PRODUCTHEAD: Product ops — cynical rebrand or division of labour?
PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.
paranoid product manager
3 tenets of product ops: insights, research, and processes & practices
Product ops is about enablement and coaching, not a rebrand of the product owner or product marketer roles
Product ops is the ‘glue’ that binds different business functions and product focus areas together
Product ops enables product teams to achieve better outcomes
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Only recently I was writing about the rise of the growth product manager as either a new specialism or a fad. This week I’d like to explore the confusion that surrounds product ops.
Product ops remains ambiguous #
The definition of product ops remains ambiguous. Marty Cagan sees it ranging from opportunistic rebrands of roles such as product marketing or product owner to make them more attractive to a new generation of product people, through to a ‘force multiplier’ type of role that he bases on Melissa Perri’s definition. (Confused yet?)
Enablement and coaching #
Cagan suggests that the role is about enablement: suitably skilled and experienced product people and user researchers providing contextual coaching, training, tools and frameworks to product delivery teams to help them to raise their collective game.
To me, at least part of this sounds like something a head of product — the person responsible for leading, coaching and enabling the community of product people at their organisation — would already have been doing.
And if the number of product people has grown beyond the point that is reasonable for a single head of product to look after by themselves, then it can be divided up. Scott Colfer describes how he did this in his excellent summary of his six years growing and running a community of practice at the UK’s Ministry of Justice.
Facilitating scale-up #
Another popular take is that product ops is about helping a business scale as the number of product delivery teams grows. Here, the idea is that product ops takes on routine and repeatable tasks such as stakeholder communications and documentation to free up product managers to focus more on strategy, user research, discovery and data validation.
In principle, this sounds like a great idea; in practice, I wonder if this runs the risk of introducing a fragmentation effect that leads to teams falling out of alignment from each other and their stakeholders.
Lost in translation? #
‘People stuff’ and effective communication are such important aspects of being a product manager that delegating these tasks feels problematic, particularly if nuance starts to get lost in translation. Perhaps I’m just seeing it as a variation of the dysfunction that can creep in to a team that has a separate product manager (strategic focus) and product owner (delivery focus).
A different division of labour #
If the product being managed has become too unwieldy for a single product manager and delivery team to handle, my instinct would be to divide up the product along customer journey lines and have a greater number of dedicated product managers and delivery teams focus at the appropriate level of detail, each with responsibility for effective and frequent communication with other teams and stakeholders.
Context still matters #
But, like almost everything in product management, it all depends on the context. Who’s to say my instincts are any more accurate than anyone else’s? To help fuel your own thinking on this, I’ve included the articles and interviews that cover a good range of the opinions on product ops so far.
What’s your view? #
I’m also interested in your views on this. If you have product ops up and running at your organisation and want to share how it’s going, just drop me a reply in the comments below — I’d love to hear from you.
Speak to you soon,
P.S. There’s 20% off passes to PLA’s Product Ops Summit in March for PRODUCTHEAD subscribers this week – take a look below.
what to think about this week
Denise and Melissa explain why they strongly disagree with Marty Cagan’s recent post [and follow-up here] characterizing Product Ops as simply “process people.” Product ops helps organizations actually scale, and helps teams inform, deploy, and monitor their product strategy.
[MELISSA PERRI / PRODUX LABS]
As Product School says in their survey article trying to define what Product Ops is: “Product Ops operates differently at every company.” Which might be true, but isn’t very helpful.
From my own interactions with companies implementing or exploring Product Ops, I have found no fewer than six distinct definitions.
So the first and most obvious question is why so many different definitions?
[MARTY CAGAN / SILICON VALLEY PRODUCT GROUP]
I’ve experienced first hand how product managers spinning (too) many plates end up losing sight of some of their core tasks around discovery and understanding the data.
I wonder whether the primary function of Product Operations is to support product managers – particularly from a process perspective – similar to more established functions like designops and devops. Could product operations act as the ‘glue’ that binds different business functions and product focus areas together?!
While the Product Operations discipline does have the word ‘product’ in it we need to remember that Product Management is not the only player in the development of products.
[CHRIS COMPSTON / MEDIUM]
The flexibility afforded to the product operations role is beneficial in so long as the overlapping responsibilities with other roles, primarily the product manager, are kept to a minimum. This article is focused on disambiguating the relationship between product operations and product managers.
[JASON GIROUARD / MEDIUM]
When you start out as a head of product (or product director or VP product), you’ll probably need to create a community of product people. In this latest entry for my series of 100 things I’ve learned about product management, I share my advice to help you get the ball rolling with your own community of practice.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
There’s an ongoing debate about generalist product managers versus emerging product manager specialisms (such as ‘growth product manager’). I think there is room in our profession for both. Let me explain.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
This is an updated version of an article I wrote over a decade ago.
All product managers will need to stand up and present to others at some point. Some people are less comfortable giving a presentation than others; that’s natural. Either way, you won’t be helping yourself (or your audience) if your slide deck is atrocious. So here are my 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
upcoming talks and events
10th March 2022
Product Ops Summit
The product ops party is back – and you’re invited 🎉
The third instalment of the Product Operations Summit has landed, so join us on March 10 to celebrate the unsung heroes of product management. 🏆
On the mic, we have:
🎙 Product Ops Specialist – Farfetch
🎙 Product Ops Lead – OLX Motors Europe
🎙 Global Head of Product – Shipstation
🎙 Head of Product Ops- Amplitude
🎙 Product Ops Manager – Auctane
🎙 Product Ops Lead – Sana Benefits
🎙 Product Ops Manager – Segment
🎙 CEO – Dragonboat
…plus loads more to come.
Get ready for juicy tips, tricks & insights from those pioneering product ops. 🤩
PRODUCTHEAD subscribers get 20% off an Access All Areas pass, just use PROD20 at checkout 💸
Grab your pass 👉
16th March 9am (PT) // 12pm (ET) // 5pm (GMT)
If you want to learn and get to grips with Product Ops, we’ve got the Bootcamp for you!
Join Melissa Perri and host, Janna Bastow as they explore and dive into the world of Product Ops – What makes a successful Product Ops team? What advantages are there to having Product Ops? When do you need to invest in them?
Our product experts will be exploring these questions and more, whilst sharing their product knowledge and experiences.
In this session we will also cover:
- How to convince your team you need Product Ops.
- How to know that you are ready to invest in Product Ops.
- What a career in product ops looks like, and how to get the skills needed for the role.
- How to hire for Product Ops.
- And so much more!
can we help you?
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PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from triple chocolate fudge cake.
Read more from Jock
The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management
by Jock Busuttil
“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”— Lyndsay Denton