Product Operations

What Are Product Operations?

Commonly referred to as “product ops”, product operations are a function that different organizations define in their own unique ways. The main goal for every organization, however, is to provide support to the product, engineering, marketing, and customer success teams, streamlining processes and managing data systems for efficiency.

This includes processes around the product, which include streamlining communication between teams, setting up training programs, and standardizing planning and production best practices. Designed to improve the efficiency of cross-functional product teams, product operations include the following key tasks:

  • Overseeing quality assurance inspections.
  • Developing business processes that will help streamline product development.
  • Analyzing data to help in decision-making.
  • Conducting market research and feedback-gathering initiatives.
  • Working with sales and support teams toward the improvement of the customer experience.

The scope of product ops goes beyond just the product and takes a more holistic approach. By making processes more efficient for the product team and the other teams within the organization, product ops help solve problems at the onset before they become serious issues.

Streamlining communications is a primary focus because product ops help show teams how different processes are interconnected. Creating a successful and consistent product means keeping everyone on the same page through regular cross-functional meetings and a standardized onboarding process.

Documentation is also vital in product ops because there are often changes made to the product which happen on a regular basis, creating mountains of data to keep up with. Keeping track of a product’s progression ensures that there is a single, centralized repository of information to help avoid inconsistencies and oversights during the entire product life cycle.

By documenting internal procedures, policies, and ad hoc processes, product ops teams can create scalable processes that will help with product quality in the long term.

Why Are Product Operations Vital?

Today’s business landscape is a highly competitive one. Product teams can no longer afford to create products without first establishing best practices and organized processes and systems. Success in creating these systems requires a company culture based on operational excellence.

There are several teams involved with product development and distribution, and it can be challenging for team managers to focus on certain areas because they have a multitude of responsibilities.

The products ops team is the organization’s resource that can devote time and effort to ensuring cross-functional teams work according to set standards and best practices. Product ops help ensure that other teams perform at the highest level in the best circumstances. Below are a few problems product ops teams help solve.

  • Ineffective data management
    The amount of data organizations have to contend with has increased over the years. This has made incorporating data into business processes more challenging, especially for businesses without a data strategy in place.

Due to product and marketing managers growing variety of responsibilities, not enough time is allotted for data storage, processing, and management. Product ops help fill this gap by setting up systems for data management and helping transform data into actionable insights to help in making sound product decisions.

  • Persistent issues on quality
    Product managers aren’t always present during every aspect of quality assurance checks and product testing. This can lead to product issues that could have been avoided during the production or quality assurance phase.

Having a product ops team ensures that there are always eyes on the product and related processes. They can also help in disseminating information and documentation regarding best practices and aligning expectations between teams.

  • Ineffective management of multiple, disparate tools
    Technology has helped develop tools that lead businesses to improve productivity and efficiency. The number of tools available, and the fact that they reside on different platforms, leads to a steep learning curve and the need to implement systems that support the tools and platforms.

Training can be time-consuming and may necessitate back-and-forth communication with vendors and suppliers. Product ops can help in the administration of a dedicated digital adoption platform and other solutions in order to create standardized processes for each team so they know which tools to use and when.

The 5 Pillars of Product Operations

The objective of product ops is to create a culture of excellence in an organization so that it carries over to its products. It is a broad discipline that’s interconnected with other functions, but the five pillars below help product ops teams focus on the most vital aspects of operations.

  1. People

    Arguably the most vital part of product operations, hiring the right people can make or break a product. More than hiring, it is also important to upskill, motivate, and keep them in sync with the larger goals of the organization. Having excellent people in product operations leads to excellent products.

  2. Process

    Your organization should find ways to integrate technology into operations to help create a solid technological backbone that will support innovative processes. It is not enough to document policies and processes, there should be a continuous flow of information within the organization to help streamline processes between teams.

  3. Data

    Without the proper tools and systems, data is meaningless. Create processes that help determine which data is relevant and how to transform this data into useful business insights. Different teams will have varying uses for data; the key is finding a system that will facilitate the sharing and analysis of that information.

  4. Internet of Things (IoT)

    The IoT has become a component of operational design and has taken a more active role in businesses. Instead of mere supporting systems, they should be considered integral assets and managed as such. 

  5. Goals

    Goals should always align with an organization’s mission and vision. The best strategy to achieve business objectives is to keep every team involved in the process as stakeholders. All five pillars are linked together by this common thread, and sharing a vision helps in the implementation of best practices and efficient processes.

Product Operations vs. Product Management

One of the main differences between product ops and product management is the problems they try to solve. For product managers, they attempt to address external customer pain points via the improvement of product outcomes, including functionality, new features, and even new or updated products.

Product ops teams, on the other hand, work to address the pain points of internal customers—namely decision-makers and employees. Stakeholders within the organization rely on product ops to manage all aspects of production, product releases, and documentation and training on the product and its features.

One way to look at the relationship between product ops and product management is to think of product managers as “customers” of product ops. While product managers deliver value to external customers, product ops serve product managers and other stakeholders by helping them gain a deeper understanding of the value provided by different product features and how these can be communicated to other teams and the external customer.

Essentially, product managers are responsible for developing specific products, while product ops teams work on an array of products and the processes involved with each in an effort to make processes efficient and ultimately achieve the greatest possible product outcomes.

How Do Product Operations Impact Digital Transformation?

Product ops teams are at the forefront of change initiatives, leveraging their cross-functional position to help the organization address novel problems and navigate unfamiliar territory.

Streamlining processes helps an organization make digital-first decisions, which will best serve both internal and external customers in the long term. Below are three ways product ops can accelerate digital transformation.

  • Encouraging cross-functional collaboration
    Collaboration requires getting buy-in from all members of the organization, and product ops are in an ideal position to set up processes that seamlessly interconnect the tasks and priorities of different teams, including marketing, sales, and operations.

Companies can rely on product ops teams to be agents of change and champions of training and implementation for all teams across the organization.

  • Shifting focus from projects to products
    Every business should consider itself a “digital business” if they are to thrive in today’s landscape. Shifting the focus from projects to products ensures that business owners and employees don’t have a “one-and-done” mindset.

Products are always evolving and require constant testing and measurement and are different from projects that can be checked off as complete. Adapting business operations to a product mindset will help encourage teams to adhere to a culture of continuous improvement.

  • Creating a data-driven mindset
    Product data is arguably the most vital tool that businesses can wield in today’s digital business landscape. Used correctly, the insights gathered from product data will help enhance the overall customer experience with a product. This, in turn, keeps customers engaged and helps in gathering product-related feedback.

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