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Product Operations - with Melissa Perri & Denise Tilles

Episode 083





Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles, authors of Product Operations: How Successful Companies Build Better Products at Scale, discuss the concept of product operations and why it is crucial for product teams and organizations. Product operations is the enablement function of product management, providing data and insights for strategic decision-making and ensuring alignment within the product development lifecycle. As organizations scale, product operations become increasingly important in managing complexity, prioritizing strategies, fostering transparency, and facilitating collaboration across departments.


Melissa and Denise decided to write the book on product operations after realizing the need for a resource for product managers and stakeholders. Their goal was to share their framework, which revolves around three pillars: business and data insights, customer and market insights, and process and governance. They wanted to get ahead of the growing trend of product operations and provide a structure for enabling product teams.


We dive deeper into each of these topics, starting with business and data insights. This pillar focuses on extracting information from current systems and analyzing it through a product lens. Many companies focus on financial metrics in board meetings but fail to analyze the data in a way that benefits product development. By implementing cohort analysis and utilizing internal information from financial, sales, product development, and HR systems, leaders can make data-driven product decisions and effectively monitor product strategies and performance. To bridge the gap between business skills and technology skills in product management, financial acumen classes for product managers have been introduced.


Next, we discuss customer and market insights, which provide qualitative and anecdotal perspectives from users. Product operations help set up the infrastructure for research and enable teams to conduct repeatable research by building tools and finding ways to engage users. Product managers should maintain a strong understanding of market insights to stay connected with customers.


We then share a real-life case study on streamlining user research processes and discuss the importance of process and practice in the context of product operations. Establishing clear guidelines and consistency in working approaches helps product managers focus on strategic work rather than getting caught up in unnecessary tasks. Product operations, when done right, brings efficiency and consistency without adding bureaucratic processes.


We emphasize the need for transparency and tracking in companies and explain that product operations can be implemented gradually, starting with one pillar and then expanding to others as priorities shift. It is crucial to showcase successful case studies and demonstrate the potential benefits of product operations to gain buy-in from the organization. The decision to start a product operations team depends on factors such as the number of product managers, scaling plans, and the need for structure and efficiency in managing data and processes.


We conclude by advising listeners to start somewhere and focus on the pillar that provides the most value. The book mentioned earlier serves as a valuable resource, offering advice, insights, frameworks, and case studies for anyone interested in product operations.


Overall, this conversation provides a comprehensive overview of product operations and its importance in organizations, offering practical insights and guidance for implementation.

 

CONNECT & FURTHER RESOURCES:


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TRANSCRIPT



Intro 00:03

Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.


JJ 00:37

Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. I am really honored and excited about today's episode. I've got Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles with me to discuss their new book Product Operations: how successful companies build better products at scale. Melissa is, of course, the author of Escaping the Build Trap. She's the CEO of ProduXLabs, she's a world renowned teacher, advisor, thought leader in product management. Denise is a product consultant who supports companies like Bloomberg, ATB Financial, DiVita. She works with organizations all over the world, from high growth startups to Fortune 50 companies helping them with their product organizations. Melissa, Denise, thank you so much for joining me.


Melissa 01:16

Thank you.


Denise 01:16

Hey.



What is Product Operations & Why Is It Important?


JJ 01:18

So I love the book. And we're gonna talk a lot about it. But let's just set the stage. We hear a lot about product operations these days, but there are some differing understandings of what it is. So what is product operations? And why is it important for product teams and product organizations? Melissa, I'll throw that question to you.


Melissa 01:40

Yeah, product operations is really the enablement function of Product Management. Its role there is to help make the product management function better. It's really about getting people the right data and insights so that they can make good strategic decisions. It's also about getting them getting getting everybody aligned for what product management does, and how they fit into the product development lifecycle. So it's really important for organizations as they start scaling, because what happens is, you know, you're you start off, as like a five person startup, you could turn around and talk to anybody and figure out what you need to know. But as you start scaling, you get more people, you get more complexity in your products, you get a lot more customers, you have a lot more ideas coming in. And the product management team starts to grow as well. And the organization starts to lose track of, you know, what's happening, what's coming up, how do I actually work with product management? How do I make sure that I'm on top of my product strategy, and I can monitor it and make sure we're going the same directions? How do I make sure there's transparency in the organization about what's being prioritized and what's being worked on? And how do I make sure that as we add more and more departments, we understand how everybody comes together to create great products. So that's why we have product operations. It's really to help enable product teams at scale and make sure that we can create successful strategies.



