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What is product operations? (and why is it so important for scaling?)

How a product operations team can help your organization scale quickly and efficiently.

Published on Apr 30, 2024 by Alex Halliday

Unlike sales ops or marketing ops, the product operations role is relatively new and not consistently defined from one company to the next.

However, more organizations are recognizing the value of having skilled product operators on their teams. Recent research shows that 39% of product teams already have a product ops function. We expect that this number will keep growing as more and more companies discover the power of the product operations role.

Product ops helps product teams establish the correct procedures, data workflows, and technology. It's a catalyst for efficiency that aligns processes across the entire company and increases the overall impact of Product within your organization.

Simply put, product ops is what makes scaling your team's product development throughput possible.

This crucial set of skills is in increasing demand — but what are the key components of product operations exactly, and what are the specific reasons that make it so crucial for scaling companies? 

We'll cover all that and more in this guide:

  • What Is product operations?
  • 5 reasons why your company needs product ops
  • 3 tips to keep in mind when hiring for product ops
  • Final thoughts: Product ops is the key to efficient growth 

What is product operations?

The role of product operations is to increase efficiency across a variety of processes related to the product. It’s similar to the role of DevOps or marketing ops, but with a focus on the actual product or service.

Product ops teams coordinate, analyze, and work to optimize cross-functional teams like product, engineering, and customer success. The product operations function's main goals are to help a company's various teams:

  • Get the tools and resources they need to function optimally
  • Define metrics
  • Collect and report on data useful to strategy
  • Facilitate communication between each team

Blake Samic, the Head of Product Operations at Stripe, has an easy-to-understand analogy that explains the function of product ops:

“I define product ops as building the connective tissue between the teams building your technology and the teams who interact with your users.”

For a more tactical look at what the product ops team does on a daily basis, have a look at what Frank Savino, a product operations team member at Google, has to say:

“My average day consists of meeting with cross-functional partners, gathering data and requirements, and meeting with stakeholders. And then strategizing on how to best elevate that data to the executive level and provide them with business insights that allow them to sort of drive our business forward.” 

Both of these descriptions highlight something important to remember: Product operations is a cross-functional role. That means smooth communication is essential. Otherwise, information won't flow smoothly between different teams and stakeholders.

Basically, product ops has two main goals:

  1. Improve the company’s product operating rhythm
  2. Make the operations that contribute to the product more efficient

When these goals are met everyone wins, including the company as a whole and the end-users who rely on your product to solve their biggest problems and pain points.

5 reasons why your company needs product ops

Given product ops’ growth, there’s a lot of potential for career acceleration for those who lean into it. Product ops is a relatively new role in many organizations, but introducing this role into your company can be a great way to accelerate career growth and expand your scope of responsibility.

But, before you dive in and hire someone to take over product operations, let's take a look at exactly why product ops is useful and how this role can help companies as they scale:

1. Product ops can manage tooling

From identifying a need for new technology to training and evaluating the utilization of the tool, the product operations team can own the process of implementing your organization’s tools.

Growing organizations tend to incorporate many new tools as they scale. Whether the goal is to streamline processes that can no longer be done manually or to add more insights and functions, there is huge tooling proliferation in growing companies. It's a trend that's accelerating rapidly.

In 2021, organizations were using an average of 110 software as a service (SaaS) tools, representing a 37.5% increase from the previous year. The increase in tooling surface area is one major reason why there’s such an increase in demand for Product Ops professionals. 

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When a company adds more tools to its tech stack, processes are rapidly iterated upon and scaffolded manually to ensure they are procedurally correct. Later on, they might be transferred into automation and workflow tools like Zapier, Airtable, or Retool. Product operations can make this evolution a whole lot easier because they can help every employee understand the tools at their disposal.

They'll own migrations into new workflow tools and develop a playbook for helping teams upgrade their processes to leverage the best tooling products available. They'll also own product data and documentation so that quality remains high.

2. Product operations can streamline data

New technologies aren't the only thing that increase as a company grows. The data associated with a company multiplies rapidly as it scales, too.

