Getting started with product operations at your company doesn’t mean you need to hire a product operations team. Start by taking a few steps to be more deliberate about where your team is investing today and acknowledging what the work would be worth to you. Simply shining a light on the shadow product operations work that’s happening in your organization is a great first step.
Who is doing your product operations work today?
Someone is doing product operations work at your company today. Your team has ways that they do things, whether by accident or design, and someone is helping move that work forward. A few examples of this work include:
- Scheduling customer interviews
- Helping clean up the events in your data analytics platform
- Running a roadmap review session
- Creating a project plan for a product launch
For a longer list of suggestions, I made a worksheet that you can use to try and identify who is doing what today. If nobody were doing any of this, your products would be at a standstill. Product ops has to happen at any company with a product.
Writing the names down next to these tasks should be illuminating: is most of the work being done by leadership? Individual contributors? Is the work spread across many people or is one person really taking lead? Answering these questions will help you understand what kind of operating model you’re using today (more on operating models later).
Is this the way you want this work to be happening?
As you look at who is doing what, you want to identify where you’re comfortable with how things are going and where you want to be.
First off, is the work that they’re doing the right match for the role? It might not make sense for product leadership to be validating data, but might make sense for them to be leading roadmapping processes.
You’ve identified the people doing the work. Now look at the expectations for their roles: do they actually have the capacity to be doing this work? Is it sustainable alongside their other responsibilities? What is falling to the side in order to make this happen? Did you mean for that work to be de-prioritized?
There is always more work to be done, which means that there is also product operations work getting less attention. Are the areas where people are investing their time the highest-priority ares for the organization? Are there priority areas that are not getting as much attention? You can make use of the four areas of product operations as a resource to help you think through it.
Which operating model makes sense for you?
Now that you have a good sense of your priorities, where you want to invest, and how you’re investing today, it’s time to figure out what operating model you want to use moving forward. Your operating model defines your philosophy around what type of value you deliver to your product team and how you plan to deliver it.
Map where you are today, consider the ways it is (or is not) working for you, and map out where you want to end up. As you think through this, consider the pros and cons of each operating model.
Finally, evaluate what sort of investment you’ll need to make in people and processes to power your new operating model. For instance, you may need to add product operations work to job descriptions, or increase staffing to better support your product managers’ success.
Acknowledge the tradeoffs
This exercise challenges you to prioritize product operations work alongside the rest of product management work. As with any prioritization exercise, there are going to be tradeoffs. It’s easy to say that you’re prioritizing in one way, but then not actually make the necessary changes to support that prioritization. Product ops is an investment in your organization, which means that you need to actually invest in order for it to succeed.
As you look through everyone who has been quietly doing this work already, make sure that you are recognizing it. It’s easy for product operations work to blend in with basic administrative work and disappear from everyone’s radar. Show that you value the work by thanking the people doing it and rewarding them for their efforts.
Finally, don’t let this exercise be a one-and-done. Routinely put time on the calendar to review it and iterate. See what you’ve learned, how the organization has changed, and set new priorities. The more you treat your product operations work as product work – with roadmaps, prioritization, and user research – the more successful it will be. So just like any product, once you’ve launched, measure and iterate.