Why Did You Write the Book?


JJ 03:05

So tell me kind of, I asked this all authors, and I'm sure you've been asked this a million times. But why did you why did you guys write the book, like why now? Like, what was the kind of impetus to say, we need a book on product operations right now, Denise, where were Where were your heads when you started to write this and why you needed it?


Denise 03:24

Yeah, that was kind of my nutty idea. What was it? 2020? Well, Melissa, I'm like, I slept. I'm like, in my bananas. What do you think about this? Would you do this? What do you think? And she was crazy, too, and said, yes. But it really came about because, you know, we advise so many companies when we work together products, labs, and we're kind of saying the same things over and over. And I thought wouldn't it be great to have a resource, not only for people that are in the trenches as product managers, but also for the people that they're trying to convince and persuade. So that's sort of where it was born.


JJ 03:59

Melissa, did you have something to add to that?


Melissa 04:01

Yeah, I was gonna say, Denise really wanted to write this book. And I definitely think it was needed. But I was having a little PTSD from the first book I wrote. I told her, I was like, I'm only going to do this, if you're doing it with me, like, I'm not writing a book on my own right now. She was like, No, totally in this. So I was like, okay, and I have to say it was much better to have a partner, second time around to do this. And I'm really glad we wrote it. Because I think in 2021, when we were first approaching it, like, product operations was being talked about definitely people out there that we knew doing product operations for a long time. But now, you know, two years later, we're looking around, there's a lot more product operations like this really just grew over the last two years. And it's been growing and I think it's going to continue to explode. So it felt like, let's get you know, let's get ahead of this and make sure that we have an opinion and a way to help people who are trying to actually put this into place.


Denise 04:57

Right and I think it was about too, about sharing the framework. And Melissa came up with this about the three pillars of product operations and whether or not you adhere to that, you know, really tightly or take pieces of it, it's just really a way to think about how to structure the enablement around the product folks.



The Three Pillars of Product Operations


JJ 05:15

That was gonna be my next question was, tell us about each of these blurbs. I think that's a big, important part of the book. And that's how people can get started. So tell us about these three pillars.


Denise 05:26

So the first one is business and data insights. So really the the quantitative inputs that product managers need. The second one is customer and market insights, right, the qualitative and third is really around the product, operating model, process and practices. And that's where I feel like he gets a little controversial with people, whether they're pro or con, product operations.


JJ 05:47

Okay, so let's, let's go through each one of those, I want to, I want to hear more, I want to I want to learn more why they're so important in the context around them. So let's start with the business and data insights. Tell me tell me more about that.



Pillar # 1: Business Data Insights


Melissa 05:57

The business data insights is really about trying to get information out of our current systems, on what the business is doing. And looking at it in a product lens. I'm on a lot of boards, and I sit through these board meetings, and I look at what executives review its financials and we look at things like recurring ARR, ARR of our top five customers, we look at our retention. And what we were looking at when we started to create product strategies, Denise and I, when we were doing this ProduxLabs is that a lot of people weren't taking these and looking at them in a way that helped product. So we would typically go in there, try to get all this information out of systems, but then start to look at it in ways that could be helpful to product people, especially Chief Product Officers. And we would, you know, start to do cohort analysis like ARR, by cohorts, right of personas or size of contracts, or ARR by the people who use certain different types of products, like the cost per product. So we started to really put like a business lens on top of information that can help drive product decisions. And this helps inform product strategy. So we would go in and we teach people about how to do this, what kind of information you should be looking at so that you can form a decision about what to do with your product strategy. So business data and insights is about really harnessing the things that we do have internally. And there's a lot of information we have internally, and starting to look at them in a product management way to make sure that we're managing and working towards our outcomes. So you could pull information out of like your financial systems, which is a no brainer after what I just talked about. But it's also getting information out of like sales systems. What are how many, you know, what's our close rate? And how does that affect, like, what we're actually building with product, it's about getting information out of systems, like our, like, looking at product development systems, right, like plugging in our JIRA and starting to look at what we're developing and how we're going, you know, what we're what we're working towards there. And what kind of stats we have on our development is about getting things out of HR systems and understanding how many people we have staffed around products. And these insights, what they do is they should be helping leaders make product strategy decisions, but also teams and product managers themselves, monitor their product strategies, monitor their features that they put out there in the world, especially with things like product usage, and, and all those wonderful stuff that we talk about everyday with product analytics. But using that to create dashboards, have transparency into how things are performing, and be able to report back on that and tie it back to the business metrics. So that's really what that piece is about. It's not so much about going out into the world externally to learn this information. It's about keeping it internal, trying to pull stuff out and then make sense of that to inform product strategy.


