Getting Started in Product OperationsFeatured

Are you looking to get started in Product Operations and curious where to begin? While the role of Product Operations has been around for a few years, many companies are now assigning team members full-time to the role. The job of Product Operations is to ensure the product organization within a company is operating with clear processes, rituals, and plans as they scale and build products to their marketplace. Before bringing on someone to take on this role, many teams rely on the Product Managers to take on this work. Over time, the caretaker of clear processes, rituals, and organization at a growing tech organization become a full time role, which is where Product Operations steps in. As a disclaimer: I recently started in the world of product operations in May. My goal is to share how I’m approaching my role in hopes that I can help you along the way. Step One: Listen UpFor me, the role was a bit undefined at the beginning. Instead of jumping head first into a new role, my manager recommended I take the path of listening and learning from my colleagues. This approach offered me the chance to focus on the most important work to the organization first versus starting in uncertainty. Over my first two months, I’ve sat down with individuals both inside and outside of the product organization to truly learn how they currently work with product. I asked for what went well, what could be improved, and which projects they would start with if they were me. Those simple questions helped me to unpack a few items:- What themes were arising across the company- Where the most common pain points were for different stakeholders- How to help match people into the areas of work they truly enjoyed doingMore importantly, I learned to ditch any preconceived notions I have about the role or what I would be “fixing.” Your job in Product Operations is focused on listening to what is most important and working to solve those problems. In addition to getting insights from around your team, try to look outside your organization as well. Use resources like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Elpha to reach out to others who are doing the same role as you.Step Two: Build and Prioritize Your BacklogJust like product development, take the requests you are receiving and prioritize them. In whatever system works best for you, keep all of the things you are hearing in one list so that you can prioritize it all when that time comes. For me, it’s been as simple as using a Google spreadsheet. If your experience is like mine, you will quickly learn the the same common areas of opportunity from everyone. If so, start to bucket out commonly heard requests as a place to start. When it comes time to start on your first project, be sure to start in a place that will give you confidence. Get a few quick wins under your belt that will get you excited to keep going. When it comes time to tackle some of the messier work, you will have more confidence if it isn’t your first project. An important consideration when gameplanning is that some tasks seem simple when they’re complex and vice versa. Until you get into the mix, it is hard to truly understand the scope of the work.Step Three: Present Back for Buy-InYou will be talking to lots of people. My best piece of advice is to keep an ongoing document to keep yourself organized. This will help to manage expectations and ensure that the team feels they were heard. It will also show that you truly took the time to talk with each group to understand how you can help them. Once you have all the information you need, I’d put together a one to two page executive summary to share out. This will help others understand the work you are starting with at a high level. Step Four: Continue to IterateJust like any other Agile process, you will need to continue to iterate. As the product team you work on grows in size and scale, their needs will change. Make it a goal to check in regularly with your team to ensure that the work you are doing still aligns to the most important goals. Also keep external connections that you’ve talked to about your role in the loop with how things are going. Leaning on others in product operations will help you all continue to learn and grow. Step Five: Keep Asking Important QuestionsWhile you are onboarding and getting started, make sure to ask questions. The last thing you want to do is get started and be unsure about what you are doing or if your plans make sense. Find your allies within your team and lean on them for support whenever you need it. If you are getting started in product operations or are looking for someone to share ideas with, let me know! I am happy to jump on a call and help you create your action plan. Let me know if these tips help and continue to lean on those of us in Elpha for support!--Kim Blight is Product Operations Lead at Sprout Social. An advocate for people and products, she leads the Parents@Sprout Group to ensure parents are represented in the workplace. Three fun facts about me:1. Met my husband on Twitter and talked for 5 years online before meeting in person. 2. Lifelong Chicago Bulls fan.3. Reads at least 3 books every month.
Thank you, Kim for sharing your story with us! If you have a good story to share, or know someone who does, let us know via DM.
Happy to share! Thank you for the opportunity :)
Thanks for sharing Kim! I think that Product Operations is my niche within Product Management, but I don't see many opportunities in productops. Do you think companies are not ready to establish a productops team? Any recommendations for finding roles?
Thanks so much for reading and sharing. It's definitely an emerging role and can be challenging to find. I think many companies are now finding that they need it, so that will hopefully help over time! You might have luck searching these different titles: - Product Operations Analyst- Product Operations Lead- Program Manager, ProductThere are so many different ways that companies refer to the role, which makes it tricky. Let me know if I can help you in your search in any way!
Thanks for the insight and title recommendations! They will be very useful in my search. I'll keep in touch as I continue to look.
Kim, this is an awesome description of Product Operations! I never thought of the term "Product Operations" to describe myself, but it is def. my niche in Product Management. Thank you for sharing. :)
I am so glad to hear it resonated with you! Let me know if you ever want to share perspectives on the role. It's definitely emerging in the space so there's a big opportunity to help define what it entails. Thanks for reading!
I'm going to be starting a role very similar to this soon - Thank you! This is really a great tool to have in my tool bag going into this company.
Great to hear! Let me know if you have any questions as you get started.