This blog post was created in partnership with the Product Ops HQ community, the fastest-growing community where product operations professionals gather to connect, share knowledge, and learn.
Product Operations is gaining importance in businesses, and its benefits are being discovered. In this interview series, we dive into best practices from Product Operations Leaders and Responsive Product Portfolio (RPPM) advocates. RPPM is a framework that helps product-led organizations compete better, connecting goals, customer needs, products, and resources for faster value delivery and increased product returns. Join us to learn valuable insights and tips for success in Product Operations.
Interview with Ashley Fong
Welcome to our exclusive interview with Ashley Fong, the visionary Vice President of Product Operations at Carpe Data and a Dragonboat customer. Ashley is responsible for orchestrating engineering, data science, and project management to deliver maximum impact for Carpe Data’s carrier customers. Her unwavering dedication and fearless approach to challenges set her apart as an outstanding leader in Product Operations.
With a decade-long journey at her current company, Ashley’s versatility shines as she’s worn multiple hats in different roles – a testament to the dynamic nature of the startup environment. These experiences have been instrumental in shaping her growth, providing invaluable insights from multiple angles within the business.
Ashley’s insatiable curiosity and love for exploring the world’s diverse cultures have not only enriched her life but also molded her resilient attitude.
What was your role before you became a Product Operations professional? How long have you been in the Product Ops role?
I helped establish Product Operations at Carpe Data starting at the beginning of this year. Before I was in Product Operations, I held positions throughout our company: Analyst (both product and data), Finance, Quality Assurance, Project Management, Product Management, Sales/ Customer Success, and Technology. Most recently, I was in Technical Operations, working alongside our CTO to create a roadmap and create/maintain support for our robust APIs.
What are the biggest challenges facing your product teams?
As a company we’ve made the push to become more product-led, and that itself comes with some initial challenges. While we’re moving away from that being a challenge now, here are some of the biggest challenges we’ve run into that we haven’t quite solved:
Creating structure and discipline in the planning process that provides the context and value for an initiative, ensuring it has clear and complete requirements on what work needs to be done
Balancing priorities to make sure we’re focused on the right things based on all feedback across the organization
How does your team/management measure your success as Product Ops?
This is a changing target based on where we’re at as a company. Initially, the product ops goal was to implement the new planning process changes, help build the metrics, and identify the information we should be tracking. As we establish more ways we’d like to track information across our products, our success will be tied to those metrics.
In your experience, how can Product Ops help establish an outcome-focused practice?
Being so closely tied to creating and supporting the roadmap– but also a cross-functional role across the company– one of the things that has helped is bringing definition and focus toward what are we trying to do, why we want to do it, and what value does it have for our customers or our team.
Another major helpful factor is not only looking at the initiative level but also finding where the initiatives meet the execution of the work, and comparing those metrics. Finding the common thread has driven a lot of helpful conversations about how we can better execute on the work we’d like to achieve and ultimately reach our company goals.
Other than product and engineering teams, what other groups (in the company and externally) do you work closely with?
In our organization, the project managers report through product operations to help facilitate one team to push forward the goals and missions of the company and keep the best practices aligned across the entire organization. In my discussions with other product operations managers, this doesn’t appear to be the norm.
I work closely with all parts of the organization, especially regarding launching new products and ensuring alignment for a smooth and successful rollout. This gives me a unique perspective, but also, given my history, allows me to be the most supportive.
Keeping up with industry trends and changes in customer needs is a never-ending task, what methods do you use to stay informed? Is there a particular source (website, book, podcast, expert…) you recommend?
Specific to product operations, I’ve recently joined the Product-Led Alliance community and there’s a multitude of different resources available that I’ve found insightful. I’ve learned a lot from videos and discussions on popular social media platforms.
Generally, I’ve been trying to connect more with folks in the Product Operations HQ Community, specifically our industry. I find the more I dialogue about our product and processes, and sharing our struggles or even solutions brings new light and perspective where otherwise limited.
However, I’m always on the hunt for new books, podcasts, or resources. If you’re reading this and you’d like to talk about any and all things Product Operations, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
We hope you found this interview with Ashley Fong informative and insightful. Want to learn more? Connect with her on Linkedin.
Ready to elevate your organization’s Product Operations to the next level, just like Ashley? Explore the capabilities of Dragonboat, the industry leader in Responsive Product Portfolio Management. Streamline processes, achieve better results, and stay ahead of the competition with Dragonboat’s all-in-one centralized source of truth connecting OKRs, customer needs, product strategies, and resources with Agile execution. Schedule a live demo today to propel your organization’s success to new heights.
In both times of peace and times of turmoil, the context in which we operate evolves. It’s not a matter of whether these contexts exist, but rather how well-prepared you and your team are to navigate them.
As astutely stated by Becky Flint in her Peacetime CPO vs Wartime CPO article, the synergy between product and business success is undeniable, with people at the forefront. Your team’s ability to thrive amidst ever-changing circumstances hinges on their context and how you enable them. Beyond the tangible skills needed to weather change, there lies an intangible, unspoken element: the knowledge each individual possesses about the product, the team, the company, and the broader environment.