JJ 08:46

That's great. Now do you, do you when you're helping companies or seeing companies implement product operations or optimize if they've if they've had it? And specifically around business and data insights, the data that they have, we all know that organizations have a ton of data, and they don't always use it in the right way, as you said, and I love that, that you you kind of couch it in the context of product because that's, that's what's missing very often. But do you also see that so sometimes product, the product teams are not necessarily don't necessarily have the financial acumen to you know, to start to use these? Is that part of the process of making sure that that, you know, the teams are able to use this data once you actually have it?


Denise 09:29

That's a big piece of it, too, is not only you know, making sure that it's it's either existing or getting it implemented. But then once you have all the data, what do they do with it? How do you make sure they understand how to actually apply that and I would say across the board, there's typically some pretty significant deficits in terms of applying the financials. So I was excited when Giff Constable, right Giff yep, yep. He just introduced a financial acumen class for PMs and I want to take it, I think I think it's a long underserved need. So I think that will make a big difference.


Melissa 10:06

Yeah, the, the financial acumen thing is interesting, because I feel like one of the biggest issues I hear from leaders is that their product managers are not, it's funny, because it's either one or the other. It's like, my product managers are not business minded at all. Or they have like, all the business skills and zero the technology skills. But like, more often than not, I hear my product managers are not business minded, right? They're, they're very into their features. And they talk about customer research and all this stuff, but I never hear about what they're going to produce for the business. And what happens there is that product managers have a really hard time trying to connect what they're doing with teams all the way back up to how that pushes the business forward. And more often than not, that's because the strategy is not deployed? Well. It's because we don't have really good defined strategic intents, which is what I call them at the business level, we don't have well defined product strategy. And then the teams are basically coming up with what can we do to like improve adoption, or what can we do to improve usage of this feature, but there is no guiding light of what that should be doing for the business. And what we see in a lot of organizations. And what Denise and I saw when we would come in and help especially growth stage companies is that they didn't have the information together or in a in a good usable spot to be able to drill into what are the problems that we need to solve at that business level at that focus level at the strategic intent level, to be able to direct the product teams and focus the product teams. And that is a big piece of why we think that for growth stage companies, you should be starting with business data and insights. Because if you're not able to track how your products are performing in the way that we just talked about with, you know, cohort analysis and all this different stuff, you can't make really fast, rapid strategic decisions. And that is the whole characterization of growth stage companies is like you need to be able to react very quickly, to be able to keep growing. So it's relevant for really large companies as well. But supercritical, we think for growth stage companies. And it should be helping you get a picture of how your company is performing on those different levels. And I think the kicker about business data and insights is that you should automate it, right. So what Denise and I propose in the book is that if you do this manually, what you have to do first, you have to gather all this information out of different systems, put it into different graphs and different charts, to be able to look at it and say, hey, now I have some insights and how things are performing. And every story looks a little bit different depending on your company and how your business models work. But then the real power that comes from this pillar of product operations is then automating it in something like a Tableau or a, you know, a looker or any kind of business intelligence tool, where you can put all your data in there and be able to query it on top of it and make all these different cuts of data to view as a product manager or product leader. And that's what really gives this pillar a lot of power is that you don't have to go to a data analyst, every single time you have a question and wait for them to query sequel, you know, or I had to like learn MongoDB, just to pull any information out of a database when I was a product manager. That's not a good use of time for product managers skills. So it's like, yes, they need to be able to connect it back to the financials. But when they spend all their time just trying to get data out of systems, a lot of times they can't spend that time thinking about how this all connects up and doing that really hard work.



