What is product operations?

Product operations, or product ops, is about helping cross-functional product teams work, communicate, and deliver value with greater efficiency. The term can describe both the discipline of product operations and a dedicated role or team function embedded within product development teams (this guide primarily uses it to mean the latter). While the specifics vary depending on factors like company size and industry, product operations typically focuses on four key areas:

  1. Improving internal workflows

  2. Promoting best practices

  3. Facilitating data and analytics

  4. Managing the product team's tech stack

Any company can benefit from a more operationalized approach to product development. If you are dealing with rudderless meetings, customer requests piling up, and disjointed or outdated tools, it is difficult to make meaningful progress at a steady pace. Product operations managers address many of these obstacles. By streamlining internal workflows, you help free up precious time for the broader product team to focus on product strategy and building.

If you are part of a product team and curious about what product ops entails, this guide will help you get started. Skip ahead to learn more:

Streamline product team processes

What does product operations do?

Product operations covers all aspects of product team efficiency. Since it is both an emerging job function and unique to each organization's product development process, the details will vary. But in most cases, product operations responsibilities commonly fall under four main areas of focus:

Improve internal workflows

Product operations works closely with product, engineering, and customer support teams to streamline workflows — making it as seamless as possible for people to collaborate and get work done. To accomplish this, product operations managers will identify areas where processes break down, then create repeatable processes to simplify daily work.

Example tasks:

  • Creating templates for things like product requirement documents and meeting notes

  • Holding regular meetings with product, engineering, customer support, and other team leads to understand current roadblocks

  • Identifying ways to save time on routine tasks like collecting user feedback and roadmapping

  • Setting up automated notifications for managers when an item of work changes status

  • Spotting the root cause of bottlenecks and exploring solutions to address capacity constraints

Promote best practices

Working with a cross-functional product group requires tight coordination to avoid chaos. Here is where product operations shines by helping everyone understand how the team works best together. Product operations encourages best practices that drive alignment on how work is completed throughout product development — strengthening overall team performance.

Example tasks:

  • Developing and maintaining internal documentation on product team roles, responsibilities, and workflows

  • Establishing set procedures for requesting work from another team

  • Auditing day-to-day practices for inconsistencies, then deciding on a standardized approach

  • Training team members on best practices, including new hire onboarding

Facilitate data and analytics

Product operations helps the product team make the most of the data they collect. This includes data related to customer acquisition and retention, product usage, and customer feedback. When businesses have thousands or even millions of customers, this can quickly become a mass of input with minimal insight. Product operations helps bring structure and clarity to reporting on product analytics — so you can more quickly spot trends that will inform product decisions.

Example tasks:

  • Building a reporting dashboard that displays live data on key product metrics

  • Enabling automated reports to deliver via email notifications

  • Implementing systems to collect and analyze net promoter scores (NPS) from customers

  • Organizing ideas portals for easier analysis of feedback by segment, feature type, etc.

Manage the product team tech stack

A product team's tech stack can include software for collaboration, idea management, roadmapping, project management, and agile development. Product operations audits each solution to ensure everyone has the tools they need — adding or consolidating when necessary — and training to know how to use them. Product operations folks will also set up software integrations so that work can flow freely between applications.

Example tasks:

  • Administering the tech stack by managing user permissions, subscriptions, and renewals

  • Collecting feedback from product team members on technology needs

  • Evaluating new product development software to meet team needs

  • Maintaining infrastructure within software tools to accelerate adoption and usage

  • Troubleshooting integration issues and helping to unify work environments

Product operations vs. product management

Every company needs to address product operations. But not every company needs a dedicated product ops manager or function. In many companies, product operations responsibilities are owned by product managers. Product managers often see these administrative tasks, such as documenting team processes and building reports, as complements to their more strategic work of developing lovable products.

But more large enterprises are opting to add designated product operations managers. Some claim that this is a surefire way to scale your product organization. But keep in mind that operations is not a growth function — it is an administrative function that alleviates growing pains.

Companies might consider adding a product ops team if they:

  • Have a complex product portfolio that requires extensive coordination across large, cross-functional groups — especially with numerous product management positions and teams

  • Need dedicated personnel to oversee workflows and internal processes on a massive scale

  • Struggle to analyze increasing amounts of data and implement findings

In these cases, product operations folks collaborate as part of the larger product development team, helping to offload administrative and operational work from product managers, engineers, customer success team members, and others. The main difference between product operations and product management functions is who they serve. Product operations caters to internal groups while product management focuses on external end-users. Product operations is rarely involved in building the product itself and instead manages behind-the-scenes infrastructure to support product-building teams in doing their best.

Related resources:

Product operations roles and job titles

Product operations roles are growing in popularity. There are currently more than 48,000 folks with "product operations" in their job title on LinkedIn and 4,700 job listings for product operations professionals in the United States. (In comparison, more than 2 million people have "product manager" in their title and there are 28,000 product manager job listings.)

As with product management, there is not one set career path towards product operations. People shift into this career from business analysis, project management, and product management. It helps to perform a product-related function before you pursue a role in product ops, so you have a deep understanding of the types of processes you will be working to improve.

If you are searching for a product operations role or considering adding some positions to your product team, here are the common job titles you will see:

  • VP of product operations

  • Director of product operations

  • Product operations manager

  • Product operation specialist

  • Product operations analyst

  • Product data analyst

  • Product communications specialist

  • Process architect

Like product managers, product operations professionals solve complex problems for others. Product operations helps to make the product development process as smooth and efficient as possible — so product teams can meet goals and deliver value more effectively.

It takes a great deal of effort and organization to achieve this level of operational success, but the right tools can help. A fully integrated product development suite keeps the whole product team connected in a unified software environment — so you can stay aligned as you take products from ideation to release.

You can set product strategy, gather customer feedback, and report on roadmap progress — all in one place. Try Aha! free for 30 days.

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