The Essence of Knowledge
Defining knowledge is a task that could extend beyond the scope of a single blog post. However, within our context, we can at least acknowledge that it encompasses more than just product expertise. It includes the ability to interpret company strategies, the acquisition of traits and behaviours necessary to be part of the team, and more. The sheer breadth of this knowledge is staggering.
Why Does It Matter?
Knowledge, as well as our unique interpretation of it, forms the core of our individuality. It’s what, coupled with our personalities, sets apart the contributions we make within our teams and, by extension, our business landscape. It’s akin to our mental model of the real world.
Considering that most endeavours involve a team, and each team member harbours their own mental models and experiences, the collective strength of a team rests on the expertise and contributions of its individual members.
The Challenge During Turbulence
In times of upheaval, pausing or dedicating time to share expertise with others can be an arduous undertaking. A study that Dragonboat conducted revealed that over half of Product Ops professionals identify “aligning cross-functional teams” as a significant challenge during quarterly planning, a hurdle that impedes business progress.
Among the myriad qualities of a wartime Chief Product Officer (CPO), one stands out: information mastery. Yet, there’s one aspect even more critical: speed. In an era where we demand rapid syncs, swift response mechanisms, and instant actions, decelerating seems implausible. But it’s crucial to remember that crashing at 120MPH is far harder (and potentially more disastrous) than slowing down.
If knowledge empowers us and defines our uniqueness, then having the right information at the right time equips us to be agile and efficient. When it comes to knowledge, here’s your immediate action plan:
1. Streamline Your Approach
Invest in well-documented, targeted rituals that can be anticipated. An agenda and the right audience are excellent starting points. Already documenting? Even better. When your documentation replaces a meeting, you’re a true efficiency champion.
2. Centralize Information
Strive to create a centralised repository where team members can easily access new knowledge. This includes ongoing tasks, holiday schedules, best practices, and past lessons learned. Imagine this repository as an extension of your brain — an autonomous resource that empowers your team while liberating you.
3. Construct for the Future
Invest time in crafting a robust information architecture that becomes your digital brain’s foundation. While the content within it evolves, the structure should remain steadfast. Think of it like the pods in a beehive: unchanging in size, yet accommodating the dynamic production of knowledge. Examples of these pods could be “Our Workflow,” “Strategic Direction,” “Collaboration Guidelines,” and more.
4. Promote the Culture
In the midst of challenges, evangelism becomes a vital skill. Convincing others that sharing knowledge is pivotal won’t happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all without investment. Understand that it takes time, and lead by example. Kickstart the movement by documenting your knowledge and showcasing its value to others. Remember, this is a divide-and-conquer strategy — win people over, one by one.
A Platform for Progress
Certainly, you’ll need a platform to facilitate this seamless exchange of knowledge. While jotting down every morsel of insight on paper sheets might sound tempting, there are better options. Enter Dragonboat — a tool designed to structure your team’s portfolio and foster real-time collaboration.
With Dragonboat, you can:
Enhance roadmap visibility
Optimize resource management
Monitor portfolio delivery
Align business goals with roadmaps
To discover how Dragonboat empowers product leaders and product operations teams across the globe to thrive amidst challenges, schedule a call with our experts.
As a Product Operations leader, your key responsibility is to streamline operations and foster cross-functional collaboration. This can be challenging in larger organizations where aligning teams with different objectives is a struggle. However, adopting a customer-centric approach helps overcome these challenges by aligning your business strategy with stakeholder needs. In this blog post, we’ll explore how a customer-centric approach drives streamlined operations and successful cross-functional collaboration.
When leading highly cross-functional projects, it’s important to be aware of the size and complexity of the organization and the product(s) involved, as well as the specific challenges faced by the organization. For example, I once faced a challenge leading a highly cross-functional project across senior leadership, legal, and HR to quickly generate and evaluate design options for a future state of a long-running program.
This program had a lot of visibility to stakeholders internally and externally, and there was sensitivity around potential reputational and legal risks if not managed effectively. To address this challenge, I conducted a comprehensive analysis of the existing program using sprint and prioritization frameworks, which gave me an extensive knowledge of cross-functional team dynamics across HR, legal, finance, and engineering. From there, I was able to propose a strategy that aligned with our overall business objectives and influenced leadership alignment, accelerating progress towards a solution.
Once a decision was made, the next step was to showcase the vision to relevant stakeholders to gain buy-in and alignment. This requires leveraging the resources available to you, such as budget, staffing, and tools. As a Product Operations leader, it’s important to bring teams together by working closely with cross-functional teams. This includes designing incentive structures with clear value exchanges to ensure alignment on the strategy, and defining measurable goals based on desired business outcomes.
