Lately it seems like everyone is talking, writing or singing about Product Operations and it sometimes seems like the shiny new thing that everyone wants a piece of.
Many folks are making an effort to transition into a Product Operations role, while other may attach Product Operations to their current role title just to make sure they’re part of the trend.
Everybody is discussing how it’s the new super power for product organisation and the role that is a game changer for everything. Where have I heard this before? 🤔 No particular example, but I myself have recognised this behaviour with almost every role in product development.
There are sadly some aspects that have been sugar coated or completely ignored in attempt to present Product Operations as the best thing ever and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the topic.
There are many good things about the role of Product Operations or I obviously wouldn’t be in this role. I could write a book on all the good of this role, but I’ll leave that to Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles.
I do however want to share a quick summary of some of the main things I love about the role.
- It’s about solving problems — Everywhere you turn there are new and exciting problems to solve. No two companies are exactly the same, so the challenges will need different solutions. If that’s something that you enjoy, you might like working in Product Operations.
- It’s a collaborative role — We need to talk to people across the business at various levels, which means we get to work with folks of all backgrounds. We are also seen as a neutral role, so people may bring us in when there is too much bias involved. It helps to be a people person.
- It’s a data-informed role — Both in the way we measure our work, the operational effectiveness of the organisation and how the organisation measures the value they bring to users. For Product Operations professionals, things need to be measured and analysed in some way. We understand the importance of making decisions informed by actual data.
- It’s great for people with diverse backgrounds — Although you may think that the only avenue to work in Product Operations is through Product Management or Business Analyst backgrounds, I’ve seen cases of people coming from other areas and being just as successful. It’s less about your origin and more about the experience and know how you may have built over the years. It’s about the diversity of experience you’ve had.
- It’s about mentoring and coaching — This is one of the parts I love the most, the opportunity to help others on their journey. Whether it’s to understand a change, processes or “mindset”, or whether it’s actually going deeper and helping them understand the bigger picture. It’s all about helping others grow and learn through their own experience and learning.
- There is no limit — Yup, not even the sky is the limit 😉. The truth is that there are no limits to how you diagnose a problem, define a solution and roll it out. There is a lot of experimentation and iteration. It’s about finding what works for your current situation and context, based on all the experience you have and the countless frameworks that exist out there.
- It’s about helping others — At the end of the day, the most important part is helping others to do their work more easily, with more support, with the right approach to achieve better results. If we aren’t helping the organisation build the right thing, the right way, we aren’t doing our job well.
As you can see, there is a lot of good and for the right people, this can be an incredible and rewarding role, but it’s not all a bed of roses and now we need to look at some of the less positive things that aren’t often mentioned.
The Bad and Ugly
I honestly hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s important to have a clear notion of the negative aspects of the role, especially if you’re considering it as a potential career move.
I also know that many will ignore this part, but it’s here in case you need it.
- It can be a lot of work: The scope of product operations is huge and can span various areas and disciplines of the organisation. Often, the Product Operations teams are not as big as they need to be and so we tend to get spread quite thinly. Folks will often try and drag us in to topics that may not be in our scope, just because Product Operations folks are generally pretty good at getting shit done and solving problems… Defining your scope and learning to say no is super important.
- It can be challenging to get buy-in from other teams — Product Operations is often in a strange place, where everyone sees the need for operational efficiency and effectiveness, they don’t have time/space to tackle it or don’t understand the hiring of someone to focus on those aspects. The simple fact is that if someone is working directly on the product, everyone understands their role, but when you have roles focused on the team, it becomes harder for the teams to understand their role. Especially if they aren’t seeing the impact of that work. It’s not to say this role doesn’t create value, but the perception of that value at the teams isn’t always clear, but that’s a whole other article 😉. Here a lot of work needs to be done in surfacing the impact and making sure at least the right people are aware of the impact.
- It can be difficult to measure the impact of your work — In fact, it’s probably one of the biggest debates amongst Product Operations professionals. It’s generally easy to find qualitative approaches to measuring that impact, but most qualitative approaches require effort and investment from the teams (surveys, interviews etc.), which isn’t ideal. However, finding the right metrics may seem almost impossible at first and many folks struggle to find a quantitative approach. I’ve struggled with it myself and have found that I actually prefer to focus on the effectiveness and efficiency metrics of the organisation. Much like product metrics will improve if the teams work on the product correctly, organisational metrics will improve if the Ops folks do their job correctly. That’s the first step at least.
- You’re often seen as a “support” or “admin” role — As mentioned above, the Product Operations professional isn’t working directly on the product, which will make it seem like a support role, which to an extent it is. What’s worse is that the role often is seen as an Admin role, that just handles administrative tasks for others and don’t have any actual power. This can be frustrating, especially if you feel like you’re not being given the same level of respect as other members of the team.
- You’re often the scapegoat — I’m not saying that Product Operations will be blamed for everything, but there may be a certain level of finger pointing. If a change we implemented goes wrong, we will be blamed, however if someone else implemented the change and it goes wrong, we may be blamed for not taking it on ourselves because it was our role. It’s easier having someone you can blame when a change or process go wrong and by taking the role of Product Operations, you’re you’re taking that responsibility. I suggest rolling with the punches and finding ways to work around that blame game.
- The role is often misunderstood — There is a lot of confusion about what product ops actually is, even amongst Product Operations professionals. Many feel their it’s their responsibility to improve operational efficiency/effectiveness and so this roll is either encroaching in their space or just pointless. Rather than understanding that Product Operations will actually enable them to do so much more that they currently are able to do.
- Companies don’t always give Product Operations the right support — Sadly, many companies hire for Product Operations because everyone is saying they should. Others do hire for the right reason, but don’t take the right approach, assuming that you throw operational problems at us and then expect us to come back with a solution that solves it all. What these organisations don’t realise is that Product Operations can’t be done in a bubble and it requires involvement and coloration with folks on the team. In other cases, they don’t give the operations folks the space to do what they do well and become blockers to improvement. I’ve heard of way to many companies assuming one of these approaches and the truth is, they probably should have hired anyone for Product Operations, because the results will be the same.
- There is a lot of muddying around the role of Product Operations: It seems like the perfect situation. There is so little content and few experts that there is space for almost anyone to come in and help define the role… except that a lot of those definitions are being based on assumptions, perceptions and very strong bias by folks with little real experience in the role. This happens in almost every “new” role and I wrote about it in the last edition. Long story short, be cautious with everything you read online… it’s not all true.
It’s not all rosy and wonderful, but there is so much that is incredible and rewarding about Product Operations for the right people.
There is still a lot of confusion about the role and it probably won’t disappear completely. Its also important to dispel some of the myths around the role, both in the community and within product orgs themselves. My former colleague and good friend, Chris Compston wrote a great article on the Myths of Product Operations that I suggest reading.
If you’re looking for a career that’s challenging, collaborative, and data-driven, then Product Operations might be the right role for you.
So, there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly of Product Operations. If you’re thinking about a career in Product Operations, I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what the role really entails.
This Newsletter is a passion project and I will always keep the content free for my readers. If you find it useful and would like to support the content, please donate.