Pillar # 2: Customer Market Insights


JJ 13:38

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think we've all seen that in terms of product managers spending their time on that, grabbing that data. So I can see that business data insights pillar being really foundational to the to the whole thing, right. But let's, let's talk about the second one. Let's talk about customer market insights. Denise, tell me, tell me a little bit more about that. Why is that so important? In product operations?


Denise 14:01

Yeah, well, it's sort of the Yin to the Yang, right of business and data insights, right? So you have the quantitative and the hard numbers that the numbers don't lie. And then you want to understand the more, you know, qualitative, the more anecdotal really understanding from the user perspective, how they should be applying the insights and what the problems are directly. So we talk about creating toolkits in terms of user research or discovery, experimentation. And then also, as you're gaining these insights, most of them sit on people's, you know, computer desktops, right? So how do you aggregate all of it and put it into a system that is really accessible for everybody and having all of these powerful insights? So it sounds lofty, it sounds tough, but it can be really done in a scrappy way. So we talk about that in the book, and we've got a really great case study with fidelity about what that looks like at a massive scale. But I think there's some really good insights to pull out and actions, actual moments that could work for For folks that are like a team of one. So I feel like I teach a masterclass for product products, labs on product operations. And at the beginning of the course, you know, where do you feel like, you know, what product operations really is or where your biggest deficit is? This is the one they pay the least attention to. But it's so important.


JJ 15:18

That's interesting. Yeah, I wouldn't think that, but that's interesting. So let me let me ask you a question. And either one of you can can chime in here, but But I see a lot of confusion on it, who owns the customer and customer insights in when you've got a product ops group? And, of course, a product management group? And, you know, do you just outsource all customer insights into the product ops group? And, you know, that's could be a little a little scary. Tell me your thoughts on that. What's what's How does that work best when you've got customer in and market insights as a key pillar in your product operations, you know, practice, if you will, or grew, but you still want to make sure those product managers are keeping their finger on the pulse of that, that insight.


Melissa 16:06

So the whole thing about the product ops, the you know, the customer research and market insights thing is that product ops isn't doing the research. Like they don't do any customer research here. What they're doing instead is instrumenting, the ability to do research, creating the infrastructure to make sure that research can be repeatable, so that a product manager doesn't spend 50 hours just recruiting 10 participants, right, and then going to do user research. Because those types of time sinks make it less repeatable. So we're not just like saying, oh, product ops group, like now your user researchers go do user research. It's more like this group is helping set up the infrastructure so that people can do good research. And they're building tools and like, like Denisa toolkits, and they're figuring out how do we, you know, how do we get users to opt into research. So I'll give you a great example, when I was at Athenahealth, Jen Cardello, who's now at Fidelity, who did our, who we did our case study on their on her research ops group, she implemented the same type of thing at Athenahealth. And we had 5000 people. And we had a bunch of teams going back to the same hospital to ask them questions. And we found out that like, 90% of our research was coming from one hospital, we said, okay, like, why, you know, out of the 350, product managers, are you, onboarding these poor people who are now tired of talking to you, and to, you know, we can't base all of our research off one hospital, like, we have to actually go out and talk to a variety of people. And they said, they're the only ones who answer us. And we know that they'll say, yes, so everybody piled on, because they knew they would say yes, right. And they were tired of getting told no, every time they try to reach out to somebody, so Jen created this system, where she actually contacted all the customers, and asked them would you be would you like to opt into research, so they put a nice hard sell on it, where they were like, you gotta be at the forefront of what we're building and like, we need your expertise. And like, she really sold it well, and gave them options on how often they wanted to do research with us what type of research they agreed to do. And what we did is we put them all in a database. That said, here's the people who opted in, here's how often they want to be contacted. And here's the type of research that you can do. And then we classify them by different personas are other relevant information that the product managers would need. And then when a product manager needs to do research, it would go into that database, find relevant people contact them knowing that they were being expected to be contacted, they also have their account manager on there, so that they can call the account manager and be like, hey, everything like kosher with these people, like everything's good. Nobody's like upset or you know, about to churn. And the account managers were not allowed to just block everything willy nilly. And we made that agreement with them, too. But we said, if something is really bad, and this is a sensitive subject, like we won't do research with them, right, we had that open dialogue with them, we made sure that it was okay. And that was awesome. Because we were able to reach all different types of people. After that it did not take 30 days to recruit five participants, people could email them, they expected it. And then they also built this great toolkit of all these different types of way to do research, where they train people on interviews, and they had good survey tools for people to use. And they had good prototyping tools that people could use. And there was a nice toolkit for everybody to go in and actually grab those things and be able to do it. So their team wasn't responsible for doing these research themselves. We did have a whole team of user researchers who would go out and do user research depending on what was needed. But this team was separate. This team was all about just the operations and the infrastructure needed to do good research. And the user researchers used it as well, right? Like this wasn't just for product managers. It was for anybody who was conducting user research to be able to put their information into those systems, access customers, and then make sure that they could go and see other people's insights. So we weren't reinventing the wheel 10 times.