The last stage is implementation, which can be challenging without the right resources and tools. As a Product Operations leader, your role is to enable teams to execute across the desired business goals. This could include developing policies and procedures to help lead teams through business transformation or creating a communication strategy to manage the narrative and bring internal and external stakeholders along. Ultimately, the goal is to strike the right balance between providing value to your stakeholders while achieving your business objectives. In the case of this example, through aligning on the desired business goals, the team was able to achieve 30% improvement in efficiency while also mitigating reputational, legal and business risks.
In conclusion, cross-functional collaboration is crucial for any Product Operations leader, and a customer-centric approach is key to achieving successful collaboration. By understanding stakeholder needs and preferences, proposing a strategy that aligns with business objectives, showcasing the vision to stakeholders, and enabling teams to execute, you can streamline product operations and achieve desired business outcomes.
Recently, we partnered with Product School to bring more insights and learning opportunities to ProductCon 2022, the world’s largest product management conference. Held virtually via the Hopin platform, over 20,000 product people attended from all over the globe. In addition to the event’s main stage sessions, we hosted five of our own sessions in the Dragonboat expo booth, including a keynote featuring Melissa Perri. We also held expert Q&A sessions and panel discussions on a wide variety of topics ranging from product ops to responsive product portfolio management.
Didn’t get to attend? Here’s a recap of our favorite moments from ProductCon 2022!
1. The Good Vibes From DJ Will Gill
DJ Will Gill, who was named the #1 virtual event DJ by Wall Street Journal, proved that just because an event is virtual doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun! From the beginning of the day and all throughout, conference-goers could take a break from the action and enter the DJ booth where he played fun, upbeat songs that made you want to get up and dance. This positive energy and good vibes definitely helped to set the tone for the event and make it a more fun experience for everyone tuning in from home or the office.
2. Chris Butler and Becky Flint’s Chat About Kicking Off Product Ops in 2022
Our first Dragonboat Expo session centered around one of our favorite roles in product: product ops. Continuing the discussion from a recent chat on kicking off product ops, Chris Butler, Global Head of Product Operations at Cognizant, joined our CEO, Becky Flint, to take live questions from the audience about product operations.
They answered questions such as:
How do you prioritize when just getting started with product ops?
Does the expectation/ role of product operations evolve as the company evolves?
What is the right path into product operations?
What is the ratio of product management to product operations people/teams at your company?
Watch the Full Session Below:
3. Melissa Perri’s Keynote Live From an Actual “Build Trap”
Following the session with Chris Butler, the one and only Melissa Perri, ProduxLabs CEO and bestselling author of “Escaping the Build Trap” joined our booth from her very own “build trap!” As you can see, Melissa’s been busy, not only building products but perhaps a new workspace as well!
During her session on building an outcome-focused strategy, Melissa shared a wealth of insights from her views on what it means to be outcome-focused, the importance of the CPO role, how to advocate for product ops, core tools for product management, and much more.
One of our favorite takeaways from her session was her explanation of the difference between outputs and outcomes:
“One of the big misconceptions I think people don’t understand is that yes, you need outputs to get to outcomes. So we can’t forget about the outputs. But the whole idea about outcome focused product management is that the outputs are a means to an end. They produce an outcome. If you’re not keeping your eye on what you’re trying to achieve, it’s really easy to get into the trap of just building and building and building.
So outcome product management is really about understanding deeply what the business goals are. How can you achieve them through helping your customers achieve their goals? Then, how can you tie the strategy together while monitoring if you’re reaching your outcomes? How close are you in achieving your strategy? How far? What do you need to do to get to the next level? That’s really where outcome-focused product management goes from.”
Melissa Perri, CEO, ProduxLabs
When discussing the role of a product manager, Melissa Perri shared:
“Product management is about really optimizing this value creation system, which is that you’ve got customers on one side that need customer value and businesses that provide the value to the customers through products and services. As product managers, we need to figure out how to optimize both pieces of that. How do we maximize customer value, and in return get business value? To do that, you need to have a really deep understanding of your customers. You have to be very aligned on your business goals and tracking towards them. You have to have really tight feedback loops to understand what’s going on.”
How do you build product ops from scratch? For many newly hired Product Ops Directors, this is the million-dollar question.
Jackie Orlando, Director of Product Ops at Tealium, shared her journey of building product ops from the ground up and partnering with Dragonboat for Tealium’s product portfolio management needs.
Here are some of Jackie’s best tips for getting started with product ops:
Don’t take on too much at once, focus on your burning problems to solve first instead of boiling the ocean.
Work with your leadership to identify the big rock problems you want to solve first and prioritize them, and then tackle one thing at a time.
Try not to introduce too many tools at once and try not to have multiple tools that solve the same problem.
Don’t be afraid to evolve your team charter over time. As you go, your areas of focus are going to mature along with your team.
Jackie realized she needed the right tooling to help her:
Create a single source of truth
Enable smarter outcome-based decisions
Streamline status updates
Increase cross-functional transparency
The search for this kind of solution led her to Dragonboat.
