Product ops is a new function on the product team designed to shoulder some of the load, creating processes that scale as the company grows, and freeing up product managers to focus on strategy and execution. But while that might sound amazing, it’s a challenge to draw lines when product managers have been so used to taking it all on.
In this #mtpcon Digital Americas session, sponsored by Pendo, product team leaders Christine Itwaru and Stephanie Tanzar share the secrets to a successful and symbiotic product ops/product manager relationship.
- Product management has changed over time and today product managers have more to do than ever before
- Product managers spend most of their time-solving pain points struggling to get to business-critical tasks — product ops can help
- The product ops role aims to solve internal stakeholder pain tied to product delivery
- The soft skills needed in a product ops role include empathy, a focus on data, flexibility, strong communication, and a customer-centric focus
- ProdOps is still new but it’s here to stay
- At Pendo, the ProdOps members are well embraced by product managers
Watch the talk in full or read on for the overview. Mind the Product members can also watch the recordings of all our #mtpcon Digital Americas talks here.
History of product management
Before discussing the partnership between product management and product ops, Christine and Stephanie provide insight into the last 100 years to show how product management has evolved.
As Christine recaps the 1930s to 1950s, she explains how the role moved from Brand Men in the 1930s who focused on arming sales and taking responsibility for marketing; to Toyota in the 1950s and the introduction of Kaizen and Kanban, which focused on having all employees helping to improve the company.
Stephanie then explains how the growth of consumer goods in the 1960s shifted the focus from just marketing to the establishment of dedicated roles and a software product manager to the product being recognized as a core business function in the 1980s.
Christine then takes us to the 1990s, where the confusion of roles begins as we are introduced to program, project and product management, and increased business competition. Eventually, agile enters the arena, and we start to move towards what we understand the product manager role as today with the emergence and growth of SaaS companies.
Nowadays, product managers have even more things to cope with, including remote working, the prevalence of choice, and a rise in consumer spending. All of this Stephanie and Christine explain helped to place more focus on the role of product ops.
Product managers have a hard job
Product managers have a hard job nowadays. While they tend to focus on solving pain points for customers and stakeholders, they don’t have enough time to focus on other business-critical tasks. While they spend their time building the product and helping customers, there still needs to be someone paying attention to managing quality issues, maintaining a healthy VoC program, and more. Many of these tasks can be done by product ops.
Pendo’s ProdOps story
Christine explains Pendo’s own ProdOps story, which she says was born out of pain. “A couple of years ago, we went through a build on a release that could have gone a whole lot better. And there was a very clear lack of alignment across internal teams.” They found themselves in situations where they needed more enablement and to serve their customers better.
There could be different pain points for other organizations, such as lack of transparency or product training and enablement. But, there is no one-size-fits-all model for product ops. However, there are some best practices to follow.
Christine then explains that given the large volume of work required, they continued to grow by adding product ops managers, technical writers to help with internal documentation, and other roles to avoid people getting stretched too thin. Within Pendo, the ProdOps members are well embraced by product managers and don’t challenge the things that they do.
Career decision: Product manager or ProdOps?
For those trying to decide between a career in product management or product ops, Stephanie explains it’s important to remember that a product managers career is very long. In product management, the goal is to solve customer pain through product outcomes and partner with customers and engineers to experiment and move fast.
On the other hand, the product ops role focuses on solving internal stakeholder pain tied to product delivery and creating stakeholder trust and internal alignment to empower them.
They then share some data on the impact of product ops from Pendo’s State of Product Leadership survey. Here Stephanie points out, “don’t wait until you’re feeling the pain, and you just need to get someone in because it will take a while to find the right set of skills and the right person who is going to be fantastic in this role.”
How to get started
Christine explains how companies can search for a product ops role, including the skills that a product ops person should have. These soft skills include empathy, a focus on data, flexibility, strong communication, and a customer-centric focus.
People moving into the role tend to come from product management, but many also come from other disciplines, including management consulting, training and education, and data science.
In most companies, the product ops role reports to the product management department, ensuring that they remain closely aligned. The key takeaway from this session is that while ProdOps is still new, it is here to stay as companies need dedicated people to assist product managers in tackling business-critical activities.