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How To Know If You Are a Strategic Product Ops Partner

What is a strategic partner, anyway?

One common theme between every product ops manager I talk to is the desire to drive positive change in the organization. That’s why we got into this work in the first place – to be positive change agents.

And yet so many are frustrated that they aren’t achieving their goals. Which is why I’m launching the ​Product Ops Impact Accelerator​. It’s a 7-week cohort program designed to help you become more effective in driving strategic change across the company.

Note the key words in there – strategic. Just like the best product decisions rest on a foundation of solid strategy, so do do the most effective product operations initiatives.

Over the next few articles I’ll dig in further to how you can make that transition to being a more strategic partner to your product leadership. I’ll provide a starting list of what you need to have in place to drive strategic impact and some of the benefits of stepping into that strategic space.

Product leadership: “I’m getting pulled in so many directions right now. I want to encourage more autonomy on my team to help free up some time.”

Product managers: “I want to do more strategy work in my role. It feels like I’m in execution mode all the time.”

I had been working with a client for several months on their use of data. The product managers understood what we were trying to achieve but felt stuck in the work they were doing. It felt too much like project management instead of product management.

The product leader and I were on the same page – we wanted to create true product managers, not project managers. So I proposed that we spend time strengthening the roadmapping process and skills on the team.

I proposed coaching for the product managers on building out their strategy and a process for translating that into roadmaps. This helps product managers take more control over what they’re working on and be better at communicating it out. It enables strategic thinking driven by metrics. It serves everyone’s goals.

Understanding the long-term needs of the organization, proposing ways to fulfill those needs, and executing on it forms the basis of what it means for product operations to be a strategic partner to product leadership.

We aren’t living up to our strategic potential

Product operations, done right, helps leadership achieve their goals through enabling the product management team to work at their highest level possible. A great strategic partner chooses very carefully how to make that happen. Yet when I talk to product operations professionals, they so rarely feel like they are fulfilling that potential.

The ​product operations manifesto​ includes as a prerequisite (emphasis theirs):

An understanding that Product Operations is a strategic discipline as well as an operational one.

What does it really mean to be a strategic partner, or a strategic discipline? Even if you know what it is, how do you get there? Over the next few weeks I’ll be diving into these questions. For now, I’m starting with what a strategic partner actually is.

Defining a strategic partner

A strategic partner invests their time in the activities that will have long-term benefits for the organization. They search for opportunities to be a ​force multiplier​, where one hour of their investment results in multiple improved hours for their team. One article on human resources included an excellent ​illustration​ of what a strategic partner should do:

Strategic HR partners are not involved in the “weeds” of HR administration and execution. Instead, they focus on the big picture, collaborating with the HR d

epartment and consulting with ​the leadership team​ to make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

I constantly hear about prod ops fighting fires, ​getting bogged down in administering tools​, and becoming a meeting scheduler. Instead, product operations can strategically create the right environment to​ drive product culture forward​.

Antonia Landi talks about it on​ the Product Experience​:

It is legitimately also a strategic role. I want to have these conversations with senior leadership about what kind of product organization we want to be in three years. Concretely, what does that mean needs to happen in the next six months? And then that is effectively my roadmap.

Strategic product ops partners think about the long-term outcomes of the activities they drive. They invest in their head of product’s goals and take action towards achieving those goals. They develop a strategy that helps make the overall product strategy more likely to succeed.

Are you a strategic partner?

Six signs you're a strategic product ops partner:
    - ?️  You set a roadmap
    - ⌚️ You do work with long term impact
    - ? You make the people around you stronger
    - ?️ You spend time on high-leverage activities
    - ?️ You are curating a necessary and useful toolset
    - ?‍?‍? You pair with leadership to shape product culture

Six signs you aren't a strategic product ops partner
    - ? You are given a roadmap
    - ?‍? You are frequently fighting fires
    - ? You are told to mind your own business
    - ?️ You do work that other people don’t want to do
    - ⚓️ You are managing a tool that doesn't fix anything
    - ?‍♀️ You beg leadership for any attention they can spare

Take a look at the list above. Unfortunately, most product ops managers are not strategic partners (yet). That’s because it’s hard. It takes time to figure out a strategy and to get the right buy-in. It’s no fun to say no all the time, but if you say yes to everything, it’s hard to stay strategic.

If you want to practice how to become a more strategic partner, I’m launching registration for the​ Product Ops Impact Accelerator​ soon. It will cover many of the key elements of strategic partnership, including how to build a product ops strategy and roadmap, put together OKRs or KPIs to track progress, and help you develop techniques to gain buy-in for your ideas. ​Sign up​ for the waitlist to be the first to access registration and get the early bird discount.

Thank you so much to my pre-readers for their thoughtful feedback: Brian Gibson, Adam Kecskes, Jeremy Finch