Product Ops

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As your company is growing and the Product team – as a function – is evolving too, it might be time for you to have Product Ops in your organization.

Product Ops is an enablement function for product management — it helps organizations scale their product management practice so that it can help inform strategy and make quicker decisions.

Here we’ll delve deeper into what Product Ops is: how it differs from Product Management, and when your company should consider having it in the organization, and what the implementation looks like. 

How does Product Ops differ from Product Management?

What is Product Management?

Let’s start with Product Management. We acknowledge that there’s no shortage of definitions when it comes to Product Management. In a nutshell, we describe it as a practice to strategically drives the development, market launch, and continual support and improvement of a product.

As product management has evolved, so has the scope and scale of the role. Generally speaking, the scope includes the entire lifecycle of a product, from ideation to development to go-to-market. The bread and butter product management tasks are prioritizing, evolving product strategy, and managing the product roadmap, while also being adept at using data to understand how to shape the future of the product.

What is Product Ops?

At its core, Product Ops is all about empowering product managers to do good work.

It is an enablement function in the company that essentially allows Product Managers to get back to product managing. In other words, Product Ops add value by

  1. Managing tools, systems, and processes that will be used by Product Managers in their product development cycle
  2. Analyzing and synthesizing data to help make informed decisions
  3. Absorbing other non-core product management tasks with an eye toward efficiency and sustainability

When does a company need Product Ops?

The following situations make a good case as to when a company should consider having Product Ops as a function in their organization:

1/ Demand for data

“Data-driven” is one of the most overused terms, especially in tech and product companies, but it does a good job of reminding and underscoring the importance of data: we need data and be able to make sense of that data so that we can make informed decisions, e.g. what strategy to go after first.

The problem, however, is usually not because we don’t have enough data, but rather because of:

  1. Having too much data
  2. No centralized database
  3. Low confidence about the validity of the data we have.

Has this ever happened to you or someone else you know of: 

Product Managers complained they didn’t have time to groom their backlog and update their roadmap because they spent a considerable amount of time (e.g. 1-2 months) just to pull together the data from the database and analyzed it because it’d be used in the board presentation.  

2/ No standardization for tools and processes

In many companies we have interacted with, one of the biggest challenges in the Product team is the increase in the number of tools built specifically for product managers. From roadmapping to prototyping, these days product manager has more tools at their disposal than ever before.

While product managers often have a wide skill set, managing (and administrating) all the different tools that make up the modern product stack isn’t always the best use of those skills. As product teams grow, the administration component becomes bigger and bigger.

At scale, things will start to break if there’s no standardization for these tools (and processes) that the Product Managers will use to develop their products.

3/ Direction and information – or lack thereof

As most companies are settling in with work-from-home (WFH) or a hybrid approach to working, we often encountered leaders, new joiners, and existing employees who asked: “I am not sure what’s going on, and there is no single place to find out.”

In addition, once the companies find product market fit and start scaling and have to decide what they need to do and where to go next, they’re faced with the fact they don’t have the information needed to be able to tell their strategy (e.g. for a board meeting)

4/ Tracking and monitoring

Some companies spend hours and meetings a week just to align with each other but then the executives still complained due to the fact they still have no idea what’s going on with their teams and there’s no insight into how they’re tracking towards their goals.

What does Product Ops do?

Product Narrative work with Product organizations to build Product Ops to answer 2 specific questions:

  1. How might we come up with informed decisions?
  2. How might we raise the capabilities of product managers in the organization?

A/ How might we come up with informed decisions?

There are 2 complementary branches to help organizations make informed decisions: quantitative and qualitative insights.

A1. Quantitative insights

Quantitative insights focuses on:

  1. Ensuring a single source of truth about data 
  2. Creating self-service tools (but not doing analysis as a service)
  3. Increasing data utilization to organizations — working cross-functionally with other department, such as Business and Marketing

A2. Qualitative insights

Qualitative insights focuses on:

  1. Coaching and enabling the product teams to do good research and learn first-hand
  2. Providing the infrastructure for ongoing customer testing  

B/ How might we raise the capabilities of product managers?

One goal of Product Ops is to elevate product manager’s skill and knowledge so they can be a thriving product leader in the organization. 

This requires:

  1. Training and coaching – specifically when it comes to thinking and approaching difficult problems (e.g. Is this problem worth solving? Is there a better way to solve this problem? Why now?)
  2. Exploration of techniques, e.g. discovery, experimentation, A/B test
  3. Way-of-working and tools selection
  4. Internal community: knowledge sharing and utilization 

Another thing we’d like to highlight when it comes to raising the capabilities of product manager:

We often talk about how the product managers are in the intersection of tech, UX, and business. But oftentimes, product managers are very focused on the UX and the tech — they are often not as strong on the business side. They're not really thinking about how the product will commercially be viable or how the business is valued, how the product ultimately will help the business itself get valued, and what the difference is between CapEx and OPEX. 

These aren't necessarily things that sit in a product manager's background or that they necessarily have access to. Thus, Product Ops is a role that can access that conduit: who provides that kind of information and allows the product manager to focus on the areas that they've got their strengths in.

The combination of both can be powerful.

Would you like to know more about Product Ops and how it can help your organization to scale? Click here to have a discussion with us.