Updated: January 9, 2023 - 9 min read
For such an integral part of product, it’s amazing that nobody seems to know what Product Ops is! As a skill on LinkedIn, Product Operations has grown 80% in the last year. So why is no one really talking about it?
Here, we’ll go through the meaning of Product Ops, the role of Product Manager vs Product Operations Manager, the benefits of having a Product Ops team, and some typical interview questions.
What Does ‘Product Ops’ Mean?
Product Operations, or Product Ops, is a role within a product team that facilitates the easy communication and sharing of resources and data between departments. It’s an essential role to help cross-functional product teams work effectively and efficiently.
While some companies are still coming to terms with the idea of Product Management, Product Ops already has a blueprint. Marketing ops, sales ops, and DevOps have been an essential part of business for years.
Product Ops operates (haha) differently at every company, depending on the product and the org structure.
For example, at Uber each Product Manager is aligned with a Product Operations Manager (POM). Together they talk through what they want to build, and then the POM handles some of the more nitty-gritty tasks, like data gathering and market research. They keep the Product Manager supplied with the tools and information they need to get their job done.
However at Stripe, Product Ops’ primary focus is on providing value for the user. They strengthen customer feedback loops, and scaling product knowledge within the company. (You can find more details in this great guide by Pendo on The Rise of Product Ops.)
What does a Product Operations Manager do?
It’s a title you might have seen while browsing on LinkedIn, but what does a Product Operations Manager do?
Some are of the opinion that a Product Operations Manager handles the less glamorous side of development, but if you ever meet a POM, it’ll be clear how all in they are! POMs have a passion for problem solving, and they work out many chinks in your development’s armor. Depending on the size of the company, you might find yourself with a Product Operations Manager, or a Product Operations Team.
Some of the tasks owned by a POM include:
Managing which tools the product team uses (communication, roadmapping, prototyping, user-onboarding, etc)
Developing business processes
Facilitating market research
Setting goals for teams and individual contributors
Owning and developing strategies for the teams’ priorities
Social media sentiment mining
Analyzing user feedback and NPS scores
Product Manager vs Product Operations Manager
While a Product Manager owns the development of the product (aka, the person who Builds The Thing) a Product Operations Manager handles the day to day tasks involved with development, (aka, the person who Makes It Easier to Build The Thing.)
Product Managers are desperately needed at all companies with a product, but not all companies will need a Product Operations Manager. They’re sometimes considered a luxury. They’re also more vital for products in the on-demand space, as many of their tasks focus on keeping the product working properly and optimized for the end-user after launch.
In most areas of development, PMs and POMs will work closely together, but on slightly differing tasks. For example:
Data: PMs need to be data-driven, but they don’t need to be data analysts. POMs have a focus on data-in, and handle all aspects from collection to analysis. Often they work they do with data will power decisions for the entire organization, not just one product or group of products.
Experimentation: Experiments, such as A/B testing, are part of a standard Product Management toolkit. But POMs will usually be more hands-on during the implementation and tracking stages.
Vision and Strategy: PMs own the product vision, defining the north star that keeps teams aligned and focused on a common goal. A POM helps the PM to define the vision, and to communicate it internally.
Launch: A PM’s job doesn’t end at launch, that’s for sure! But at many companies, this is where the POM’s job really starts. After launch they provide value for the end-users by making sure that things keep running smoothly
Unique Markets: Most global companies require their higher-level PMs to have experience launching in emerging markets, but a POM will do more of the groundwork. They’ll focus on testing the unique requirements of a market and running almost endless experiments to optimize a product per city/region. For example, a service like Uber operates very differently in London compared with Mumbai.
There’s a big difference between building a product, and building a product the right way. Think of a POM as the oil in the gears, as they keep the machine running smoothly.
