The most successful product-led organizations are full of high achievers. Leading the way is the Chief Product Officer (CPO), who oversees the company’s entire product portfolio. But they cannot do it alone. They rely heavily on someone who can work at the operational level with Product, Engineering, and Customer Success. Product Operations champion this work.
Product Ops is a function that continuously improves alignment, communications, and overall everyday workflows. But great Product Op Managers go beyond focusing on operations. They enable teams, vertical alignment, and cross-functional collaboration by positioning themselves as a strategic partner.
Product operations lead and orchestrates the entire product org to achieve the best possible outcomes. In this post, I’ll cover the 7 habits of highly effective product operations managers.
Know your customer
It may seem like Product Ops was developed only to serve product managers. However, this is only partly true.
Today’s Product Op leaders view the entire product organization and their internal stakeholders (i.e., engineering leads, product marketing team, sales) as the customer they serve.
As product-centric companies scale, there will be no shortage of misalignment, lack of roadmap visibility, dependency management, and communication overhead. For these reasons, product operations must expand their reach beyond Product Managers. You have the opportunity to be viewed as a strategic partner, connecting various teams and keeping everyone focused.
By taking a broader view of who you serve, you can own more responsibilities such as:
- Strategic and portfolio planning
- Product analytics
- Product go-to-market enablement
- Agile practices
When you understand that you serve more than one customer, you are ready to start enabling outcomes.
Focus on enabling outcomes
I see new Product Ops Managers struggle with two areas as they launch their careers. They tend to spend too much time focusing on:
- Facilitating customer insights
- Maintaining legacy processes
These areas are relatively low-risk and straightforward to take on and therefore become an easy place to start.
However, stopping here misses the larger picture. If these buckets are the only responsibilities of product operations, it over-simplifies what’s required to run a successful product org.
Instead, product operations should focus on enabling customer outcomes and achieving business results.
A product org is multi-faceted, with many factors driving its success. The most successful Product Ops pros orchestrate:
- How decisions are made
- How data is gathered
- How to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the customer, stakeholders, and the business
Focusing on outcomes also means you constantly triage the needs of the current and feature market. You drive near-term and long-term results and balance these needs as the product org evolves and company goals shift.
Connect strategy and ops
It’s true, operations is in the title. But don’t let that limit your thinking. Product operations is a highly strategic role. Successful Product Ops Managers create opportunities to initiate critical discussions and facilitate alignment between product teams and stakeholders.
“Product Operations — the art of removing obstacles from evidence-based decision making. Done right, it fuels a virtuous cycle of benefits that’ll empower everyone from the executive team to each contributor responsible for building the products — whether Engineers, Designers, or Product Managers.”
- Melissa Perri, CEO of ProduxLabs
Product operations is also instrumental in designing the regular portfolio cadences such as:
- Annual or Semi-annual strategic planning
- Quarterly alignment
- Bi-weekly or weekly ops reviews
- Stakeholder engagements
Additionally, they ensure alignment across goals, enable proper data access, help prioritization efforts remain holistic, and influence all aspects of running a product organization.
Be fluid, adapt, and evolve processes
There’s an art to creating process. You could be viewed as just a process person if you do it poorly. However, I believe that the best product operation leaders are creators who fluidly adapt and respond to the dynamic needs of their teams and the business.
You need to focus on the “why” behind the process. Ask yourself:
- What is the “job to be done” for this process?
- What is the outcome the team is trying to achieve?
To help maintain this mindset, view and treat your process work as a product. It should continually improve and bring more value to your users (the internal teams you work with).
Don’t just haphazardly follow a process because that’s how things have always been done. Think about your role as a seamless API layer between teams and functions. You’re not hardcoded. You are a flexible connection and can adapt to real-time needs.
Implement centralized tooling
Too many tools. Too many spreadsheets. It’s common for teams to decentralize their software choices, allowing each function to choose what they want. However, this requires stitching together lots of spot solutions to see the bigger picture. It means duplicating data from one tool into PowerPoint slides, executives’ preferred spreadsheet templates, or even pasting screenshots into Word documents (yes, I’ve seen it all).
But there’s a better way.
Implement an end-to-end solution to create a central source of truth representing your entire portfolio. We call this solution a Responsive Product Portfolio Management tool. It allows you to:
- Align OKRs and strategies across all levels
- Make data-driven portfolio roadmap decisions
- Estimate and allocate resources
- Dynamically sync with dev tools like Jira or GitHub
- Create and automate the right updates to the right audience for stakeholder visibility
“We needed to have a single source of truth for idea management, a way to enable smarter outcome-based decisions, visibility for senior leadership into investments being made, and general visibility with the roadmap because there was a lot of feeling like things would go into a “black box,” and no one would know what was coming out the other side and when.”
- Jackie Orlando, Director of Product Ops at Tealium
Multiply your team’s growth
A common misconception about product operations is that the function grows linearly based on the number of Product Managers). For example, for every 10 product managers, there will be 1 Product Ops. But this isn’t the optimal way to grow.
Product Ops is a highly leveraged role. Great Product Ops professionals manage themself out of a job, so they become a force multiplier. The growth of the Product Ops function should be multiple and evolve based on how well you serve the customer.
“I like to think of this Force Multiplier Model as having a Product Ops function at the same level as Product Management and Product Design. Product Ops is there to serve as a force multiplier to product managers, product designers and for certain activities, the product marketing managers.”
- Marty Cagan on the Force Multiplier Model of Product Ops
With 80% of product teams struggling with competing priorities and 97% of companies failing to scale due to misalignment, there’s a need for a new approach. No matter where you’re at in your Product Ops career, you have the opportunity to level up your skills and help your organization focus on outcomes across the entire portfolio.
Communities like Mind the Product are a great source of information. Another way you can keep learning is to try the Responsive Product Portfolio Certificate Program (Responsive PPM) to gain everything you need to become a portfolio pro.
Be a top product operations pro
If you are just starting as a Product Operations Manager, keep in mind that your job is not just about improving efficiency. Your objective is to accelerate product portfolio outcomes. The entire company is your customer, and you have the opportunity to make a huge impact.
Do everything you can to help your organization balance the right outcomes at the right time.
Your efforts might help drive:
- Clarity on strategy across all levels
- Responsive execution that delivers commitments
- Ability to scale without the chaos
- Adoption of data-informed decision making
- Balance of long-term vision and short-term outcomes of winning in the current and future market
But don’t stop there. Keep learning and growing in your career.