Product Teams

Starting a product operations team: The first 4 steps

Published Apr 28, 2020

As we’ve explored the rise of product operations and researched what the role looks like in practice, it’s led us to some other big questions: What does it really take to get product ops off the ground? Who should be involved? What should the team’s first priorities be? The list goes on.

Once you recognize the need for product ops at your company, having a functioning (and effective) product ops team doesn’t happen overnight. And while there’s more and more being written about what product ops is, there’s less information available about how to get it started. That’s why we’re excited to introduce our latest e-book, How to set up product ops in your organization

In the e-book, we break down the key steps to building a product ops team and ensuring the entire organization feels its value. One of the biggest takeaways? As a first priority, spend time — anywhere from two weeks to two months — getting a sense of the current product landscape. Here are four key things to accomplish during that time:

1. Talk to stakeholders — but more importantly, listen

Just like when a product manager (PM) wants to launch a new product or feature, new product ops practitioners need to perform discovery. In this case, your customers are other teams throughout the organization, specifically: product management, sales, customer success, and product marketing. 

Take time to understand the teams’ needs and how they are currently operating, and be sure to log all of it: each team’s workflows and shorthands, how they interact with (and depend on) the product, and any pain points and inefficiencies they’re feeling. The goal here is to spend a considerable amount of time listening and learning, before any planning or execution takes place.

Since product ops will work with product managers the most, it’s worth paying a little extra attention to them. Try and get a sense of how PMs are currently spending their time and how (if at all) they’d like that breakdown to differ six months from now. You’re looking for areas where product ops can help make product managers’ jobs easier and their workflows more efficient.

2. Determine the highest priorities

Once you’ve connected with each department (likely multiple times), the product ops team should spend some time going through notes and identifying which projects to tackle first. Are there any quick wins? Are certain teams in more need of processes than others? Is the business lacking overall visibility into product data?

Even if you have a team of ten (which probably isn’t the case), a new product ops function can’t address every inefficiency or problem area at once. Try to pinpoint any issues that came up over and over again, or were mentioned by multiple teams. Then choose a few initiatives to tackle first, with every intention of testing, iterating, and layering on new projects as you go.

3. Create channels for communication

In addition to working with departments on a one-to-one basis, one of product ops’ primary duties is to get people throughout the organization talking and (more importantly) speaking the same language. By streamlining workflows and offering data-backed insights, product ops ensures every department throughout the company is informed and empowered around the product. 

The most optimal communication channels will be different for every organization. Maybe your company is in need of an easily accessible “single source of truth” for product information. Or maybe the revenue team feels like they aren’t informed of product releases and updates. On the flipside, product managers might feel that they don’t know what customer-facing teams need from their product area. 

Setting up clear communication channels — whether they are recurring meetings between teams, specific locations for documentation, or otherwise — is important to address in the early days of a product ops team. Ideally, these will serve as the foundation for how you improve cross-departmental collaboration and visibility going forward.

4. Think about how you’ll measure success

Although you can’t measure the efforts of your new product ops team until projects have taken flight, early on, you should think about how you’ll define and track success. This should include quantitative and qualitative KPIs, and can, of course, evolve over time.

Identifying how you’ll measure product ops performance will also help the team stay focused and aligned on their goals. Here are two example data points to track:

    • Number of deals won quarter over quarter with product team impact
    • Bug resolution trend: has the number of bugs increased or decreased since product ops was established?

Some measurement will come by way of following up with the teams you spoke with during discovery. Here are some sample questions to ask:

    • How effective has product ops been in regularly surfacing data to help influence your decision making?
    • Do you feel that you have more visibility into the product roadmap and upcoming releases?
    • When new features are released, do you have a clear understanding of their functionality and the value they bring to customers?

For more tactical advice on starting a product operations function, download a copy of our new e-book