What is Product Operations? A Pivotal Role For Product-Led Companies

Product Ops is in demand. In this article, we look at the responsibilities that come with this role and discuss whether your team needs to hop on the ops train.

Paula Becchetti
9 min read
What is Product Operations? A Pivotal Role For Product-Led Companies

More and more we hear about Product Ops skills or read Product Ops Manager job descriptions on LinkedIn, but things don’t look that clear yet—unlike the well-known value of Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, or DevOps for a SaaS company. It’s murky waters when it comes to definitions, responsibilities, or benefits of this relatively new role. 

Product Operations is critical for businesses with a product-led growth approach, especially when they aim to optimize their product experience in an escalation scenario. We're going to take you through key insights on what Product Ops is, how it can benefit product development, and why its support is essential for any product team’s triumph.  

What is Product Operations (PO)? #

In a few words, Product Operations is a cross-functional role designed to guarantee a successful collaborative work among all teams connected to the product life cycle e.g. the people who are building the product—product managers, project managers, R&D, and engineering, as well go-to-market roles like product marketing managers, sales and customer support. 

Product Ops is a must-have operational position focused on streamlining processes around the product across the entire organization and therefore increasing efficiency, helping to make a better product and ultimately improving customer engagement. Always looking to give the best backstage support possible, a Product Operations Manager is in charge of:

  • Streamlining communication between the product teams and other teams in the organization

  • Standardizing business processes, such as planning, budgeting, and reporting, to facilitate product development

  • Promoting product innovation by creating seamless experimentation processes

  • Managing the product tech stack to ensures effective employment of resources

  • Overseeing product quality assurance and identifying product improvement opportunities 

  • Collecting, organizing, and analyzing product data to help product management make informed decisions

  • Setting up onboarding and training programs to keep the team at its best performance

  • Supporting Sales and Product Marketing to sharp go-to-market strategies and improve customer experience

We’ll dive deeper into the Product Ops Manager competencies later on, but for now let’s say we can think of Product Ops as Product Management’s best sidekick—taking care of the operational aspects of the product development to release Product Managers from time-consuming chores and allowing them to focus on what they do best: building amazing products. 

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Product Operations vs Product Management #

As we said before, Product Ops Managers (POMs) are there to help Product Managers shine at the accomplishment of their core responsibilities. The PM role has gravitated a lot in the past years, demanding a more strategic, creative, and people-centered approach, and Product Ops appeared on the scene to catalyze this shift in the paradigm. 

In this context, it’s important to recognize the difference between both dimensions of the product universe, to fully comprehend how much they can empower each other's productivity and fulfillment. 

A helpful way to understand the relationship between PO and PM teams is to think about the latter as customers of the former. Product Managers own the definition and development of specific products while the Product Ops team handles the daily repetitive functions to sleek development, launch, and continuous optimization across multiple products. It’s one thing to focus on building the product, but another thing entirely is making that process much smoother.

In most cases, you’ll see PMs and POMs work side by side in the same fields, but with different focal points. For example, Product Managers need data to make decisions, but Product Ops Managers are the ones in charge of collecting and analyzing it. The same happens with experimentation: giving room to test new ideas is vital for Product Management success and continuous improvement but you’ll probably see more of the Product Ops team in the making, with their hands on the different stages’ implementation and tracking results. 

Groundwork is the keyword here. While PMs are in charge of defining the product’s vision and related company goals, POMs are committed to spreading the word, checking that all team members are properly informed about the strategy, and that all canons are aimed in the right direction. 

That’s why post-launch is Product Operations’ golden hour—they test requirements for specific markets, conduct experiments to optimize the product per cohort, and provide value for end users by keeping eyes on maintaining the product's high performance and customers’ loyalty. And Product Ops can shine all the way.

The focuses of a Product Ops team #

Let’s dive into which specific fields of expertise a Product Operations team is destined to bring the biggest value to a product-led company. 

Routine trimming #

Every product team has recurring processes to attend to, an amount of important but time-consuming tasks performed in a loop e.g. user feedback analysis, sprint planning, and product roadmapping. Product Ops is responsible for finding the most effective way to deal with repetitive processes, for the sake of saving time and other valuable resources, such as energy and attention, for team members to boost productivity. 

Tool management #

The product tech stack gets bigger and more complex by the minute. Monitoring customer behavior, digital prototyping, product road mapping, project management, metric analysis, user testing, and feedback—the list of corporate applications to optimize processes seems endless. How do Product Ops come to the rescue? By administering these tools, managing the relationships with their vendors, creating guidelines for their use, and training the product team in best practices to take advantage of their benefits without losing additional time in exploring their capabilities and deciding whether they are the right tools for the job. 

Product experimentation #

Having a culture of product experimentation in an organization is essential to growth, but at the same time growth makes experiments more complex, with massive user and codebases, endless test possibilities, and loads of qualitative and quantitative results. 

Another layer of potential chaos is the augmentation of the product management team with a multiplicity of PMs, each of them with their own method to plan, execute, and measure success. Product Operations is responsible for creating and systematizing the experimentation culture of a company, designing processes for product managers to run polished experiments, actionable, and reliable. 

Cross-functional communication #

We’ve said it before, Product Ops is cross-functional all the way—they’re the glue that keeps all product stakeholders collaborating effortlessly. Therefore, their focus on promoting and facilitating clear communication among teams is crucial to keep everyone well-informed and documentation updated, as well as conversations valuable with tackled inconsistencies and reached agreements. 