The Benefits of Product Ops
1. Sharing the Right Data
Data is an integral part of all businesses, and it’s important that it’s gathered, analyzed, and shared in the right way. The benefit of having Product Ops is that you have someone who understands data like the back of their hand. When stakeholders and team members ask for data, they don’t always know what data they need. For example, marketing might ask for NPS scores. A Product Ops manager can hand this over, along with other data
2. Choosing the Right Tools
With so many tools and software out there, for all aspects of product, it can be difficult to know which ones to choose! Once you have them implemented, they can also go wrong. A POM helps to ensure that your teams are using the correct tools, and are using them efficiently.
3. Supporting the Product Manager
Product Ops is often brought in to support a struggling Product Management team. They can solve a lot of different pain points, but the most important one is that they give PMs their time back. By handling a lot of the micro-level tasks, they free up PMs to work on a macro-level.
The Product Ops Manager Skillset
So now you know that your team needs a kickass Product Ops Manager. Or you’ve realized that Product Ops is your calling, and want to know the next steps to becoming one.
For that, we need to know what skills companies are looking for from their Product Ops teammate. The role requires all of the usual Product Manager skills, such as time management, empathy, leadership, and storytelling.
Here are some of the skills and requirements Facebook, Amplitude, and Stripe look for:
The Product Ops Career Path
Becoming a Product Ops Manager
You might now be wondering if Product Ops is right for you. If you’re here, chances are you’re either a Product Manager already or looking to become one.
There are a few things to keep in mind.
The average Product Ops Manager salary in the US is $96,845 according to PayScale, and can go up to $127,000. Compared to the same figures for a Product Manager ($84,052 and $122,000), it can be a very lucrative career path. Particularly as you climb the ladder.
Product Ops Managers often need more experience. It’s quite rare to find an entry-level Product Ops Manager role, because it requires a lot of attention to detail, and the ability to juggle a lot of hands-on tasks. It would be hard to choose the right software for your teams if you’ve never used a roadmapping tool before!
It’s better to get your first job as a Product Manager, get a feel for how you prefer to work, and then make the transition.
Product Ops will be right for you if you are exactly like a Product Manager but you want to dive deep into data and experimentation. You’ll be working more on a micro-level than a PM. It’ll be more important than ever to maintain a certain amount of distance from the teams you’re working with. While you work more closely with a Marketing Manager, for example, you’re still not doing their job for them.
You might also have seen the titles Product Operations Analyst, and Product Operations Associate. While the meanings of these titles vary depending on the company, the trend seems to be than an Analyst works more closely with data as their primary focus, and an Associate is a more entry-level role. (Kind of like an Associate Product Manager.)
Hiring a Product Ops Manager
If you’re already an established product leader, or founder, and you’re wondering if it’s time to hire a Product Ops Manager or team, this is for you!
The very first step will be working out whether or not you actually need Product Ops. You need to look at your current team and ask yourself the following questions:
Am I/are my product managers struggling to cope with the amount of work?
Are we a large company with many different product teams operating at the same time?
Is scale one of our priorities as a business, and is it something we are struggling with?
Are my teams experiencing a lot of pain points which could be fixed by a Product Ops manager?
If you answered yes to those questions…good news! You need Product Ops!
From our interviews with dozens of product leaders, we know what the top tech companies look for in a Product Manager, and the same can be extended to Product Ops with just a few additions. Ideally, you’re looking for someone who loves problem-solving. Someone with an analytical mind and a passion for data. Hard skills and experience with a variety of PM tools will be key.
For a Product Manager, the soft skills are more important, and everything else can be learned on the job. But you want your Product Ops team to come with a few years of experience in the product world.
Whether you’re looking to hire, or get hired, it’s good to have an idea of some good Product Ops interview questions.
Since PMs and POMs have very similar roles, interviews will primarily include very common Product Management interview questions.
What might some of the key considerations be when working on integrations?
How do you create buy-in when talking to stakeholders?
Tell me about a time you worked in a collaborative cross-team environment
Product Ops Resources
To learn even more about Product Ops, you should read this book from our friends at Pendo, The Rise of Product Ops.
To learn more about how to level up your Product Management game, check out our book too! Ship It V2 is full of stories and insights straight from the best Product Managers in the business!
Updated: January 9, 2023