JJ 19:52

It's a great example. And it's it's it's about making it easier for those folks to go out and get that or conduct that research. because, you know, I the example of, you know, always going to the same hospital, that's, you know, you take the easiest route, right. And that's just human nature. So I love that love that. And I love one of the things I love about the book is, is all of the case studies. And you can really see and see real life stories of, you know, the challenges that are real, and then how they overcame those.


Denise 20:23

So that was super important to us if we can pause on that for a sec, because, as Melissa and I were talking about how we wanted to structure the book and what kind of information it would have, it was really important to us to make sure we had realistic advice, real case studies and made people feel empowered and not inferior. So I've heard that from folks reading some books that they felt like, wow, this is an ideal I could never reach. And we wanted to make this seem as attainable and practical as possible. So I hope, I hope that we did that.


JJ 20:56

Yeah, that's one of the things I got out of the book, which I thought was was great, because I totally agree that so many, you know, it's so it's so easy to become intimidated by, you know, this, this, you know, pinnacle of, of, you know, exactly, and it's like, we don't even know where to start, because we're so far behind. Well, you know, when you when you see real examples that they did accomplish something, but they also, you know, took it step by step, or they had the same challenges, it's, it's really important, I think for for leaders and for teams to see that you can still make some, some differences. So you definitely accomplished your goal of, of, you know, using that and having some practical examples in there came across that way for sure. As a reader.



Pillar # 3: Process in Practice


So let's, let's dig into the last, the last pillar. And then we'll go from there, because I've got lots of other questions for you, but process in practice, tell me a little bit more about that pillar, why that's important in context of, you know, product, product ops being that third pillar.


Denise 21:55

Yeah So if we talk about it in the book, it's really about helping people stop talking about the work and actually getting to the work. And this was a consistent theme with clients that Melissa and I had together, and then separately as well, that, you know, especially with go to market, that seems to be an acute pain point, right? So one client that we had, you know, huge company, but in 12, different product verticals. And the sales team had to learn how to work on go to market differently with every single vertical, no, can we just have one way to work? And if we build the products, but they can't get sold? What's the point? Right, so how do we make it easier for everyone to work with us? And I think it's about just taking out those questions. And, you know, number of companies I work with, folks don't feel like they're getting bossed around, they just want to just tell me how to do it. And I'll get it done. And I think a lot of people just want to understand, like, here's where we're working. You can adapt it, you can use it, but at least have a guideline, I think makes makes it a lot easier for product managers to do the strategic work and not thinking about like, should the roadmap being PowerPoint? Should it be an Excel? Do we need a tool, just taking out some of that type of work that they don't necessarily need to be doing? And it's probably not the highest of importance, either. So getting to that consistency, I think is really important.


