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What is Product Ops, and is it Right for You?

If your primary goal is to build a product-led business, you need to understand how product operations (or product ops) relates to achieving that goal.

But before we dive in, let me introduce myself. I’m Christine Itwaru, Director of Product Operations at Pendo. In this video and article, I reveal how product ops emerged at Pendo.

I also explain the importance of the role in the product management space, and the future of product ops in the world today.

There’s something you should know. Just as companies and people evolve, so do roles. This is just one of the reasons why we feel that product ops is on the rise within the product management discipline.

Note: It's also the reason that you're seeing more and more companies hire a dedicated product operations manager.

It’s not just us saying that, though. Let’s take a look at the data…

product operations or product ops statistics

As you can see, product operations as a role and viable skill on LinkedIn is on the rise. So, what does this mean for people in the product management space?

Let’s find out…

The Evolving Role of Product Management

In the early days of product management, people were more ‘gut-driven.’

When a customer wanted something done, even the smallest of tasks, the product manager would have all hands on deck. They took a lot of customer requests and rarely looked at the problem that needed to be solved so the client could learn from it.

Nowadays, product managers are more data-informed.

The role of product management went from…

  • Known requirements to iterative experiments
  • Shipping features to shaping the business
  • Product as the thing you sell to product as the first moment of truth

So, what does this evolution of product management mean for YOU?

It’s simple…

product experience

It’s clear that key customer touchpoints are moving inside the product.

In the center of the organization, you have the product function and design team. Other groups, such as onboarding, technical support, customer advocacy, lead generation, and so on work around it. These other groups are focused on attracting leads, serving customers well, and growing the customer base.

customer touchpoints

What is Product Operations?

At Pendo, we love us a good problem because it gives us the opportunity to get better at our jobs. And we had our own problem where we had very few product managers compared to the number of customers we had.

The chances of error, miscommunication, and misalignment were heightened because of this ratio. We knew we needed to find the solution and come up with a way to give product managers their time back so we could continue to win the market.

This is when we came up with product ops.

But…what is product ops?

Here are a few definitions from bright minds in the industry:

product ops definition

To us, product ops is a role designed to aid a company’s cross-functional product team to operate as effectively as possible. (Check out our post on Product Ops to learn more!)

To solve our initial problem and give product managers their time back to focus on building products users love, we formed our own team. This team focuses on alignment, communication, and processes and scale.

This was our product operations team!

Product ops focused on six key areas:

1. Tools

Most (if not all) product teams have their own tech stack. These are the trusted tools that the company relies on to help improve efficiency and optimize certain processes. So, the product ops team at Pendo works to ensure the tools in place help the product management organization operate efficiently.

2. Escalations/Issues

Next, our product ops team works with escalations. We partner with the technical success team every day and work closely with them to handle the highest priority issues. This also includes collecting data and understanding customer health metrics. We also focus on measuring our own product for things like feature adoption, app retention, product engagement score, bugs, revenue data, and stickiness.

3. Feedback and NPS

We get feedback from our customers using NPS scores. All of this, plus general feedback from customers, helps us to create a product roadmap whereby decisions and priorities are heavily influenced by our customers’ feedback.

4. Cross-Communication

If you ask me, cross-communication is one of the most important aspects of a product operations role. It involves collaboration with support stakeholders. Our primary customer is, of course, product managers. This is followed by revenue teams, who must understand the value of the product.

Our customers are our ultimate goal. We want to meet our own goals, and also help our customers to meet theirs.

5. Experimentation

We aren’t afraid to experiment at Pendo. After all, experimentation helps us to come up with new strategies, new ideas, and new ways to grow. We help identify which experiments are worth running and then, we determine the success of those experiments. Tracking results is very important.

6. Product Enablement

We need to make sure that stakeholders understand core functionality and new releases. To do this, the product ops team works closely with the product marketing team to help launch features as effectively as possible. We also identify and fill knowledge gaps too.

Qualities: Product Operations Manager

Product ops people need to have certain qualities to help them succeed in their role and in turn, help the business to succeed too.

Product ops sits at the core of product-led organizations and must be:

  • Data focused
  • Efficiency driven
  • Customer-centric

Generally, a products ops manager has responsibilities related to:

  • Data: collect, organize, and analyze product data to ensure that the entire organization uses it to the best of their ability.
  • Tools: management of the product tech stack, while assisting team members in using each tool.
  • Strategy: creating and carrying out product strategies, alongside other departments such as sales and marketing.
  • Experimentation: implement and track all experiments related to product ops.
  • Key decisions: alongside other executives, such as the VP of Product and CPO, make key decisions related to all aspects of product operations.

How to determine whether you need product ops

So, is product ops right for you?

Remember – you need to put the product EXPERIENCE at the center of your organization. To help you decide whether you need product ops or not, ask yourself (and your team) the following questions:

  • Does your company have more than one product team?
  • Do you have multiple offerings?
  • Are you experiencing rapid growth and expansion?
  • Is your company experiencing a lack of process and a need for scale?

If any of these pain points resonate with you, you may want to consider product ops.

If your product managers are swamped, they need help. Nobody can perform at their very best level when their plates are too full.

Establishing product ops helps with time-consuming and operational tasks so that the product managers can get back to doing what they’re best at. All of this is in an effort to improve communication and efficiency across the team and beyond.

Product ops is here to help give product managers their time back. But, they also help to align the organization so they always have what they need for their customers. They assist product managers in collecting important data.

But, ultimately, product ops is here to bear hug customers, making sure that every customer has the best possible product experience…and what can be better than that?

Christine Itwaru
Christine Itwaru
Director of Product Operations at Pendo. She is passionate about building great teams who create great products.