Sales operations and marketing operations roles have been a staple at SaaS companies for quite some time. However product operations (or “prod ops”) is a relatively new role, and one that is less clearly well defined and understood. So what is the role of product operations and how does it help product teams? In this post, we’ll cover what product operations is, the core responsibilities, examples of how some companies use product operations, why the role matters and some benefits of product operations.

 

What is Product Operations?

Product operations, or prod ops, is a role that’s becoming increasingly common, but the specific definition varies from organization to organization. As with other operations roles, the goal is to support a particular team (in this case, the product team) and make it more efficient by streamlining processes and managing data and technology. This may include streamlining communication within the product team and with other parts of the company, standardizing planning and other processes, and putting together onboarding and training programs, best practices and support resources.

Product operations sits at the intersection of a few different teams, helping to connect the teams who are building your product, like product and engineering, with customer-facing teams, like customer success, support and sales.

Because these operations roles are intended to make the teams they support more efficient, they generally don’t make sense until the team grows to a certain scale. As the team reaches rapid growth, product operations ensures that the product organization is equipped to scale and grow consistently and with low friction. As with marketing and sales ops, in the early days of growth, the hat of a product ops function is probably worn by someone else on the product team, such as a product manager.

 

8 Core Responsibilities of Product Ops

As we mentioned above, the responsibilities of product ops roles vary from company to company. That said, there are some consistent areas of responsibility that we’ve seen across different companies.

 

Support onboarding

When your team is growing fast, you want to make sure that your newly hired team members can get up to speed quickly, learn what they need to know and plug into the current team, all without slowing the existing team down. Product ops helps by defining an effective onboarding process and then puts everything in place so that there’s a clear path from day of hire to becoming a productive member of the team.

 

Roll out best practices

The world of SaaS and product management is constantly changing. To be competitive, the best product teams have to be constantly improving, staying on top of the latest best practices, methodologies and tools. Product ops will invest time in staying on top of these changes, likely with input from those inside and outside of the team, and then identify the most impactful areas. These learnings are then consolidated into easily accessible information for the team.

 

Develop a continuing education program

The most critical best practices that we mentioned above should then be put into a continuing education curriculum for the product team. Product ops makes sure that everyone on the team is staying on top of the curriculum and puts in place a way to measure whether the team is learning what they need to know. For continuing education to be really effective, the team needs to understand that it’s an important part of their job. And prod ops needs to make sure that there are convenient ways to schedule and access training, and that the educational content is compelling and valuable.

 

Streamline critical and routine tasks and processes

In any team, there are tasks or processes that are repeated, and likely take up a meaningful amount of the team’s time. Examples include interpreting user feedback, conducting user interviews, sprint planning and roadmapping. Product operations will take each of these repeating processes and identify opportunities to streamline them so that they take less of the team’s time and yield more impactful results.

 

Maintain templates, guidelines, references and resources for product managers

Product teams, particularly at scale, use a lot of resources to back up those routine and repeatable tasks and processes that we mentioned above. This could include resources like user story templates, interview guides, survey frameworks, etc. Prod ops should make sure that these resources are the right ones for the task, are easy to use and are made available in a central, easy to find location.

 

Manage the product stack and tools

Over the past few years, the product management tool stack has grown much more complex. Many teams now regularly use ten to twenty or more tools across roadmapping, project management, user testing, user feedback, analytics, session replay, tag management and more. And while product teams are likely capable of managing this stack themselves, it’s time consuming and, if not done well, is a drag on team productivity. So when product operations can manage and optimize the stack, product managers can focus on building the product.

 

Make the right data easily available

As the product management stack and products themselves get more complex, product teams are left with huge volumes of data to manage. Within this data are powerful insights for improving the product, but again, you don’t want your product managers burning valuable cycles trying to wrangle the data. So a good product operations manager will manage this data and empower their product team with easy access to the key insights in the data.

 

Manage the customer feedback lifecycle

It’s a given that all successful SaaS companies focus on their customers. To grow quickly and efficiently, you need happy customers who will continue to use and pay for your product, as well as helping grow your user base by being advocates for your brand and referring others. The customer experience is key to this. 

As more SaaS companies adopt a product-led strategy, the product experience is the customer experience. From new user onboarding, to the in app user experience to leveraging user feedback, product operations has an essential role to play in improving that experience by driving analysis, testing and experimentation. They also ensure there’s an effective process in place for managing the user feedback process.

 

How Other Companies Leverage Product Operations Managers

We’ve mentioned that the product operations role varies from company to company, so let’s take a look at the product operations role at some well known companies.

At CarGurus, product operation’s responsibilities include operational excellence, product requirements gathering, managing partner relationships, monitoring the efficiency of new product launches and measuring customer and business impact on new releases.

RobinHood’s product operations manager focuses on improving operational efficiency and readiness. This includes scaling operations for existing products and designing operational programs for new initiatives. They also develop the process for testing, launching and rolling out new features. They work across teams including product management, compliance, legal, engineering and customer experiences. 

DoorDash’s product operations team works across sales, product, engineering, support and other teams and focuses on DoorDash’s relationships with their partners. They solve operational challenges and then execute those solutions. They also establish best practices and organizational efficiencies for how they drive new partnerships. And they manage initiatives to drive team productivity.

 

5 Benefits of Product Operations

 

Build a Solid Stack

As we discussed above, there are an overwhelming number of tools available to product teams. Product ops can build the right stack for the team, by having a deep understanding of the teams’ needs, the available tools and ensuring that the tools are integrated. This means that the product team will be able to move faster and make better decisions, rather than fighting to manage the product stack.

 

Address Emerging Issues

As technical issues are raised by users, product ops can work with frontline support teams to ensure that the most impactful and high priority issues get prioritized for immediate attention. Not only does this positively impact the user experience, it shields product managers from having to get involved with every issue as it is raised, so they can focus on longer term improvements to the product.

 

Collect and Manage Feedback

At Parlor, we believe that effective management of user feedback is critical to building a strong product and having an engaged and happy user base. Product operations should build a strong process for end to end management of user feedback. Feedback should be collected across different channels, tagged and organized in a single system of record and then turned into prioritized product work to be done.

 

Facilitate Product Adoption

Building on the point above, once you’ve incorporated that user feedback into your product roadmap and have built features that users will really value, product operations should make sure that the right activities are taken to drive adoption. They can work with product marketing to develop product announcements and then communicate those to users. And there’s no better place to do that than right in your app!

Parlor feature announcement

Makes the Product Manager More Effective

A good product operations manager makes the product manager better and more impactful. By managing the operational aspects of the product organization, and implementing best practices, continuing education and enabling the product team with the right tools, product managers can focus on their core competencies. This ultimately results in a team that is far more productive, and likely happier, than one without product operations.

 

Demand for Product Operations Will Only Increase

 

For all the reasons that we covered above, product operations is a role that we’ll see increasing demand for. As more SaaS businesses shift to product-led growth strategies, the impact and importance of product operations will continue to increase. Likewise there will be more competitive pressure to innovate quickly, meaning that product teams will have to be even more agile and efficient. Product operations will be a critical part of making this happen. How does product operations work on your team? We’d love to hear from you!