Information that was once easy to collect and analyze quickly becomes unwieldy for engineering, product, and marketing teams to manage on their own. On any given week, team members may get bogged down pulling reports and data into spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. This kind of repetitive work can be owned by product ops to free up other teams to focus on their core responsibilities.

Additionally, your organization probably isn’t putting all the data it has available to use, which impairs the quality and speed of decision-making. The statistics for this are pretty eye-opening: A recent survey found that 43% of captured data in organizations goes unused. 

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Product ops helps facilitate the timely flow of insights back to decision-makers on a daily and long-term basis. They do it by building insights with data that keep key decision-makers informed enough to make calls on roadmap and feature prioritization.

3. Product ops frees up time so other people can focus on their core competencies

In a smaller company, the product manager often has to wear many hats. On a small scale, it’s a bit easier for the product experience team to own tool selection, facilitate market research, handle project management, and develop business processes. 

But as your business grows, these tasks quickly become materially time-consuming. What product operations can bring in this context is an additional resource that can give substantial time back to other departments, allowing them to focus on their core responsibilities and making them higher leverage in the process. 

Plus, product operations can help develop thorough and comprehensive onboarding and training for new team members. This way, they can reach proficiency in their roles more quickly. 

4. Product ops can facilitate communication across the company

The number of moving parts and disparate teams multiplies as a company grows. In a small company, a product marketing manager probably knows everyone by their first name and can easily describe their expertise and experience. At a large company, people eventually become names on an organizational chart.

Needless to say, as an organization grows and scales, managing information flow can quickly become expensive, complex, and time-consuming. If someone can help manage that flow it can lead to massive efficiency gains.

Here are some examples of how the product ops function might facilitate and improve communication across the company:

  • To help product engineering and sales teams understand the product, a product operations manager could create materials that inform each relevant stakeholder about the product’s evolution.
  • To make sure teams are aligned about customer needs, product ops can also gather, analyze, and share important insights from customer feedback (including details about how customers use the product, what they love, what they dislike, and more.) This way, everyone is working to improve the most important features.

We can't overstate the importance of effective, efficient communication. A McKinsey study even shows that improved communication in an organization can raise productivity by up to 25%. 

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5. Product operations empowers teams to improve their own processes

Product ops professionals pay huge dividends in efficiency and growth beyond their direct responsibilities. Over time, the product operations team can empower other wider teams to self-serve their data needs. 

Introducing a team that's 100% dedicated to finding new, more efficient ways of doing things can set a standard that permeates the rest of your organization.

Before you know it, product ops might even create a culture of experimentation and empowerment throughout the business. Everyone in the company will have an increased ability to build internal tools and evolve the processes that they rely on to do their best work. 

3 tips to remember when hiring for product ops

Now that you understand what product operations is and its main benefits, here are a few tips if you’re ready to start the search for product operations team members: 

1. Be open to a variety of experiences and backgrounds

As a newer field, there’s no clear path to becoming a product operations professional. 

The right product operations team member can come from any background — including from multiple teams within your own company. Is there someone who’s already the “go-to” for certain technologies? Or someone who is excited about streamlining and effectively using information? Maybe someone who enjoys processes and data? 

You might have a great candidate already on your team who could fill a Product Ops role. 

2. Get insights from Product Management

Your Product Ops team will be working very closely with the Product Management team, so it’s essential to begin that relationship early on. 

Consult with product management when creating a job post and defining necessary skill sets. That way, you'll find the right person for the role. 

3. Build a strong culture of feedback

There will be many opportunities for hiccups and challenges along the way. 

That doesn’t mean product operations isn’t working — some experimentation is needed to find the right processes for your organization.

To make sure that the changes are going over smoothly, it’s vital that you build a strong culture of user feedback between the product ops team and the rest of your organization. Setting up regular check-ins and opportunities for feedback is a great way to make sure improvements can be made to your new Product Ops function.

Product ops is the key to efficient growth 

For a business looking to scale, product ops is a key component to ensuring the growth goes smoothly and efficiently. It's the critical glue that supports the efficiency of your organization through tool administration, data analysis, communication, and strategic insights. 

If you want to make the growing pains a whole lot easier to manage as your company scales, consider adding a product ops function into your organizational structure.