“Dragonboat was the only solution I could find that actually focused on the outcome-based decision element. Allowing us to tie our feature ideas directly to our company OKRs and product objectives, which then tied into our ability to slice and dice things and create reports that give senior leadership visibility into where their investments are being made across the org.”
Jackie Orlando, Director of Product Ops, Tealium
Jackie’s views on the importance of product ops and its purpose of generating a single source of truth for the product org echoed what Melissa Perri touched upon in her session:
“The time it takes to figure out ‘Is this the right decision?’ is usually what slows down organizations. If you can’t make a decision, you can’t build something, you can’t get it out there, you don’t make money. So that’s where product operations becomes really important. It makes that go faster.”
Melissa Perri, CEO, ProduxLabs
Watch the Full Session Below:
5. Product Manager Mavens Explaining How They Make Difficult Trade-Off Decisions
After Jackie’s session, we were joined by Raz Carcoana, Senior Product Manager, Pie Insurance, Dalia Vazquez, PM consultant, and our new VP of Product, Tijana Dwight, for a lively discussion related to the changes and trends to watch for product managers in 2022.
The audience asked, “How do you go about making difficult tradeoff decisions?”
Raz first replied, acknowledging that thinking about where to spend one’s time and resources to make the greatest impact is one of the most challenging parts of being a product manager. He explained, “Until you do it, you can’t measure it. And if you can’t measure it, you don’t know if it’s working or not. And so, you have to put your best foot forward.” He continued,
“At the end of the day, it comes down to stakeholder alignment and getting everybody to execute at the same time. What you want is everybody on that page, rather than a lot of friction and disagreement.”
Raz Carcoana, Senior Product Manager, Pie Insurance
He clarified that disagreement isn’t bad, it’s part of having a dialogue which is always needed before picking a new direction.
Dalia Vazquez agreed and added,
“Fail fast! Everyone’s always looking for a magic wand or Wonder Woman’s bracelet. But the reality is, if you work at a startup or small company, everything is a fire. Everyone will tell you, “This is important”. But I’ve found that creating a source-of-truth helps reduce politics, conflict, etc. We ”
Dalia Vazquez, Product Management Consultant
Watch the Full Session Below:
6. Learning When Product Portfolio Management Becomes Essential
During our last session of the day, Becky Flint was joined by Rachel Weston Rowell, SVP Product & Innovation, Insight Partners to discuss why product leaders should level up from product management to product portfolio management.
They explained that portfolio management is about how to evaluate and allocate various investment options based on desired outcomes. Even if you have one product, treat it as a portfolio, since most products will have multiple components, segments, goals, etc. For outcome-focused product teams, applying the responsive product portfolio management approach means they can adjust desired outcomes periodically, based on the state of the market and business.
Rachel and Becky go on to explain that if you are running multi-quarter, multi-team initiatives, it’s time to adopt a portfolio approach. Here are some of the signs that product portfolio management is the right fit:
When asked about how product management and product portfolio management differ, they shared this slide which paints a helpful picture:
Want to learn more about responsive product portfolio management? Get a Dragonboat demo.
Watch the Full Session Below:
7. “I see an elephant”
Last but not least, here is one more of our favorite soundbites from the day!
When it comes to product management, metaphors and analogies about the role are a dime a dozen. (Especially if you’re on Twitter!) However, Dalia shared her own product management metaphor which doesn’t disappoint:
“It’s like that picture of all the blind men, touching the different parts of the elephant, and they’re all trying to describe it. And the leg, the trunk, everything is important, but the product manager is standing over here like, ‘Y’all are touching only one part of the whole picture. I can see the entirety of it.’
And that’s how I see product management and product development. I see it as an elephant, constantly.
Dalia Vazquez, Product Management Consultant
Thanks to everyone who visited our booth, we were blown away by the positive response to our sessions, the interactions we enjoyed with you, the thought-provoking questions you asked, and so much more!
Congrats to our raffle prize winner, Matt DiBari, Chief Product Officer at SpotHero, who will receive our “Ultimate Work from Home Bundle”!
Don’t miss out on our upcoming events, subscribe to our newsletter in the footer of our website to receive all of our event-related updates!
Did you go to ProductCon? What was your favorite part? Let us know!
Is product ops a force for good or bad when developing a product-led organization? Recently, Dragonboat CEO Becky Flint sat down with Simon Hilton of the ‘Product Ops People’ podcast to discuss this in detail. As it turns out, product ops can help not only product managers but also product leaders to make decisions at all levels of the business through a shared process, using relevant data. But it’s not always this simple.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the podcast:
Product ops started where there were product managers – you really can’t do product without the ops bit.
Some of the companies that put product ops on the map did so during market expansions.
Product ops evolves as the company evolves and has three primary pillars.
Product ops’ mission is about enabling the product organization and product-centric company.
