How to build a high-performance product operations team

Blake Thorne
|
June 1, 2022

Product ops is one of the most exciting roles to emerge in modern product orgs. By adding an operational element to product management, companies can streamline the product development process, improve collaboration and communication among stakeholders, and deliver a stronger product. For high-growth companies, it’s quickly become a critical function.

How critical? Here’s a good explanation from Blake Samic, who helped establish the product ops function at Uber:

“[T]eams in local markets are incredibly important, and a well-functioning Product Operations org allows us to tap into that ground-truth, identifying the highest priority problems. It’s the glue that then helps us move with unified energy to solve them, connecting our central tech teams with ops around the world.”

But building a successful product ops team can be a daunting task, particularly for companies new to the concept. 

Why your organization needs product ops

It’s not easy to build a successful product organization. Even with the best product managers and the most competent technical staff, something can always fall through the cracks.

The various processes in the product lifecycle may not be properly aligned, or there may be friction among stakeholders. Success criteria or critical metrics may not be clearly defined, or there may be confusion about quality standards, timelines, or standard operating procedures.

These challenges can lead to delivery delays or quality problems that affect your company’s reputation and financial position. The product ops role helps you avoid these risks.

Product ops ensures that the product development lifecycle operates efficiently to consistently deliver great products. Product ops also plays an essential role in streamlining processes, workflows, and day-to-day activities.

A competent product ops team acts as the glue between product development, product marketing, sales enablement, and customer success to help them collaborate better and communicate effectively. 

Often, product ops can help the PM (project management) organization scale successfully and consistently deliver enhanced customer experiences. It can also:

  • Assist with market research and go-to-market strategy development
  • Enable data-driven decision-making
  • Facilitate product quality assurance
  • Organize user training and onboarding
  • Prepare and maintain product release notes and other documentation
  • Manage the product’s tech stack

Further, it also plays a crucial role in change management, which is critical not only to introduce product changes but also to communicate product changes to the right stakeholders at the right time.

Which companies have adopted product ops?

Until about a decade ago, product managers or project managers managed all product-related tasks in organizations – from low-level functions like research and data management to high-level tasks like objective-setting and strategy building.

But as many organizations grew and expanded their product offerings, the need for a dedicated product ops team became obvious. Today, many companies have adopted the product ops approach.

  • Uber: The product ops team scopes out the business needs and executes the go-to-market strategy.
  • Comcast: They gather insights about product experiences to improve product quality and usefulness.
  • Stripe: They strengthen customer feedback loops to consistently improve quality and deliver greater customer value.
  • Produx Labs: They analyze user and performance data to improve product quality and make better product strategy decisions.
  • DoorDash: They facilitate cross-functional team communications, find solutions for critical operational challenges, and establish best practices to improve third-party partnerships.

In general, any product-led company striving for product excellence can benefit from a product ops team to improve product planning, development, and delivery. The product ops team can also design and execute a tailored post-launch strategy.

What are some important roles in product ops?

Some typical roles in product ops are:

Product operations manager

The product ops manager works across product management, engineering, customer experience, knowledge management, compliance, and legal to shape the product roadmap, streamline processes, drive workflows, and improve collaboration. One of their key responsibilities is improving operational efficiency and aiming for operational excellence.

This person designs operational programs for new product initiatives and plans to scale operations for existing products. They also plan, manage, test, and communicate the rollout of new features. Finally, they empower the product management team with the right tools and information to help them focus on their core goal – delivering a high-quality product.

Product operations analyst

A product operations analyst is mainly focused on data and reporting. They leverage their data literacy to analyze products and product features. They also work with various functions, including design, engineering, and project management, to create smooth internal processes, report on KPIs, and identify strategic growth opportunities.

The best product ops analysts can collect, quantify, and prioritize product-related challenges and find ways to address them. They effectively use quantitative and qualitative data to find gaps in product health and make recommendations to fill those gaps.

Business analyst

In product ops, a Business Analyst (BA) is the bridge between technical and non-technical stakeholders and team members. They help develop project plans and timelines, set milestones, and track activities to deliver projects on time. They also present status updates to stakeholders.

BAs have advanced analytical and reporting skills. They facilitate process improvement tools through data, metrics, and dashboards. More importantly, they extract and deliver meaningful insights to support leadership and help drive business decision-making.

Common challenges in building a product ops team

Many organizations struggle to set up a well-functioning product ops team. These are explored below:

Finding the right people

Product ops requires a unique combination of technical, analytical, and soft skills such as communications, research, tech stack management, documentation, and quality assurance. It can be challenging to find people who possess all these qualities.

Defining roles and responsibilities

Once you find the right people, it's essential to define their roles and responsibilities. This ensures that everyone knows what’s expected of them. 

However, it can be challenging to assign specific responsibilities to each role to get the best possible results, especially because product ops is still an evolving field. Product operations teams should be a closely-knit group in tune with what each member is doing.  

Establishing processes and procedures

One of the mandates of the product ops team is to help improve operational processes and efficiencies. They need to follow procedures and best practices, which are not always easy to define or standardize.

Building communication channels

For a product ops team to succeed, it must effectively communicate and collaborate with all stakeholders and functional groups. This requires setting up the proper communication channels and best practices, as well as communication trails, a chain of command, and escalation pathways. Critical? Yes. Easy? Not always!

4 strategies to build a high-performance product ops team

So how can your organization overcome the challenges discussed earlier and build a highly effective product ops team? Here are four ways:

Get inputs from stakeholders

The product ops team straddles multiple functions in your organization, not just product development or engineering. These various functions operate differently, use different terminology, and have different objectives.

Talk to each function to understand these aspects. Ask about their pain points and explore where they operate in the product lifecycle. Gather all this information to clarify the roles and responsibilities within product ops.

Create communication channels

Communication is one of the most critical functions of product ops, so it’s crucial to set up the proper channels and best practices to help them do their jobs.

Create a communication strategy that ensures a “single source of truth” for all product and customer information. All stakeholders should have access to this information to help them collaborate better and effectively find both problems and opportunity areas.

Set up analytics and research

The product ops function must have access to the right analytics tools to process and analyze user and product data. Only then can they effectively support product delivery, product change management, and customer relationship management.

Identify and implement the best analytics tools, processes, and workflows for your organization. Make it easy for them to gather data, perform analytics, and extract insights so they can facilitate ongoing research, guide product improvements, and improve decision-making.

Identify success criteria

You can’t improve if you don’t measure. Think about how you’ll define and track the success of your product ops function. Include both quantitative and qualitative KPIs. Communicate these KPIs clearly to the team, so they know what’s expected and stay focused on their goals at all times. 

While defining success criteria, it’s again beneficial to talk to stakeholders and get their inputs.

How LaunchNotes can support and optimize your product ops team

Product ops plays a crucial role in communication, not only among cross-functional teams in the organization but also between the organization and its customers. And one of the best ways for your organization to communicate with customers about your product is through release notes.

Try LaunchNotes. LaunchNotes is an automated and secure platform to streamline your product changes, drive workflows, and publish release notifications. With LaunchNotes, you can effortlessly centralize all product changes in a single channel and keep users engaged with your product.

Try LaunchNotes for free. Schedule a demo to get started.

Take LaunchNotes for a spin

Struggling to keep your teams in sync ahead of big releases? Spending half your day answering the same questions about what's shipping when? Hearing about new features from your users? LaunchNotes can help.

Begin a free 7-day trial today to see why companies like Atlassian, Loom, and Twilio trust LaunchNotes to keep their teams aligned with upcoming releases and their users ahead of product change.