ProductOps is a specialized role that normalizes the product function across all products and services.
When a company is small, the product manager (by whatever title) is responsible for activities across the entire product life cycle—from ideation to market delivery and sales support. In these organizations, the product role is that of a generalist.
As the product team expands, we see specialized roles emerge. Strategic product manager, technical product manager, product owner, marketing manager, and more.
I’m a fan of the “product triad”—a product or portfolio team responsible for strategic planning, release planning, and launch planning. The areas of responsibility are these:
a product strategy manager evaluating and prioritizing future products,
a product planning manager (perhaps known as a product owner) focused on what’s next in terms of features and product options, and
a product growth manager (or product marketing manager) taking on expansion of products that are currently available, the products we have now.
As an organization grows and there are more and more individuals in product roles, we see a disconnect of both roles and methods amongst the myriad teams. One team does it one way, another team does it another. Each team uses different templates and tools from different sources. And that’s where ProductOps comes in. The “Ops” designator is already used in many other departments: Sales, marketing, and development all have Ops roles. The idea is to systemize the department instead of relying on each team or individual to develop and implement their own best practices. ProductOps is a specialized role within product or product management that normalizes the function across all products and services. The ProductOps goal is to standardize and optimize. ProductOps examines and standardizes processes with common templates and tools. It helps perform data analytics and acquisition and develops methods for meaningful engagement with customers and potential customers. Here are some ways that ProductOps can benefit your product teams:
Define roles and responsibilities. Let’s have a single definition for each title and what they do. For instance, who should do win/loss interviews, analysis, and reporting? ProductOps can either coach teams in the best practices or perform certain capabilities (such as win loss analysis) as a service.
Standardize methods and artifacts. What templates do we use? How should we prioritize business opportunities? What’s the best approach for backlog grooming? ProductOps builds a “product playbook” of standard templates and tools, adapted to the special needs of your business.
Wrangle corporate and product data. With so much operational data available, how can a new product manager make sense of it all? ProductOps can be the expert on data that’s available and how it can provide insights to product decisions.
Guide and curate market and customer research. How do we set up customer interviews? Where do we store and share our insights? How can we execute experiments such as A/B tests?
Evaluate and manage departmental tools. What roadmapping tool is best? Do we store product information in Jira? How do we use Teams or Slack? Instead of multiple tools, ProductOps identifies departmental needs, evaluates available tools, and makes a selection. ProductOps then manages the tool and trains team members.
But there’s a problem. The danger is that ProductOps may be perceived as responsible for doing everything that other product management roles don’t want to do. ProductOps is a service to all product management roles but neither a master nor a servant. Product teams need standard tools, a common language, and training on product management best practices. ProductOps adapts industry practices to create an organizational “playbook” of methods. By examining at what works (and what doesn’t) across all product teams, ProductOps identifies successful approaches and helps each team adopt the organization’s best practices.