Listen to the Episode Here
The Evolution of Product Ops
There is a growing understanding of what product ops is, when product ops is good, and when product ops can sometimes be not helpful and create more process and waste within an organization. Becky quotes a CPO in saying, “product ops started where there were product managers – you really can’t do product without the ops bit.”
The product ops “hat” was always there; it may have been worn by a single PM in the early days and moved to a Product Director or VP of Product later on. It is just one of the many hats they have to wear to run product.
As product portfolio manager, Becky led PayPal’s global expansion in the early 2000s, and her introduction to product ops came among her first tasks, which was working with a country launch book. Launching PayPal in a new country required more than typical product management effort – not only to orchestrate multiple product teams but also to work with legal, finance, operations, new banking partners, country teams, government relations, marketing, PR, and all sorts of roles.
The companies that put product ops on the map, such as Airbnb and Uber, formed their product ops to start market expansion in different cities and countries.
The Misunderstood Product Ops Role
Most “ops” roles are generalist roles meant to fill the gaps left between specialists. Therefore it’s natural that the focus and scope evolve as the ecosystem changes. The state of the business, company, team taxonomy, product go-to-market, etc., all impact the needs of the product org. Hence, the actual focus of product ops naturally evolves as the company grows.
You can divide product operations into three pillars:
Facilitating vertical alignment
Orchestrating cross-team collaboration
When we talk about product management, it often has a narrow definition of software or some physical product. However, processes exist to solve a problem and are used by people – hence they are products by definition. Product ops are often the product managers of these process products used within the product teams and often across the company. Their mission isn’t to simply create processes but to accelerate revenue and thus, the organization’s collective success.
The Good and Bad In Every Function
Similar to how agile is forced in some situations where it isn’t necessary, causing many to doubt its effectiveness, the same can be said of product ops. Agile is a way of working where product ops is a role. Agile trainers could be compared to product ops.
The best way to determine the effectiveness of product operations is by measuring outcomes – and there is never one metric. A few key questions to measure are:
Did we ship the right product? Did we actually ship it? At what cost? Where did it move business metrics? Did customers love it? There is always an opportunity cost. A good car at a $10k price tag could be a terrible car if it costs $20k.
Did we grow our team? Have we addressed preventable mistakes? Did we cause burnout? Did we hire and ramp well?
Have we enabled our cross-functional teams to achieve their goals and, ultimately, our company goals? Or are they are left churning trying to figure out what, when and who?
The Purpose of Product Ops
Product ops’ mission is to enable the product organization and product-centric company. They facilitate the connection between execs and teams and across groups and functions while enabling teams.
If you’ve ever heard of the story of the six blind men and an elephant, all of them thought they were right. They were not wrong, but they decided based on what they knew or were given. They didn’t have the full context.
The same thing happens with product organizations. Not everyone has the full context; that’s why it is so critical to have product ops connect teams and leaders across the functions. Product ops can enable the proper context in real-time or near real-time for the right decision-making and best result.
Rapidly growing companies around the globe are looking to scale without hampering their ability to deliver winning products to market. Operations roles are key here and the need for them in the product org is no exception. One of the biggest reasons behind the growing demand for product operations tools and professionals is the increased scope of responsibilities for modern product managers and the emergence of the product-led movement.
Product teams are now a key catalyst for growth and responsible for driving business outcomes.
Product operations (aka product ops) gives product teams the tools they need to move from being feature focused to outcome focused, connecting product teams, customers and stakeholders to achieve the best outcomes across the entire portfolio. Additionally, product ops plays a critical role in owning and evolving the processes and tools for individual product teams and the entire product portfolio.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the different tools that product operations might use or should be familiar with in order to empower their product teams.
Recommended Product Operations Tools to Get the Job Done Right
Here are 12 main categories for product management tools and product operations tools:
Product portfolio management (PPM) and roadmapping
Data analysis and visualization
Prototyping / wireframing
Below, we’ll touch on some of the most recommended tools by product operations managers for each category.
Disclaimer: Having 1 of each of these 12 types of tools isn’t necessary to deliver a winning product! With just a handful, it’s possible to deliver better quality products that move the needle faster.
Main uses: Product portfolio management, outcome focused roadmapping
Dragonboat is the fastest growing product portfolio management platform for outcome-driven leaders to strategize, prioritize, plan and deliver industry-leading products. With Dragonboat, product operations is equipped with the tools it needs to help product leaders connect OKRs with initiatives, build data-driven roadmaps, integrate with engineering tools for execution, and inform future iterations with past results all in one place.
Product ops leaders are quickly finding value in Dragonboat because it’s been designed to help teams follow best practices stemming from the responsive product portfolio management framework (Responsive PPM). Leading companies like Miro, Chime and F5 employ Responsive PPM to adapt and adjust in real-time to best deliver customer delight and business outcomes.