JJ 23:16

You know, it's interesting, because I think, at least when when product up started to get the visibility, you know, or more more visibility over the last few years, one of the critiques was that, you know, it's it's going to over process us, right, it's going to go to throw too much bureaucracy in there. And I think the companies that that do it right, you know, they use that consistency, right? They use the process just enough to make, you know, to make you not have to think about the silly stuff and waste cycles on that. I think I think that's that's kind of what you're, you're you're teaching, you know, in showing companies how to do right, like use reuse process up to them slightly, where it adds to efficiency and not takes away from everything else.


Denise 24:01

Exactly. And it's not a set it and forget it type of thing either Shintaro Matsui, who is from Amplitude, and we also have a case study with him. He does a quarterly assessment here heuristic, is this working for us? And so all of the stakeholders in the product managers like what do we think about the newsletter? You know, maybe it's a lot of work for the product managers, but sales team loves it, right? So what's working, what isn't working? So if you're constantly looking and deprecating what isn't working? It's a product really, right? So it has to have attention and what can be automated? And you know, where can you apply these types of efforts to maybe more higher value? That's important.



Which Pillar to Start With as You're Introducing Product Ops


JJ 24:38

Definitely. So Melissa, I think you mentioned this earlier about how, when you're working with growth stage companies, you often advise them to start kind of digging into and improving that business and data insights pillar. Do you have is that kind of a standard rule across the board or do you do you, you know, advise companies, just Start with one or the other of these pillars are just kind of take it as, as the company's, you know, their unique situation dictates.


Melissa 25:07

I think it depends more on like where the company is at and what's the most important piece, we just tend to see that growth stage companies do start with business data and insights. And I have to say I'm like, slightly biased, because every company I've worked with that is growth stage, just by the nature of like, what I do, usually has trouble setting product strategy. So I'm coming in to help them set product strategy. And that's because they don't have those insights at their fingertips. And once they know what it is, they're like, Oh, my God, like, how do we not have this, this, this makes so much more sense on why we couldn't set product strategy before nobody knew to look at this stuff, right. And that's, that's usually a prerequisite for, you know, doing strategy. And I'm working with one company right now to do the same thing. And we're going out and getting the data. And it worked really well, because we have a data person who was just hired, who is reinventing everything, putting it into Looker, you know, making it set up. So now I get to work with him on hey, here's the type of things that we're going to need to see all the time. So we can keep refreshing that strategy. So it works very well, I think for growth stage companies to start there. But that doesn't mean that enterprises can start there either. It doesn't mean that anybody else could start there, if their biggest issue is getting insights into how their product is performing. A lot of times for enterprises, though, they have more of an issue of just understanding the work that's going on. So that's more like, hey, we have a bunch of tickets in JIRA. And I don't know what they're going to do, right? Like, like we got 5 million tickets. in JIRA, we've got 5000 developers across this company. We've got 50,000 developers as some of the larger companies I work with. What are they doing, right? Like, what are they working on? How does that actually bubble up. And there's no real good system for tracking how those things roll into roadmaps and having a good portfolio view of what all those roadmaps are across the company, and making sure that they're aligned and that they're working towards the right direction. And that is, where a lot of enterprises start to start to do product Ops is just trying to get those transparency into what's happening right now, what is the work that's happening now. And to me, that's not a bad place to start, either, if any company is having trouble with that. And I think there's a balance and what we talk about in the book that you'll see too, with, like the, and I'm sure you've seen it already, JJ, it's like, you know, we talk about the story of the company that's going through, and sometimes they do a little bit in each pillar, and they have to drop, they say that's good enough for now, right? Like we accomplished what we need in this one pillar, let's start on this other one, because that's a higher priority at the moment. And I think that's how people will naturally gravitate their way into product operations. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing play. And what also we should acknowledge is that there are maybe teams out there that are doing some of the work that we're describing in product operations today. And that's okay. Like, we're not saying go replace those teams, or, you know, stop what they're doing, we have to call it product ops. And like, restructure is like, no, it's just that these are what product managers need to help, you know, operationalize their work and be able to do their work. And if you don't have them, like get them product operations as a nice home for them to live in. But let's say you have like a great data team that reports into like a chief data officer goes up to, you know, the CEO, and that team is fantastic at getting data into looker. And they are doing all the cuts that we're talking about. They're great, great at monitoring dashboards, they are readily accessible to the product team to answer questions, and you don't have problems with the business data and insights because you've been doing that, like don't start there don't restructure into product operations, as we're calling it, like, leave that team alone. And make sure that it's like well set up for the product managers, and then like move on to something else. So we're not trying to like replace functions that exist that are working very well. We're just trying to help people understand what are all the different components that are needed to do good work as a product manager.


