increasing importance of the role. Our colleagues and friends at Pendo and at Product Collective recently researched the rise of product ops, gathering data and interviewing current practitioners. On LinkedIn, product ops titles have increased by 8% year-over-year, with almost 5,700 users having “product ops” in their title. Product ops as a skill is growing even more dramatically — 80% year-over-year.

Clearly, there’s a growing need for the product ops function. But why is this the case, and perhaps more importantly, why now?

What Is Product Ops?

Despite all of the attention around product ops, the specifics of the role are a bit hard to nail down. In a nutshell, product ops is to product as sales ops is to sales — a neutral party that drives efficiency and alignment through data and technology management. It’s the intersection of product, customer success, and engineering, and supports alignment, communication, and processes around the product development and release cycles. 

According to Blake Samic, head of product operations at Stripe, product ops is “building the connective tissue between the teams building your technology and the teams who interact with your users.”

As with any job, the particulars vary by organizational culture and business needs. Some product ops functions focus on specific business outcomes, while others aim their efforts at efficiency or customer satisfaction. But overall, product ops encompasses processes, tools, data, experimentation, and cross-team collaboration.

Why Is It on the Rise Right Now?

Ops certainly isn’t new, and although its huge popularity is recent, product management as a field has also been around for years. So why is product ops such a hot topic and skillset all of a sudden?

As it turns out, a few different factors are at play here. Let’s go through three of the main ones.

More Data, More Ops

The age of “datafication” is here. Product teams have more data — both quantitative and qualitative — at their fingertips than ever before. And all that data needs to be analyzed, organized, stored, and managed, often across various tools and locations. This is an area where having an ops function can make a huge difference.

Melissa Perri, founder of ProduxLabs, says, “Now we’re past that hurdle of ‘I can’t get data out of my systems,’ and we have so much data in all different places — and I think product ops is about pulling it all together to synthesize that data and turn it into insights.”

Product Experience = Customer Experience

For product-led companies, the product experience IS the customer experience. The journey your user or customer takes through your product, from onboarding to expansion, needs to be as seamless, intuitive, and delightful as possible. Product ops is crucial to the continuous improvement of that experience. Through experimentation and data analysis, the product ops function paves the way for iteration and optimization of every aspect of the product.

In addition, product ops is responsible for monitoring active experiments and making sure there’s no overlap or interference. This team (or individual) acts as the single “source of truth” and helps eliminate friction throughout the entire experimentation process.

The Rise of the “Other Ops”

Although roles like marketing ops and sales ops have been around for a while, their real importance has only recently been recognized. Why? Because ops functions are responsible for three key business outcomes: better visibility and collaboration, increased output, and more efficiency.

As companies begin to scale and move from “gut feeling” decisions to data-based ones, the need for ops functions increases. Ops professionals take over the process- and tool-related aspects of product. They own their team’s tech stack, manage vendor relationships, and set up best practices for usage. As product teams diversify and expand their tech stack, product ops becomes more and more essential.

Start Your Own Product Ops Journey

If you’re ready to formalize a product ops function within your team, you might start by making an official product ops hire. Here are some of the characteristics and skills to look for:

  1. Comfortable with systems
  2. Collaborative
  3. Product-oriented
  4. Entrepreneurial

Want to learn more about the product ops role and its purpose within the larger product team? Check out the full “Rise of Product Ops” e-book, which also includes a description of the five core areas of product ops and a list of the kinds of data product ops cares about.