Dragonboat is the only ppm and roadmapping tool for:
Connecting OKRs, Customer needs and building outcome-focused roadmaps using data-driven prioritization and allocation modeling
Enabling a strategic framework to guide product decision making across all levels
Main uses: Agile development management, bug tracking
Jira is one of those tools that, for professionals in software development, needs no introduction. Jira is the #1 software development tool used by agile teams to manage their workflow from sprint planning to code releasing. Teams use Jira to manage software development activities with its out-of-the-box workflow templates (like Scrum and Kanban). One of its major advantages is that it integrates with other leading tools, e.g. product portfolio tools (Dragonboat), DevOps tools (e.g. Bitbucket, Jenkins, Github, Gitlab) and knowledge management tools (e.g. Confluence).
As with any ops role, one of the primary focuses of product ops is collecting, organizing, analyzing and sharing data with teams across the company. Therefore, a good Product ops Manager or team will have to rely on the right tools that provide them the right data. When it comes to obtaining insights on product usage and analytics, Pendo is one of the leading options for product teams, implementation teams, and product ops managers. Pendo captures product usage patterns and user feedback while also enabling in-app communication to onboard, educate and guide users to value.
Pendo is one of the best tools for:
Getting insights on where and how users engage with your site
The category creator and leader among customer success tools, Gainsight aggregates and turns disparate customer data from multiple sources into a single source of truth. Review customer data-driven insights and deploy actions that drive business outcomes for your clients. This tool allows you to get a comprehensive view of your customers, understand trends and risks, and empower your team to scale with proven actions that deliver outcomes. A thought leader and early mover in customer success, Gainsight built its tool around best practices to help SaaS companies retain customers. Product Ops teams can benefit from pulling data from Gainsight to give critical feedback to product teams and deliver information for executives to make business decisions.
Gainsight is one of the best tools for:
Teams working with Salesforce
Processing data from different sources, and displaying it in an easy-to-consume manner
Sorting customer accounts by various health factors
Understanding account health to be alerted to accounts that are most at risk of churn
Tableau is a market-leading tool for creating interactive graphics to visualize data from almost any source, with multiple format options. With Tableau, you can quickly perform ad hoc analyses that reveal hidden opportunities and ask questions in natural language. It has a drag and drop functionality to create interactive dashboards with advanced visual analytics. With product ops focusing heavily on data, Tableau is an essential solution to help them easily ask and answer questions in real-time, informing stakeholders who can make smarter product and business decisions. So, it’s not surprising that when we analyzed dozens of product operations job descriptions, Tableau was one of the most cited tool skills to have.
Hotjar offers a fast and visual way to understand your users. The tool enables your team to get instant visual feedback, see how people are really using your site, and uncover insights to make the right changes. Hotjar equips teams with product experience insights, showing them how users behave and what they feel strongly about, so they can deliver real value. Hotjar is a great tool for discovering product opportunities, consolidating qualitative and quantitative data, and communicating user needs.
Hotjar is one of the best tools for:
Getting real customer insight and data and to understand pain points and find out how to eliminate friction
Gathering insights used to define roadmaps and A/B testing strategy
UserTesting enables organizations to deliver the best customer experience powered by human insights. With UserTesting’s on-demand human insights platform, companies across industries make accurate customer-first decisions at every level, at the speed business demands. Several product teams, marketers, digital and customer experience executives use it to confidently and quickly create the right experiences for all target audiences, increasing brand loyalty and revenue.
UserTesting is one of the best tools for:
Usability testing on product prototypes in iterative development
Obtaining fast feedback (often same day) from users
Obtaining qualitative data from your target audience and understanding the “why” behind users’ actions through recorded video sessions and interviews
Product ops teams are often tasked with owning experimentation so that product managers can focus on solving customer problems. Product ops teams use tools like Optimizely to run A/B tests to obtain data for product teams to optimize the user experience. With, Optimizely, businesses deliver continuous experimentation and personalization across websites, mobile apps and connected devices.
Optimizely is one of the best tools for:
Running experiments without the need to write code
Testing small UI changes and functionality to increase adoption
Running tests on a small percentage of your user base
Main uses: Collaboration, ideation, digital whiteboard
We recently overheard a Product Operations Manager who said, “I live inside of Miro! I love it.” Miro is a Dragonboat customer and we have to admit that we’re huge fans. Miro is one of the rising tools that has helped teams continue to brainstorm and collaborate despite not being together in the same physical location. Teams use its online, collaborative whiteboard platform for many things such as brainstorming with digital sticky notes and managing agile workflows. The tool boasts deep integrations with the Microsoft ecosystem, Atlassian ecosystem, Slack, Box, DropBox, Sketch, with over 60 templates to jumpstart collaboration.
Miro is one of the best tools for:
Overcoming challenges to remote brainstorming and interactive group activities
Allowing ideas and visualizations to be shared freely across teams
Mind mapping and collaborative, complex problem solving
Since every product team needs a way to collect feedback, both external and internal, product ops can help them manage or select the right tool for feedback collection and processing the data. A breakout tool for this very purpose is Typeform. You may have seen a Typeform survey before; they’re the ones that are so sleek that you don’t even mind the fact that you’re filling out a survey. Typeform makes sharing information fun and easy on any device and it integrates with just about any application.