How to Get Buy-In for Product Operations


JJ 29:03

That's a really good segue, actually, to my next thought or next question for, for you both. Kind of not not reinventing the wheel, or every wheel if a wheel doesn't need to be reinvented, right. Is is one way to probably if you're a leader trying to really implement a product operations practice in an organization to get buy in, right to say, Well, look, we're not trying to, you know, recreate everything here, we've, we actually do this part really well, but let's start somewhere else. So I guess the question is, and Denise, you can take this if you want is just like how do you get buy in how does a product leader start to for folks who who don't have product operations, even if they have some of the you know, you know, the practices around the organization if they don't really have product operations yet. How do you get buy in how do you start that that communication in that process to you know, help the organization implement product ops.


Denise 30:00

Right, I mean, sometimes it may be coming out of a failed launch. So the go to market connectivity, was that a mismatch? And as people were pointing fingers, as opposed to blaming, it's like, well, what if it looked like this? What if we could do that? So sometimes is that of things that have, you know, not necessarily gone? Well, Christina Eduardo, from Pendo, was talking about that on another podcast that product operations there had been born at a really rough launch. So I've seen that a few times. And also, I think part of the reason we shared these case studies was to show what it can look like at other companies, because when I've been working with certain, large, large enterprises are like, Well, who else is doing it? Who else is so this actually shows you and puts a name to it actually gives examples of how it's helped companies scale. So for example, at Uber, and then at stripe, Blake Samak, who started product operations at both organizations, you talked about how the company was in scale at phase, and then really had this burst of growth, and everybody's kind of running every which way. And that's where systems start to break, communication starts to break down. And that's where, at least initially with Uber that he started it at, that's where it came from, what does it look like to put these things back together and build a framework to actually scale this. So usually, it's out of out of a challenge. But it could be made out of like, this could be a wonderful thing. So I've seen it start in both ways, but typically more out of a challenge that's happened initially.


JJ 31:38

Yeah and then kind of paint the picture of what it could what we could be to avoid those kinds of challenges.


Denise 31:45

Yeah, exactly. A team of one. And then what does that look like to be possibly a team of several if you need that?



How to Know Product Operations is Needed / Can Help Your Org


JJ 31:50

Yeah. Are there any indicators? Or, you know, kind of kind of gross measures or metrics or anything else that that show us when Product Ops is needed? Is it always made it in companies? Or are there certain parts in their evolution and the maturity, certain challenges that they identify any any kind of triggers out there that that makes a leadership team say, you know, what, we probably should look at product ops?


Denise 32:17

Go to market for sure. That seems to be a challenge in a lot of places.


Melissa 32:22

I think to like, depends on size. Like if you're a tiny company, you don't need to do any product ops, like I had somebody asked like, do I need, I have one product managers made in LinkedIn, just ask this today, I have one product manager, we're about to hire another, should I hire a product marketer next, or a product ops person? And I was like, you don't need product ops with two product managers like that's, you know, you can turn to each other and have a conversation. Yeah. So it's when you're really small, it's not going to help you. But you can start to lay the foundation, especially with data, right? As you think about scaling, and that's good hygiene stuff. So I'd say there isn't a hard and fast rule about like how many product managers you have to have to start product ops. But it's typically when you've got enough product managers where like, as a product leader, you're looking around, you're like, what is everybody working on? To have a good, you know, is everybody following a similar type of process? Are we like spending a lot of time just working off the side of our deck desk to like, put out fires? And fires on like, what templates do we use for this? Or how do we structure that? Or how do I get data or is like, like, for me when I was at a startup, learning MongoDB. So I could get information out of a database, like that was a good signal that we needed product ops at that point, right? Like we needed to do something about this. That's one like good sign, it's just that it feels like you're scaling fast, you have plans to hire a lot more people in the future, your team is going to keep growing. And you know that if you're going to add more people, it's going to become unsustainable, like, it's going to be much harder for you to get a handle of what's going on. That's a good, that's a good rule of thumb there. And then I like what Denise said, I think it's, I think it's not just product, product marketing, or like go to market, but it's also when you start to have defined different departments, right, that are growing as well. So if you've got a large sales team, a large marketing team, and then it's like, okay, let's hire product marketers to write. Now we're adding like in more complexity, oh, we need customer support as well. Like, let's, let's like, grow that team. Now. We've got a bunch of different people that need to plug into the product development process. And they're curious about how it works. And you know, how they get their ideas from customers to us, like that's a good sign that these are types of things that we need to be thinking about as well.


