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Using product ops to standardize product management processes
Today we are talking about product ops—what it is, if you need it, and how to get started.
Joining us is Steve Johnson, a returning guest. He is an author, speaker, and product coach. His market and technical savvy allowed his career to develop from Product Manager to Chief Marketing Officer. Steve is the author of Turn Ideas Into Products and co-creator of the popular Quartz Open framework.
Before co-founding Product Growth Leaders, his product management consulting company, he was a Pragmatic Marketing lead instructor for over 15 years. Now he empowers product teams with training and coaching that remove the chaos from product strategy and planning.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:57] What does product ops do?
Product ops is product management for product management. It’s looking at the friction of doing product management and standardizing it so we’re all using the same artifacts, methodologies, and research. Product ops involves getting clarity on roles and responsibilities and standardizing methodologies and artifacts.
There are many methods for product ops, like BRICE, RICE, and Kano. I don’t care which one you are using, as long as everyone is using the same method.
Product ops should involve standardizing onboarding, access to data, and systems. It involves guiding and coordinating customer research. Product management’s primary job is to scale our product business, and product ops is about scaling product management.
I work with teams, and often I find it’s the first time they’ve ever gotten together to talk about how they do product management. If everybody is doing their own thing, you end up with an overwhelming number of things to keep track of, and everything the team produces or presents to the leadership team looks like it came from a different company.
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[14:37] How does an organization know it needs product ops?
You should start thinking about it when you have three product managers and have product ops in place when you have four product managers. That’s when you start seeing deviation among product managers’ work.
I strongly encourage product leaders to have monthly get-togethers on Zoom where product managers present a topic and the product team discusses how they do product management in the organization. Have the “how do we do things here?” conversations frequently.
[20:26] How can organizations start putting in place a product ops capability?
If you have three or four product managers, a product ops role would be part-time. If you have seven to ten, you want to hire somebody full-time. Follow a product project from idea to market and map the best process for the company. I recommend the Quartz Open Framework, which involves six steps from idea to market. For each step, you figure out the artifacts and ceremonies, and the framework provides you a structure for getting from idea to launch. Learning occurs at every step, not just the beginning and the end.
One challenge a lot of product ops projects run into is trying to make a company-wide holistic process. Limit it to what the product manager is doing and whom they’re doing it with. It’s key to recognize products are built by teams, not by individuals. We need to be really clear on what artifacts I’m going to create, how I’m going to hand them to you, and how we’re going to collaborate. I don’t like the phrase handoff, which implies I throw it over the wall. Instead, think of a baton handoff in a relay race—a carefully practiced interaction involving explicit communication. Take the idea all the way from idea to market and figure out where you coordinate with UX, development, marketing, and sales and how to have that communication. Write it down. Now you have a playbook and an onboarding guide.
[26:42] How can senior leadership be involved in product ops?
I have found that if somebody on the leadership team is not supporting your project it will ultimately fail. That said, I don’t think most executives have any concept of the scope of roles and responsibilities, and I certainly don’t want the VP of sales telling me what product management ought to be doing. Having a product management-savvy senior leader involved is critical, but let’s apply product management to creating product ops. Interview stakeholders and see where their friction is. Interview the VPs of sales, marketing, etc., and ask, “What can we do to better serve you in our roles as product managers?”
Action Guide: Put the information Steve shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Visit ProductGrowthLeaders.com
- Connect with Steve on LinkedIn
- Check out Turn Ideas into Products
- Learn more about the Quartz Open Framework and get free, ready-to-use templates
“Our opinions, while interesting, are irrelevant.” – Steve Johnson
“Nothing seems hard to the people who don’t have to do it.” – Steve Johnson
“When I decide just exactly who the song is going to help out, I can really scribble ‘er down in a hurry.” – Woody Guthrie
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.