Product enablement #

At Chameleon, we know how important it is for stakeholders and end-users to have an effortless relationship with the product. With this key goal in mind, Product Ops teams partner with product marketing professionals to help users as much as possible with their multiple interactions with the product, recognizing potential friction and designing engagement strategies for customers to understand core features and new releases. An excellent example of product enablement done right is mastering great user onboarding. 

Customer feedback comprehension #

At the end of the day, our most precious treasure is customer engagement. To keep our customers interested and craving more, it’s important to know what to ask them and how to listen. In this sense, Product Operations assists a great deal in leading reliable feedback recollection strategies like microsurveys and analyzing customer health metrics. Taking a closer look at the product itself searching for sticky features or potential churn triggers is part of the job too. All of this helps to design customer-centric product roadmaps. 

Product data management #

One of the biggest challenges of today’s business ecosystem is product data management. Tons of qualitative and quantitative data come every day from the complex tech stack mentioned before. In the face of exponential data volume growth, organizations rely on Product Operations to keep the data analysis clean and accessible. And as collecting, reviewing, and analyzing data gets more complex, Product Ops teams build relevant usage data systems to capture and keep track of strategic product metrics such as Product Qualified Leads (PQLs) to later share with PMs powerful insights to help them make data-driven accurate decisions. 

Continuous team training #

Much of what the Product Operations team focuses on has best practices as outcomes: proper processes for collaborative communication, product experimentation, tool management, and so on. To train the product team in these procedures and guarantee learning access to compelling and valuable educational content is a POM’s responsibility too, as well as keeping track of all team members' progress. 

Now that we have seen the different skills expected from a Product Operations team, let’s take a look at how they are actually translated into real-market job descriptions. 

Examples of SaaS product operations jobs #

As we mentioned before, the number of Product Ops Manager positions is quickly increasing in the job market. If you search for Product Operations on LinkedIn, you’ll find big players on the hunt. Take this post from Stripe as an example where a Product Ops Manager is described as “a highly cross-functional individual contributor role”, critical to delivering on their mission. 

Some responsibilities worth highlighting in this job description are “building strong connections between the product and user-facing teams” and “coordinating smooth, high-quality feature launches”—things we mentioned before while we scanned the main focuses of the role. Another key point: learning more about users and helping them to get the best out of the product e.g. product enablement. 

Going through other LinkedIn job descriptions for Product Ops roles, you’ll find more requirements related to process planning and optimization (things like “lead the development and execution of lean processes to support improvements to our current product development process” or creating “brand new processes or improve existing processes related to the software lifecycle”), always with a focus on cross-teams communication efficiency and product management support and being passionate about “helping product team achieving their goal”. 

They put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being goal-oriented and data-focused, owning “the KPI and KEI goal-setting process” with an “analytical, detailed-oriented and well organized” approach, as well as versed in the tool management area. 

We’re convinced we’ll see much more of these Product Ops roles in the future, and we encourage you to take it seriously if you’re about to take your product-led company to the next level.

How to know you need Product Ops #

Every product-led company needs Product Management but not all product-led companies need Product Operations Managers. In some cases, it can be considered business extravagance or over-managing. So, when do you know it’s time to hire a POM? Here are some good indications of your business’ call for Product Ops:

  • Multiple product teams. When a product-led organization has more than one product, this means it has a complex vision. You’ll need Product Operations to handle different processes requirements, team dynamics, and user bases, but without losing the brand essence that keeps them all coherently together. 

  • Swamped PMs. If your product managers are wasting time with administrative tasks instead of investing it in their core responsibilities, that’s your cue to find proper help in Product Operations. They’ll take care of daily procedures and set up best practices to achieve the team’s success. 

  • Rapid escalation. In the face of potential growing pains, your company can count on Product Ops to scale gracefully. Bigger volumes of data, more intricate procedures, larger teams working with higher levels of collaboration: nothing is impossible to handle when you have professionals focused on streamlining product-led growth.  

  • Chaotic product experimentation culture. Creativity and continuous testing are the foundations of innovation. But your experimentation lab can get massier in the blink of an eye. Product Operations will help your team try all their new ideas with a clear path, a consistent measurement approach, and a steady common north. 

  • Untrusty data management. Data-driven management seems to be mandatory nowadays. When huge loads of data are shot by an enormous amount of measurement tools, you’re signing a troubled business analysis certificate if you don’t have the proper mindset and skills to deal strategically with the information you need. Here’s one of the richest fields to see some Product Operations magic going. 

The future of product-led growth: powered by Product Ops #

There’s no doubt: if you believe in what your company does and delivers to its customers, your organization’s core is product-centric (and, therefore, your heart is a customer-centric one). This corporate anatomy translates into another fact: your growth should be product-led as well. 

Especially in the SaaS sector where competition is fierce, a product team can’t afford to navigate this highly demanding environment without aiming for excellence: carefully planned systems, agile teamwork, and killer best practices. A great product culture in a fast-growing organization claims for a strong operational backbone for cross-functional teams devoted to success. 

In this context, with pressure rising on fast innovation and efficient delivery, Product Ops’ demand will keep on rising, with product managers eager to trust the best support they can ever have.

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