Every company’s journey to becoming (and continuously being) product led will look a little bit different. Still, there are foundational elements that every product-led organization shares. At these companies, teams beyond the product org recognize the product’s ability to drive what were once human-led activities. Product data is a common language through which every team can communicate—helping sales, marketing, and customer success better serve customers and prospects at every stage.

Even when it’s through small changes over time, becoming product led shifts how a company operates. The product is no longer just part of the customer experience, it is the customer experience, putting responsibility on the product team to ensure the rest of the organization has the resources they need to put this principle into practice.

As a result, many businesses are turning to product operations: a relatively new function that centers around improving alignment and connecting the product team with the rest of the organization.

What is product operations?

Product operations (commonly referred to as product ops) exists to support research and development (R&D) teams and their go-to-market counterparts to improve communication and processes around the product. Just as sales ops, marketing ops, and DevOps add operational rigor to their respective departments, the product team also benefits from this type of complementary partner.

Some companies (startups, for instance) may only need one product ops person, but larger companies often build out entire product operations teams that sit within the broader product organization. Regardless of the size of a product ops function, the responsibilities fall into four core areas:

  1. Tools: Similar to other ops roles, product operations manages the product tech stack, establishes internal best practices, and ensures team members are leveraging the tools available to them to their fullest.
  2. Data: Product ops collects, organizes, and analyzes quantitative and qualitative product data, enabling the entire organization to make the most of their insights. This can include everything from product usage data and Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to customer feedback, feature requests, and support tickets.
  3. Experimentation: To help remove friction from the product experimentation process, product ops tracks, sequences, and implements all experiments and creates processes to drive efficiency for all stakeholders.
  4. Strategy: Product ops fosters cross-departmental collaboration around the product, and uses their product insights to identify areas for improvement and inform business decisions. By providing product information to key decision makers, product ops is also an important advisor to CPOs, VPs of product, and other R&D leadership.

Pre-product ops, these responsibilities were often absorbed by multiple individuals or teams with defined roles of their own. For product operations to truly drive efficiency and collaboration, though, it’s best to have a dedicated person or team running your product ops function.

Why product-led companies need product ops

Becoming product led brings with it new ideas and ways of working. Teams across the company reorient around the product and collaborate on shared initiatives like in-app onboarding, iterative product and feature releases, customer feedback programs, and product-led growth. And product operations plays a key role in managing these new processes.

For example, product ops might oversee things like launch coordination, data consistency and centralization, internal product enablement, customer feedback, and in-app guide governance. This isn’t to say that product managers are no longer involved in these key areas—instead, they’re relieved of administrative tasks and have more time to focus on building new functionality to meet users’ evolving needs.

Through this work, product ops helps add rigor to product departments and, more importantly, ensures the rest of the organization is informed and empowered to put the product at the center of their work.

How product ops fuels better collaboration

One common thread throughout everything a product operations person or team does is collaboration. In addition to working with product, engineering, sales, customer success, and marketing on a daily basis, product ops’ work also helps drive better collaboration among those teams. Here are some ways product ops helps improve how departments across the company collaborate.

Establishing cross-functional partnerships

Working in any product role is inherently collaborative, but product operations exists to help ensure the product team is in-sync and aligned with its partners throughout the rest of the company. This manifests in different ways for different organizations, but in general product ops can provide product expertise to help inform key processes and decisions. Here are some examples of ways product ops might partner with various teams:

  • Product ops works with RevOps to ensure product data is incorporated into business health metrics, especially with respect to free trial conversions, renewals, and expansion.
  • Product ops uses data and feedback from the field to advise DevOps on roadmapping and prioritization.
  • Product ops partners with marketing to define product personas and ensure that the leads the team generates match the characteristics of the company’s most successful users.
  • Product ops brings together stakeholders in engineering, product, and customer success around a release and testing process, helping new ideas go from alpha testing, to beta testing, and eventually to general availability (GA).
  • Product ops monitors customer feedback channels and feeds that information back to the customer success team and product owners.

Creating a single source of product data

One of the core tenants of a product-led organization is being data driven. As other teams begin recognizing the value of product data and leveraging it in their work, it becomes even more important to ensure the data is easily accessible and properly managed. Putting a single person or team in charge of this helps eliminate issues like data duplication, or people not knowing where to go for certain information.

When it’s an established function, product ops is responsible for collecting and managing product data from multiple sources, as well as analyzing it and sharing insights with stakeholders across the company. Product operations teams also often coordinate efforts around customer feedback. Since feedback can live in many forms and come in through different channels, it needs to be organized and maintained in a way that helps teams get the most out of it.

In addition to ensuring key quantitative and qualitative data points all live in one place, product ops should also work to enable the entire organization to easily access the data on their own. This way, teams can self-serve and use product data to inform their decisions, and better communicate cross-functionally around a shared understanding of the product and its users.

Bringing products to market

At product-led organizations, it’s not just the product and engineering teams who care about a product or feature launch. The marketing team aligns their campaigns with upcoming releases and works to drive demand, adoption, and usage with customers and prospects. Customer success managers (CSMs) need to feel prepared to answer any questions from their accounts and encourage customers to use what the product team is delivering. And the sales team wants to know value drivers and who the target user is for a new product or feature, so they can tailor their outreach accordingly.

Meanwhile, in true product-led fashion the product team is constantly iterating and releasing new functionality. In order to ensure cohesive, coordinated releases, product operations sits at the intersection of all these stakeholders to ensure everyone stays on the same page. Product ops helps communicate—both internally to other teams and externally to customers—the what, why, and how of every new product or feature. 

For example, the product operations team works with partners across the organization on:

  • General launch planning and preparedness
  • Internal communication and enablement on new features
  • Written documentation
  • In-app communication to users about new functionality
  • Changelogs for customers

Through all of this work, product ops helps the company as a whole stay aligned on the latest product developments—further encouraging every team across the organization to become more product led.

Scaling product knowledge

Since they are in sync with both the product organization and multiple teams across the company, product ops becomes the natural resource for things like product information, enablement materials, and the state of the roadmap. Here are some questions product ops might be expected to to be able to answer:

  • What are the top priorities across all product teams? 
  • Where does X fall on the product roadmap?
  • What are the top X needs from Y customers?
  • What are the top X at-risk customers?

More important than this, though, is product ops’ ability to proactively share product knowledge and make it readily available. The best product ops teams help their colleagues help themselves—they set up processes for cross-functional workflows, centralized resource hubs, and visibility in all of the tools where work happens. As a result, everyone at the organization feels armed with the resources they need to drive their product-led initiatives.