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What is product operations, and do you need it?

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

February 09, 2024

Responsibilities vary, but if there’s one thing all product managers have in common, it’s that they’ve got a lot on their plate.

Product operations, or ‘prod ops’ for short, emerged as a discipline designed to help managers and their teams function like a well-oiled machine. This means designing products that customers love, on time, and to budget while factoring in scaling needs as the company grows. Let’s take a closer look at this product development essential.

What is product operations (product ops)?

Product ops refers to a team (or individual) focused on metrics, processes, best practices, budgeting, reporting, and infrastructure to maintain product excellence and team efficiency. Think of them as being like facilitators. They don’t replace the product manager — they help them deliver better products faster.

Product ops focuses on streamlining the following: 

  • Processes
  • Tools
  • Strategies
  • Infrastructure

This includes making sure everyone has the right tools at their disposal, that they’re using data to make decisions, and that communication between different parts of the company is clear and efficient.

It’s a relatively new area in the tech world, but it’s quickly becoming essential. As products and markets become more complex, the need for a dedicated role or team to manage these operations becomes more apparent.

Product operations vs. product management

While product ops and product management work closely together, they focus on different aspects of bringing a product to market. 

Product management is primarily concerned with the strategic direction of a product. Product managers are the visionaries who identify customer needs, define the product roadmap, and make decisions about what features to build. 

Their role is outward-looking, focusing on market trends, customer feedback, and competitive analysis to guide the development of a product that meets market demands.

Product ops, on the other hand, focuses on the operational and tactical aspects of executing the product strategy defined by product management. This includes:

  • Streamlining the product development process
  • Managing tools and platforms to support product development
  • Analyzing data to inform product decisions and improvements
  • Facilitating communication and collaboration across teams to ensure alignment with the product vision
  • Implementing feedback mechanisms to continually refine the product

The two roles are complementary. Product ops enable product managers to focus on high-level strategy by taking on the responsibility of operational details and execution challenges.

What do product ops teams do?

Product ops, whether embodied by a single manager or an entire team, play an important role in the product development process. 

The responsibilities are diverse and tailored to the team, task, and business. Here’s a concise list of typical job responsibilities for product ops managers or teams:

  • Organizes how work gets done
  • Collects and uses feedback
  • Helps the team use data wisely
  • Finds the best tools and practices
  • Makes sure everyone is aligned
  • Focuses on the customer
  • Leads continuous improvement initiatives

Why is product ops important?

  • Keeping things running smoothly: Just like a well-organized kitchen helps the chef cook meals faster and better, product ops help the product team work more efficiently. It organizes how work gets done, making sure everyone has what they need.
  • Helping you create the right things: Product success isn’t just about a big output — it’s about building products people will actually use and love. Product ops helps by gathering feedback from customers and making sense of it, so the team knows what to build next.
  • Helping everyone work together: Building a product is a team sport. It involves lots of different people — from those who write the code to those who sell the product. Product ops make sure all these groups talk to each other and understand what’s going on.
  • Using data to make decisions: Guessing isn’t a great strategy. Product ops uses data and facts to help make decisions, so you know you’re on the right track.
  • Keeping the focus on the customer: In the end, it’s all about making the customer happy. Product ops keeps the team focused on their needs, making sure the product solves their problems and makes their lives better.

7 common problems your product ops team can solve

Product teams face a range of problems in their daily work. Here’s where your op team can swoop in and save the day. 

1. Overcoming communication barriers

Communication breakdowns can lead to confusion and delays. Product ops facilitate a clear line of communication across all departments involved in the product life cycle, from engineering to marketing, manager to coder. This keeps everyone moving in the same direction.

2. Managing scattered customer feedback

Without a centralized system, feedback from customers can be scattered across different channels and easy to overlook. Product ops collects and organizes this feedback, making it accessible and actionable for the team. This results in more user-centered products.

3. Navigating data overload

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of data available. Product ops sifts through to identify the useful bits, and turning it into actionable insights. This helps teams make informed decisions without getting bogged down in analysis paralysis.

4. Streamlining processes

Inefficient processes cause delays and frustration. Product ops reviews and optimizes these processes, removing bottlenecks and streamlining processes. This means products can move from conception to market faster and with fewer hiccups.

5. Ensuring tool efficacy

The wrong tools complicate rather than simplify product development. Product ops evaluates and selects the best tools for the team’s needs, ensuring they complement and enhance the workflow rather than get in the way.

6. Balancing priorities

With multiple projects and deadlines, it can be challenging to prioritize tasks effectively. Product ops help you allocate efficiently and keep critical projects moving forward without unnecessary delays.

7. Maintaining a customer focus

It’s easy for teams to get so caught up in the technical details that they lose sight of the customer’s needs. Product ops keep the customer perspective front and center, ensuring products are developed with the end user’s needs and experiences in mind.

Key skills for product ops professionals 

When looking to hire someone for a product ops role, there are a few key skills to look out for. 

1. Strong analytical skills

A good product ops pro should be able to sift through data and make sense of it. They need to be comfortable working with numbers and making sense of trends that can inform product development decisions.

2. Good communication skills

Given that product ops acts as a bridge between various teams, excellent communication skills are a must. Candidates should be able to convey complex information clearly and concisely to people at different levels of the organization. 

3. Strong organization skills:

Being organized is at the heart of what makes product ops effective. Look for candidates who can demonstrate an ability to manage multiple tasks and projects, keeping everything running smoothly even as priorities shift.

4. Seek out problem-solving capabilities

The nature of product ops involves identifying and addressing various challenges that crop up during the product life cycle. A strong candidate should show a knack for creative problem-solving, offering practical solutions to keep the development process on track.

5. Good technical understanding

While deep technical expertise may not be essential, and things can be learned on the job, having a good understanding of the product development process and the tech involved will be incredibly beneficial. 

6. Strong adaptability

The fast-paced, ever-changing world of product development means adaptability is essential. Candidates should be comfortable with change and capable of adjusting their approaches as the situation demands.

7. Customer-centric thinking

Product ops act as the bridge between the customer and the dev team, so look for candidates who demonstrate empathy and a strong orientation towards customer needs and experiences.

8. Relevant experience

Familiarity with project management software, data analysis tools, and agile methodologies are a plus. These competencies suggest that the candidate can hit the ground running and add to the team’s effectiveness from day one.

Product ops software

Backlog, our own PM tool, offers everything you need to keep projects on track, teams in sync, and goals in sight. From analyzing and visualizing data to keeping track of tasks, bugs, code, and clients in one central hub — project management software is a game-changer in the world of product ops. Try it for free today! 



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