In this post, we’ll discuss why the product ops role has become so popular in product organizations. We’ll also walk through several key skills that will help you succeed in this field.
So, you’re looking into a career in product operations. Smart move. Product Ops roles are quickly becoming must-haves in both large enterprises and growth companies beginning to scale. A May 2022 LinkedIn job search for “Product Operations manager” returned more than 7,000 open positions in the European Union, and 69,000 openings in the United States.
In this post, we’ll discuss why the product ops profession has become so popular with businesses in all industries. We’ll also walk through several key skills that will help you succeed in this field.
What does product ops mean?
The purpose of product ops is to streamline and improve the work of teams across the organization. In most companies, the responsibilities of product ops fall into three categories: people, processes, and tools.
1. People: Facilitating communication across the organization.
Large companies risk the pitfall of information silos, as growing teams focus inward on their own tasks. The Marketing Department, for example, might become so focused on its ability to publish product-related blog posts at a specific cadence that the team’s writers do not check with product management to make sure their posts are highlighting the right product messages and value propositions.
Product ops can mitigate this risk by acting as a central contact point between product management and other departments and facilitating regular communication among teams across the company.
2. Processes: Establishing and standardizing best practices for cross-functional product teams.
As a business grows its workforce and customer base, the pressure mounts to improve existing products — and deliver new solutions to the market — more frequently. As the need to deliver increases, the organization can no longer afford to build and release products in an ad-hoc manner.
Product ops can help by creating standard processes for every stage of development. A couple of examples include establishing a meeting cadence between product and other departments, and identifying and tracking post-launch KPIs to gauge product success.
3. Tools: Sourcing and implementing apps and other solutions to optimize product outcomes.
With more teams across the company working together to bring products to market, and more products in the development pipeline, a growing organization will increasingly find the need for new tools to help everyone do their best work.
Product ops can help by identifying workflow gaps or inefficiencies that the team could improve with the right solution, and then finding that new tool. One example might be a comprehensive product management platform that helps all teams collaborate in a central digital environment and track each other’s progress on the development of the product.
What does a Product Ops Manager do?
The job of a Product Ops Manager is to clear paths and create opportunities for everyone to do their best work on the product. Now let’s consider what this means in practice, and what you’ll be doing day-to-day as a Product Ops Manager.
To illustrate the responsibilities of the product ops role, we’ve pulled a few real-world examples from the LinkedIn job search we mentioned earlier. All of the requirements listed below are from actual “Product Ops Manager” job descriptions listed by various companies that I’m sure you’re familiar with.
Define the engagement model between tech and business stakeholders, creating processes to implement on product strategy. (Uber Product Ops job description)
This aspect of a Product Ops Manager’s responsibility combines two of the strategic functions we described above. Uber is looking for someone who can create a standard process to facilitate communications between stakeholders. The organization understands that unless someone takes ownership of regularly bringing together its business and tech teams to collaborate, the company’s solutions could miss the benefit of applying both sets of unique insights to product strategy.
Participate actively in the evaluation and selection of vendors in collaboration with the product team. (DocuSign Product Ops job description)
Here, DocuSign is describing another contribution of product ops. Businesses often ask Product Ops Managers to identify, vet, and deploy applications to help teams perform their jobs as effectively as possible. For example, this might include implementing an end-to-end product management hub where product management, development, marketing, and other teams can track product status and strategy.
Partner with UX researchers & analytics teams to ensure we have the data and research required to make data-informed decisions. (Verizon Product Ops job description)
Another component of the product ops role is to gather market feedback, product usage data, stakeholder suggestions, and other information to help the team make better decisions on product priorities and future direction. A Product Ops Manager can streamline this process by implementing an app that allows the team to compile feedback and connect it directly to the backlog.
Develop excellent relationships with stakeholders of different levels in the product, engineering, gTech, finance, and sales teams. (Google Product Ops job description)
With this job description requirement, Google highlights the importance of the Product Ops Manager to serve as a central point of communication for various teams across the organization. Google knows that the Finance and Engineering Departments do not often have reasons to get together. But sharing insights between these departments could uncover valuable business intelligence. The more product ops can build relationships with these teams — and bring them together to share their unique perspectives — the better the chances that Google will hit on another viable solution to a market problem.