Typeform is one of the best tools for:
Customizable forms/surveys with multiple question types
Feedback management, NPS surveys
Building engaging and beautiful product feedback forms with templates
An established market player, Confluence by Atlassian is a team workspace ideal for not only product operations, but all functions. Confluence keeps everyone organized and aligned with everything from meeting notes to strategy docs and IT documentation so they can make better decisions faster and be more responsive to change. Another benefit of Confluence is that it integrates seamlessly with the Atlassian suite of products like Jira and other tools like Dragonboat to show reports and dashboard updates in real-time.
As product ops are often tasked with the onboarding of new product team members, guarding product knowledge, and communicating it across the organization, Confluence is a great tool to add to the product operations tools list.
Confluence is one of the best tools for:
A repository or wiki for housing meeting notes, status updates, how-to documentation, product processes, etc
Enterprise-level document collaboration, allowing multiple users to edit a page in real-time at the same time
Last but not least, every product organization relies on at least one good tool for prototyping. Figma is a cloud-based and on-premise platform that enables businesses to create custom designs and share prototypes among team members. Similar to Google Docs, Figma enables real-time sharing on the same file.
Figma is one of the best tools for:
Sharing a design project with your stakeholders for their feedback and approval
Demoing features before coding them
Easy collaboration and information sharing between developers and designers
When a team or group of designers want to work on a single project and leave one another comments on designs
It takes the right tool to get the job done right. Modern product operations plays a strategic role in orchestrating both product teams and across the organization. This requires a new breed of PPM tool like Dragonboat. Isolated spreadsheets and “Gantt charts” no longer cut it.
One key to success for product ops is to drive a customer and outcome focus, strategic alignment as well as enabling cross-team, cross-functional collaboration and visibility. So, ask your team, “What tech stack do we need to foster alignment, clarity, communication, and collaboration?” and go from there.
More Resources on Product Operations Tools
If you want a more exhaustive list of product management tools, check out the ProductVerse by Product School and this article by ProductMaestro.
As product-centric companies scale, misalignment, lack of visibility, dependency management, and communication overhead challenges rise exponentially.
This is precisely why in 2011, PayPal onboarded someone in the role of product operations for its Global Product and Experience organization. This newly invented role aimed to enable an effective product organization as it scaled. It has since invigorated and transformed the 400+ member product organization.
“(The role of product operations) drove cultural transformation for the ~400 person global Product organization to become a more disciplined, data driven team.”
Angela Song, VP Product Operations, PayPal
What’s the Mission of Product Operations?
The role of product operations (or product ops) or its mission is to enable an effective, outcome focused product organization, and broadly speaking, a product led company, to achieve the best portfolio outcomes.
What Does an Effective Product Organization Look Like?
Clarity on strategy across all levels
Responsive execution that delivers commitments
Ability to scale without the business-damaging chaos
Adoption of data informed decision making
Balance of long term vision and short term outcomes to win in the current and future market
Why Should Product Ops Not Only Care About Product Outcomes, But Portfolio Outcomes?
As a company scales, there will be more product teams whose product managers will focus primarily on the goals and outcomes of their own areas. However, they often have to juggle between several goals, some from other teams. Product ops is the one who will shepherd team collaboration and planning so that these multiple product teams can work together effectively for the overall success of the company.
The best portfolio outcome is larger than the sum of individual team outcomes.
What Does Product Operations Do?
Product ops runs the strategic operations of a product organization and its responsibilities all tie directly to enabling an effective, outcome-focused product organization. You may think of Product Operations as the COO of a product org.
The responsibilities can be categorized in the following eight areas:
1. Evolve Product and Portfolio Processes and Tooling
The entire product organization runs on a product portfolio process, both for the product teams and for all stakeholders interacting with them. Setting the right foundation and adapting it responsively to changes is one of the most impactful areas of product operations.
This includes portfolio level planning and tracking, as well as product management and agile development process and tooling optimization, integration and best practices.
Therefore part of the role of product operations is to evaluate, own, and manage portfolio tooling to enable a single source of truth which can then be accessible to the entire company as appropriate. They’re the guardian of product portfolio management best practices for the entire product organization.
2. Lead Strategic and Portfolio Planning
Strategic operations start with aligning strategies at the executive level, along with relevant headcount, budget and allocation. This often is carried out as strategic planning. To facilitate this, product ops lead strategic offsites, quarterly planning, and OKR alignment with both product executives and product teams.
In addition, product ops is proficient at applying product portfolio management best practices so that product leaders and teams can navigate and balance:
Competing stakeholder and customer requests
Prioritization best practices
Short term OKRs and the long term product vision
One of the most important keys to product ops’ success in portfolio planning is managing dependencies since they stall 90% of product teams at some point. Product ops plays a key role in portfolio planning and collaboration to help identify, plan and track cross-team prioritization and dependencies. This often takes place during quarterly planning and sets up the portfolio for success.
