Today, product teams have more tools at their disposal than ever before. One of the core responsibilities of product operations (and a reason for establishing a product ops function) is ownership over the product tech stack. But which tools can help product ops people do their own jobs better?
For Shelly La Rock, Director of Product Operations at NAVEX Global, which provides a comprehensive suite of ethics and compliance software, five tools became crucial as she helped start (and since then, grow) the company’s product ops function two years ago.
Product ops at NAVEX boils down to three key focus areas: standardizing data gathering, regulating experimentation, and creating scalable, repeatable processes to help product managers deliver more value to customers. Each tool below plays a different part in enabling Shelly’s team to achieve these goals, but the operational magic really comes from the fact that information is shared across them — and done so automatically.
The specific tools will look a little different at every company, but in order for product ops to drive efficiency across the organization, they need to be efficient in their own right — which starts with their tech stack.
1. Product analytics
The tool: Pendo
Similar to other ops roles, one of the primary elements of the product ops function is data — including collecting, organizing, analyzing, and sharing it with teams across the company. Shelly said that having a reliable data source was an important first step, and finding the right tool was imperative.
They started using Pendo to track product analytics across their platform, and from there, built out dashboards for key product metrics. Shelly noted that the ability to automate reporting became critical, since it not only took work off of her team’s plate, but allowed multiple teams across the company (sales, marketing, customer success, etc.) to access the data they needed instantly.
In the end, product ops’ job is to enable product managers to do more of the work they were hired to do (and do so more effectively). With a product analytics tools in place, product managers are no longer tasked with collecting product data, and the broader organization benefits from these insights to shape roadmap decisions, marketing initiatives, or sales plays.
2. Account management
The tool: Salesforce
Once product data was being tracked, Shelly and her team needed to ensure that data reached the right people — in this case, the teams responsible for bringing the product to market — without adding unnecessary tasks. At NAVEX, account executives and customer success managers live in Salesforce, so it was important to meet them where they already were and have product data feed into it directly.
Account data from Salesforce is pulled into Pendo, and data from Pendo is also pushed into Salesforce — giving other teams across the company access to product data instantly. Additionally, pulling Salesforce data into Pendo gives her team even more data to better segment usage metrics and communications.
An account management tool might not immediately come to mind when you think product ops tools, but Shelly said that being able to share product data with the rest of the organization was absolutely critical, making an account management tool a key part of their stack.
3. Issue and project tracking
The tool: Jira
Since the product ops function is the intersection of product, engineering, and customer success, it’s crucial for that team (or person) to have a clear sense of what the engineering team is working on at all times.
Like many other Jira users, Shelly and her team utilize Jira for tracking the engineering team’s work, including estimation, backlogs, and issue tracking. From enhancement backlogs to scoped sprint work, Jira allows them to coordinate and project manage all of their work across the organization. This informs what product ops should focus on, and allows them to prepare for releases well in advance.
4. Release management
The tool: Smartsheet
When Shelly was first building out product ops at NAVEX, one of the main goals was to make product releases more efficient, and ensure release readiness across all internal stakeholders. In the past, the company had multiple products all being managed, launched, and released separately — so she set out to standardize these processes.
Product ops redefined new product launch phases, which helped align the entire organization around a standard framework for every release. They use Smartsheet for all release management activities (timelines, dependencies, release plans, etc.), and, more importantly, directly link this content within the tools and systems the rest of the company uses.
It’s a win-win: teams outside (and within) the product organization feel ready and informed for every product launch, and product ops doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to create release processes from scratch over and over again.
5. Collaboration software
The tool: Confluence
Product ops is rooted in collaboration, since they are the resident product expert who other teams go to for product knowledge, data, and insights. But as we all know, working cross-functionally with multiple teams can get messy quickly.
At NAVEX, they utilize Confluence for all internal communications, which for product ops now includes information about upcoming releases, internal messaging for new products, data dashboards from Pendo, and full release plans from Smartsheet. The ability to house all of this information in one centralized location (not to mention in a tool the rest of the company was already using) helped Shelly and her team ensure all of the resources they created didn’t get lost in translation.