Whether attempting to increase market share, improve profitability, or add more employees, every business is trying to grow. Doing so means navigating ever-changing, complex challenges and finding innovative paths to move forward during that business growth process. So, what does that mean for product operations teams?
Product operations (or product ops for short) has emerged as its own standalone function in recent years. New or old, startup or enterprise, businesses all over the world are striving to build excellent products effectively and efficiently at every stage of growth–and that means turning to product operations for help.
Typically, every successful business will go through four stages of growth: startup, growth, maturity, and decline. Identifying the overall stage of growth your business is currently in is an important first step to consider. Each stage has its own unique set of challenges for the product organization–and product operations teams will need to find creative approaches to overcome them. Below, I walk through the first three growth phases and what each means for product ops.
Phase 1: Startup
If you work for a successful startup, it will likely be experiencing rapid growth. During this phase, some initial product processes, procedures, and systems will be necessary to manage the emerging needs of the business. Investment dollars may be primarily directed towards your sales and marketing functions to convert as many prospects into customers as possible, but it’s equally important to recruit people who can help you deliver the product to a much wider audience.
This is therefore a great time to introduce and establish a product operations team, even if it’s just a team of one. The focus should be on building the foundations needed to support the effective and efficient delivery of products to market. Examples include multi-function launch processes, customer centricity, and data analytics and insights.
Phase 2: Growth
In comparison, during the growth phase, a business’ focus will be on driving growth with both existing and new customers. At this point, significant processes, tools, and procedures should be put in place to manage the growing number of people, products, and infrastructure while still managing day-to-day activities. A great way for product operations teams to support this across the product function (while simultaneously demonstrating the team’s impact quickly) is to solve immediate, prioritized problems within the framework of a longer term, systematic process maturity program that works towards continuous improvement.
Leaders in product ops should focus on interviewing the key stakeholders involved (both directly and indirectly) and getting the buy-in they will need. And to help achieve your goals, be sure to enable your team members with guidance and wisdom as you go. This includes providing a compelling direction that energizes and engages them, a strong structure (e.g. the right mix and number of team members, clear processes) and a supportive environment (e.g. rewards that reinforce good performance, the right data and tools, ongoing self development opportunities).
Phase 3: Maturity
The final phase of business growth (maturity) is not the finish line. It is generally the longest and most profitable for successful businesses and products, but as the business focuses on profit maximization and maintaining market share, you will notice a difference–competition in the market will be intense. Roles, responsibilities, and organizational structure will become more fixed and rigid, and in product, R&D spend may become more about product modification and improvement rather than true innovation.
Product operations leaders should therefore be doubling down on the management of team members with regularly-occurring activities and various innovations (mostly minor) across product lines. This means that your priority should be refining systems and processes and striving to maximize efficiency through continuous improvement.
As businesses all over the world continue to evolve, expand, and reinvent themselves, the demand for product operations will only continue to accelerate in order to support this. At the time of writing, product operations might be a new(ish) function in the world of product, but it will prove its worth to help ensure product teams stay focused on strategic work aligned with business outcomes–and bring businesses at all stages of growth one step closer to excellence.