Improve the way we operate to drive short-term and long-term performance. (SiriusXM Product Ops job description)
This requirement sums up the mission of product ops: to streamline the company’s path to releasing successful products. In fact, if we had to define Product Ops in a single sentence, this could be it.
Becoming a Product Ops rock star
To understand what makes a great Product Ops Manager, let’s imagine you’re joining a company in hyper-growth mode. Your job is to help the cross-functional product team transition from informal collaboration and decision-making to data-driven, repeatable processes.
The organization is expanding quickly, meaning that a Product Manager can no longer walk over to developers and talk through strategy or timelines. The new additions to the Product and Development Departments are just getting to know each other. They don’t have the informal shorthand that once characterized product conversations in the company’s startup days.
With that hypothetical in mind, you can better understand the responsibilities and skills that will make you a great Product Ops Manager. Here are a few of the most important.
1. Create a blueprint to help the team scale.
As an organization makes the leap from one to several Product Managers, or from a few products to a growing portfolio, the company will need to become more efficient at every stage of development. From product concept through go-to-market planning, the organization needs predictable processes for all stages.
To be a great Product Ops Manager, you’ll need to take a broad view of the growing company and find ways to turn ad-hoc processes into repeatable checklists. This will ensure that as the business continues to scale, the cross-functional team will have a blueprint to operate efficiently.
2. Keep all stakeholders aligned and up-to-date.
In large or fast-growing companies, product ops will act as the glue connecting the various teams, such as product, development, and sales. The role of Product Ops Manager is particularly important for larger organizations because the sheer volume of everyone’s workload makes it more likely that departments will form silos and teams will become misaligned on product strategy and execution.
If you want to become a product ops superstar, you’ll need to learn how to make yourself the glue that connects the cross-functional teams. For example, you’ll need to study the company culture and people’s workloads to determine the right frequency for these team-alignment meetings. While you want to bring teams together to ensure that everyone is still focusing on the right things, you don’t want to create a meeting schedule that undermines progress or upsets your stakeholders.
3. Identify tools and processes to improve team workflows.
Another vital product ops skill is to review the organization’s current workflows and recognize potential inefficiencies or gaps in functionality that could be slowing the company’s product development. Then, as an effective Product Ops Manager, you’ll research the market for solutions, such as communication apps, data-gathering tools, and MarTech solutions.
4. Provide stakeholders with a central point of communication.
The Accounting Department might not have a strong relationship — or any relationship — with the product team. The same could be true of the relationships between Marketing and Development, Customer Success and Public Relations, or any departments across the company.
But if the organization has you — a product ops rock star — this won’t be a problem. You will develop great relationships with all of these teams. If someone from anywhere across the company approaches you with a question or request for a member of another department, you’ll either have the answer or know how to connect the right people to address the issue. A key to succeeding in product ops is becoming a central source of both company and product knowledge, and making yourself available to stakeholders across the company who might need that knowledge.
5. Apply learnings from every release to improve the next.
Finally, as a great Product Ops Manager, you’ll record the details of every aspect of your company’s product development — prioritization, capacity planning, team communication, etc. — and analyze the results to learn what worked and what didn’t. Then you’ll apply those learnings to improve the development of your next product and repeat the process every time to continually improve the performance of your team.
You’ve found a great profession
If you’re pursuing a career in product ops, your timing is excellent. In the introduction to this post, we noted the tremendous increase in businesses around the world trying to fill product ops jobs right now. What’s driving this demand for product ops? Here’s how Product Manager HQ Co-Founder Clement Kao explains it:
“Now that more and more companies are scaling up their product teams, it’s getting to be too hard for the product manager to maintain core product management responsibilities while also tackling enablement and scaling processes.”
That, Clement says, is why “Product Ops is heating up.”
In other words, you’ve found a great profession to pursue. And we wish you success in your product ops career.