90% of product teams have been stalled by dependencies.
3. Portfolio Visibility and Stakeholder Engagement
One of the most common challenges that product leaders face is effective stakeholder engagement. The role of product operations is pivotal in defining effective interaction and communication cadences through all levels of the organization, including with executive leadership, within product organizations, and with cross-functional teams e.g. sales, marketing, etc.
Product ops can strengthen visibility by implementing a PPM solution that serves as the single source of truth (for both planning and tracking), resulting in greater trust and transparency across the organization.
For individual product managers, it is often time consuming to collect user insights, correlate different data points, or try to recruit various customers/ target users for interviews and feedback sessions. Product operations helps to form processes around users and customer engagement, allowing product teams to be customer centric.
Product ops also helps define and evolve the engagement model and communication cadences between product and other teams that are customer facing such as support, sales, marketing, etc.
If a product org doesn’t have a user research team, product ops often takes on the task of helping product teams to recruit, manage user interviews or manage vendors for user research.
5. Product Analytics, Experimentation and Launch Planning
In organizations where data may be scattered across various platforms or there is a need to work with dedicated data teams for reporting, product operations may help to standardize data definition. This way, they help ensure apple-to-apple consistency for values across systems. Product operations may aid in building and improving the data, access and definition processes for product teams.
Product ops may own the experimentation calendar to coordinate various product experiments and A/B tests. They can manage the planning holistically to ensure the quality of data and prevent conflicts.
Product operations often acts as product’s liaison with the go-to-market team to define the timing and scope of various GTM plans and activities reflecting product delivery scope and schedule.
6. Financial / Headcount Planning and Tracking
In partnership with product leaders, finance teams, and vendors, many product ops teams are tasked with owning the product org’s budget, headcount, and financial planning and tracking.
Not only that but product ops executives often play a key role in advising product leaders on organizational design, career roadmapping, mentorship, training and other “people related” topics.
7. Product Tools and Vendor Management
As product-led companies grow and new product teams are added into the mix, it’s important that they build with the same toolset. When different teams all have their own tools for various tasks, it becomes increasingly complex to manage dependencies across the product portfolio. By standardizing the use of and processes related to tools team-wide, product teams can align easily. This, in turn, enables the successful execution of larger, cross-team initiatives that drastically move the needle.
Product operations coordinates tool evaluation for the product organization, collaborating with different users in the product teams, from understanding their needs to rolling out the solution. Common team tools include product portfolio management, design, user research, survey, analytics, collaboration tools, etc. Product operations reduces the burden of vendor evaluation, management, and pricing across the organization.
8. Operational Excellence
Product operations partners with product leadership and HR to create and maintain the product organization’s interview process, onboarding process, and product management training and coaching.
To increase consistency and efficiency, product operations partners with product leadership and product managers to create templates for product requirements, training, feedback collection, etc.
Where Does Product Operations Sit in a Product Organization?
Depending on the size of a product org, this role may be carried out as a shared responsibility by a product leader, a dedicated person or even a dedicated team.
Most often, the product ops team reports to the head of product. If there are several product operations team members, each might report to a different VP of Product who oversees a number of product managers.
In some larger organizations with hundreds of product managers, a VP of Product Ops may report to the CPO and own more comprehensive responsibilities such as:
Strategic and portfolio planning
Product GTM enablement
And in other cases, product operations reports to the CPTO (Chief Product and Technology Officer). In this reporting structure, they may also be more involved in the SDLC process and the respective tooling, including agile practices.
What Are the Top Wins of a Newly Created Product Operations Team?
Having read this far, you’ve seen by now just how broad the scope of product operations can be. With so much to do, it’s natural to wonder what a newly formed product ops team should focus on. The role is not yet mature and may look different from company to company, according to each one’s unique context.
However, for any growing, outcome focused product organization, product operations’ early efforts and quick wins should always correspond to its most pressing product challenges first:
Ensure Alignment on Goals (OKRs), Strategies, and Prioritization
Implement a quarterly planning and portfolio roadmapping process
Connect OKRs with product initiatives
Facilitate healthy discussions about cross team allocation and tradeoffs
Create and manage ongoing bi/weekly rhythm to review OKR and roadmap progress across product teams
Ensure Product Delivery to Commitment
Create a source of truth planning and tracking system that introduces trust and transparency across the organization
Establish a quarterly planning/ bi-weekly check in rhythm
Ensure Effective Stakeholder Engagement
Incorporate feedback and requests in the product planning and communication process
Build a scalable stakeholder engagement process with both meetings (real time) and tooling (async) interaction
Process is a product. Product Ops is the chief enabler of product teams where she leads and evolves the best practices of a product organization with her product management skills and operational chops.
As you continue the journey of building product ops, here is a roadmap to success which is centered around the three core pillars of the function: enabling teams, vertical alignment, and cross-functional collaboration.
Are you a product operations professional or thinking about becoming one? Share your tips and join the conversation in our product ops community.