JJ 34:38

That makes that makes a lot of sense. So we've talked a lot about how to how to implement it, how to get it started in an organization, which I think probably a majority of organizations are in that, you know, that level of, of maturity, if you will, or in maturity, because it's somewhat of a new concept, but there's enough organizations out there that have it implemented product ops. So what advice do you give to them? Where they've started the process? They've put some people in place. They they've worked on some of these pillars. But it's not quite optimized yet. Like, how do you go into an organization and help them optimize their product ops, as opposed to start it from from scratch? Are there common mistakes that you see? Or any kind of common advice that you end up giving to these organizations as they continue to grow their product ops group?


Denise 35:29

Yeah, yeah, I advised a financial company, year before last. And they were one of the earlier companies to start with a product ops team. And they had gone from embedded to shared service to embedded the shared service. And so they've gone through a few cycles already with that, which was interesting. But they wanted to take a moment and say, What are we doing? Right? What are what are other folks in the industry doing? So I really took a maturity assessment in terms of thinking of those pillars, right, and sort of benchmarking against what good looks like and sort of what the highest level and highest value activities are within those pillars. So I also see that typically, companies as they're maturing the definitely going to, you know, sort of index over index more in certain areas, because it has been a problem. But they may tend to sort of keep applying that sort of resource heavy force there. So sometimes it's about pulling back and like, Oh, alright, we've got data setup, maybe really need to be thinking about more of the qualitative side. So I think that may be a little bit of a myopic view of of what the needs are. So sometimes it helps to pull back.



Advice on How to Succeed With Product Operations


JJ 36:36

Yeah, yeah, just get a bigger picture. Because, again, sometimes we as humans, do what we're comfortable with. So if we're really comfortable in one of these pillars, we may double down on it, as opposed to getting a breadth of of, you know, operations there. So that makes a lot of sense. I guess my final question is, you know, other than going out and definitely reading the book, what final words of wisdom do you have for organizations and product teams who want to, you know, succeed in product operations?


Melissa 37:06

I think my biggest thing that I want organizations to understand is that product operations isn't a replacement for poor product management skills, right. And this is not going to fill the gap of having a lot of people who are inexperienced, both in leadership levels or in, you know, like any levels, right? To do this, it's about really optimizing our ways of working and making sure that skilled product managers are focusing on what we hired them to do, which is make product decisions, right, make really good product decisions. And that's the piece that we want them to remember.


Denise 37:46

One of the folks that we interviewed, Srinivas, he started product operations at Calendly. He's moved on since then. But I love what he says he says it's really product operations is about increasing the speed and quality of decision making. And that's kind of a nice way to sum up the three pillars. But I guess my advice would be, start somewhere, don't feel like you've got to start across all three. In fact, don't pick your biggest and highest need and where you see the most value possibly out of out of serving it and start from there.


JJ 38:17

That's great advice. And certainly, again, you know, the book is an amazing primer, and a really great resource to get started and you know, to read your advice and insights and frameworks, and to read those case studies, and you know, see what others have done. And, you know, amend what they've done to your environment. But I think it's a really, really great resource for folks. So thank you all for putting it out in the world. It will be very valuable to to everyone. So Melissa Perri, Denise Tilles, thank you so much for joining me. It's been fabulous conversation, and I've enjoyed learning more about product operations. Thanks for being here.


Denise 38:57

Thank you.


Melissa 38:58

Thanks for having us.


JJ 38:59

And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.


Outro 39:04

Thank you for listening to Product Voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com A


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