In the last few years, product operations teams (and individuals) have had both a challenge and an opportunity to create clarity, consistency, and transparency in a world where it feels like nothing remains constant for more than a month. Considering the changes across tech in the last year alone, companies have undergone shifts that threw them off their normal course of business. And the more I speak with product ops people, the more I see a common thread for those of us in the role: be a constant.
As we’ve matured our own product operations team at Pendo, we’ve remained grounded in our “why,” which is transparency. One of the primary ways we’ve been able to achieve this is through our Product Digest, which is a monthly asset that details for the rest of the company the value the product team has recently delivered and will deliver in the coming months. For revenue and customer-facing teams in particular, it provides the right level of detail around product updates, helps them understand who owns what, and how they can learn more.
Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll share what we include in our Product Digest, iterations we’ve made along the way, and best practices for creating something similar at your organization.
Section 0: Set expectations
First and foremost, we set expectations. Our digest is internal only and is not meant to be an official roadmap. It’s important for anyone who reads about upcoming releases to understand things can change, and know where they should go if they have questions. So at the top of the digest, there’s a disclaimer that reminds people that things can change. At the bottom of the document, we list our product managers (PMs) and their product ops partners so there’s no confusion around who to contact with specific questions.
Section 1: Recently released
In the first section, we list recently released items that are new since the last version of the digest. Each release item has the following information:
- The stage it was released in and on what date
- A link to the detailed product ops announcement in our product updates Slack channel
- One to two sentences max on what was introduced or changed
- A link to the Pendo Feedback ticket where we tracked customers who requested the enhancement and any discussion about it
- The area of the product the item impacts, and a status
- Screenshots (if they’re not overwhelming) along with links to any enablement videos or training we’ve created with our revenue enablement partners
Section 2: Soon to be released
Next, we share updates and changes—categorized by product area—that are set to be released over the next one to two months. In addition to items 3 through 6 above, we share:
- What stage we’re targeting for the item’s first release
- Any special notes related to upcoming training or beta candidate recruiting (if beta is in the plan)
- A target release timeframe. This is important. It’s okay to provide estimated time frames for releases to your partners in revenue. We’re finding that most revenue partners—and even customers—are comfortable with vague timeframes that ultimately turn into more solid delivery dates. They recognize that feedback and iterations are the way forward, and those things take some time. As the estimate in weeks turns into sprints and then into the actual dates, just be sure to keep people updated.
Section 3: Active betas
In the third section, we list all our active betas (remember: a feature can go through several stages until you get to General Availability). This section is really helpful for our sales and customer success partners who are interested in adding customers to closed betas, or want to help provide feedback themselves while we’re in early stages. For each item, we include:
- The feature name and the stage we’re in
- Whether we’re accepting candidates (in closed beta)
- How to add customers to betas or request to have a customer added
- Product manager and product ops contact
Section 4: Team showcase
This is the newest addition to the digest and has been a fun one for us, though it took a while to get here. We started sharing learnings from experimentation, updates on adoption and growth initiatives, and how we use Pendo ourselves as a product team. It’s not just about releasing cool features anymore—it’s about what we’re doing to help the business with those features. At Pendo, we call this “Pendo on Pendo.” I’ll also note that this section can have contributors from anyone in product and engineering.
The showcase section does two things: It helps the company understand how product people (one of our key personas) use our product, and it enables them to help our customers leverage Pendo to its fullest. While some teams can’t do this because they may not use their own product regularly, it’s important to think about how the product team can use a communication tool like a digest to educate internal partners on what they’re doing and why.
Who manages the digest?
At Pendo, our Product Digest is managed by the product operations team. It takes a bit of coordination to get the content ready, but partnering with program management helps get confirmation on timelines and high level information, while the SME in product ops handles the product details the reader needs to know.
If you don’t have a product ops team, I suggest rotating this amongst your product managers, or someone in project/program management. For us, we’ve found that the benefit of product ops owning the digest is there is less disruption to PMs. And since product ops works closely with both the revenue and product orgs, they have a good idea of what one party wants to learn and what one party wants to share.
Tooling and getting started
When it comes to tools, I believe in one thing: the tool needs to work with your needs. Don’t look to purchase or use a tool that will create a ton of work and headache, especially when it needs to be used in different ways across an entire company.
My team started this asset in Google Docs, and that’s where it still lives today. I’ve also heard from other product leaders that spreadsheet and workflow-based tools have been effective for their teams. As with any product, you have to know what works for the greater customer base (in this case, the reader), and adjust as you go.
As you think about creating a Product Digest of your own, here is some advice for getting started:
- Start with why. What will the digest help you accomplish? For us, we needed to create transparency and be a constant source of information beyond status updates about the product.
- Understand your who. Our partners in revenue needed answers and information and to feel ready. They don’t have all the time in the world to consume heavy videos, lengthy how-to docs, and attend live training whenever it happens. And for our PMs, they needed to not be asked the same questions over and over again, and to be able to focus on plan and delivery.
- Think about what the digest needs to provide for your audience. We weren’t looking to provide simple date and status updates. Those things were already in other tools, and status updates don’t generally get revenue teams ready to sell and support customers.
- Define your when. We used to prepare and send this once a week. It’s now once a month, and that allows for quality planning with our enablement, product marketing, and PM partners. Determine the frequency that will work for you based on the size and the structure of your company.
As product operations has continued to grow over the last few years, its purpose and responsibilities have shifted—not to mention every company will think about product ops differently. But one common denominator across everyone I speak with on this topic is how product ops solves the information flow problem.
Product ops is in a unique position to be able to drive transparency from the product team across our organizations to empower those around us. Change is constant, and managing that change begins and ends with communication and clarity. Companies who put this into practice have an organizational shift where their understanding and confidence in their own product increases. They’re able to strategize, plan, and rally around the product in new ways.
Looking to build a product operations function at your company? Use this guide to get started.