April 8

Deep-Dive: Product Operations

The Arrival of Product Operations: Enabling Product Teams to Scale Efficiently

In the fast-paced world of software and tech, companies are constantly seeking ways to scale their product organizations efficiently and effectively. As teams grow and products become more complex, the challenge of aligning resources, streamlining processes, and maintaining customer focus becomes increasingly difficult. This is where Product Operations comes in – a relatively new but increasingly critical function that aims to enable product teams to deliver more value to customers, faster. 

Just a decade ago, the term “Product Operations” wasn’t really even being discussed within product organizations… even though many of the functions were being performed by those in other product roles. Today, though, Product Operations (or “Product Ops”) has emerged as a key discipline for scaling companies with lots of data on hand. More and more companies are recognizing its potential to drive growth and innovation by providing the infrastructure, processes, and insights needed to support product managers and their teams through a dedicated Product Operations strategy and function.I’ve personally tried to understand more about Product Operations by interviewing some of the top Product Operations professionals over these past several years – including Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles (Co-Authors of Product Operations), Black Samic (Product Ops leader at OpenAI and, in the past, Stripe, Uber and elsewhere), Matt Shroder (former Product Ops leader at Uber and Binance), and Shelley Perry (Advisor and Board Member at several software companies). In this essay, we’ll dive deep into these past conversations to learn more about the world of Product Operations, exploring its definition, key responsibilities, and the value it brings to scaling product teams – as well as discuss how to implement Product Ops in your own organization and what Product Ops may look like in the future as the world of tech evolves.

What is Product Operations?

What is Product Operations?

First, it’s important to properly define Product Operations. In co-producing The Rise of Product Ops with the team at Pendo, we define Product Operations as an operational function that optimizes the intersection of product, engineering, and customer success. It supports the R&D team and their go-to-market counterparts to improve alignment, communications, and processes around the product.Product Operations is about enabling product management teams to focus on their primary responsibilities: understanding customer needs, defining the right products to build, and delivering value to the business. As Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles, co-authors of the book “Product Operations,” explain: “Product operations arms our product teams with the right data and the right inputs to be able to make strategic decisions. It’s really about allowing your product managers to do what we hired them for.”

This idea of enabling product managers to focus on their core work is a common theme among Product Ops practitioners. Blake Samic, current Head of Product Operations at OpenAI, describes the function as “the connective tissue between the people building your technology and the people who are talking to your users all the time.” 

He breaks down the role into three key focus areas:

  1. Strengthening product feedback loops: Product ops helps gather, analyze, and prioritize customer insights and feedback, ensuring that product teams have a deep understanding of user needs and pain points.
  2. Operationalizing product development and rollouts: By streamlining processes, managing dependencies, and coordinating cross-functional efforts, Product Ops enables product teams to ship features and updates more efficiently and predictably.
  3. Scaling product knowledge across the company: Product ops plays a key role in communicating product strategy, roadmaps, and best practices throughout the organization, ensuring alignment and shared understanding.

Why Product Ops is Becoming Essential

The Importance of Setting the Right Metrics

As companies grow and scale, the complexity of managing product organizations increases exponentially. Silos emerge between departments, communication breaks down, and alignment becomes more difficult. This often leads to slower decision-making, misallocated resources, and ultimately, a diminished ability to deliver value to customers.

Matt Shroder, former Product Operations leader at Uber, experienced these challenges firsthand and was at the forefront of solving them through a dedicated Product Operations role. In our conversation, he recalled how Product Operations helped form the way that Uber handled its internal data…

“Suddenly we found ourselves in 120 cities that were all operating by themselves… However, when you become so decentralized by that, it’s easy to find those activities that you could easily centralize. And so Product Operations actually first started to realize that this process is being handled 120 different ways. How do we centralize that activity and have more efficient or fewer resources doing that same activity?”


This need for centralization and standardization is a common driver for adopting Product Ops. By providing a single source of truth for product data, research, and best practices, Product Ops enables product teams to make informed decisions quickly and confidently.

Additionally, Product Ops helps to reduce the operational burden on product managers, freeing them up to focus on more strategic work. In our recent interview for an episode on Rocketship.FM, Melissa Perri emphasizes this point. She noted how naysayers might describe the work of Product Operations as the type of work that any Product Manager ought to do – manage and analyze data in order to make better decisions. Yet, she questions this assumption and contends that in taking on many of the operational tasks that product managers often find themselves bogged down with – such as data analysis, process documentation, and cross-functional coordination – Product Ops enables Product Managers to spend more time on high-impact activities like customer research, product strategy, and roadmap planning.

When to Implement Product Ops

When to Implement Product Ops

So when does a company need a dedicated Product Operations function? The answer depends on a number of factors, including the size and complexity of the organization, the maturity of the product team, and the level of cross-functional alignment.

According to Blake Samic, the need for Product Ops becomes critical when a company is rapidly adding employees across parallel products/teams, entering new markets, and building complex products beyond just websites/apps. At this scale, it gets harder for employees to understand what’s coming, make cross-functional decisions, and stay aligned to user needs.

Shelley Perry shares a similar perspective, noting that Product Ops becomes essential when a company is in a situation where you’re adding lots of employees all the time and building more and more products in parallel. When products themselves are getting a little more complex, it becomes harder for a de-centralized employee base to make sense and act on data in a way that’s consistent within the organization. 

Typically, this means that product operations, as a function, is best established when a company finds itself within the “scaling up” stage. However, this doesn’t mean that earlier stage companies can’t benefit from Product Ops. Matt Shroder advises that if there’s a small or nascent product group just getting started, it may be useful to have at least one dedicated product operations professional – even at a junior level. This person can help put in the mechanism to start collecting the data and correlating the data – as it may be beneficial to start like this rather than waiting too long. The longer a company waits to establish product operations as a function – the more difficult it is (and longer it takes) to restructure the company’s data in a way that’s organized and cohesive. Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles echo this sentiment in their book, noting that it’s possible to have some scaled down version of Product Ops, even at a very small company. 

Ultimately, the decision to implement Product Ops should be based on a careful assessment of the organization’s needs and pain points. If product teams are struggling with inefficient processes, misaligned priorities, or a lack of customer insight, it may be time to consider investing in a dedicated Product Ops function.

Skills and Characteristics of Effective Product Ops Roles

Skills and Characteristics of Effective Product Ops Roles

The people that serve in product operations roles are typically product managers at heart – but according to Shelley Perry, they are more data-driven – perhaps even with AI or business backgrounds and wish to specialize specifically in product data. Just in other operations roles – like Sales Ops – being able to specialize and “live in the data” is critical for product operations. By leveraging data to inform decision making, prioritization, and resource allocation, Product Ops helps product teams work smarter, not just harder.

Given the cross-functional nature of Product Operations, the role requires an ability to not just be data-minded, but also collaborate well throughout the organization. Melissa Perri draws parallels to general product management, noting that Product Ops practitioners need similar skills as general Product Managers – but with an understanding that the customers and stakeholders that Product Ops professionals generally work with are internal customers.

Blake Samic highlights a few key differentiators, including exceptional communication skills, the ability to drive collaboration across teams, and a highly analytical mindset. When he’s hiring Product Ops professionals, he notes that he’s not just looking for collaborative people – but people that I can put into another group of people and influence the entire group to be collaborative with each other.

Denise Tilles emphasizes the importance of business acumen and technical understanding. She contends that it’s essential that a Product Ops professional is analytical, but also understands how to work with nearly every function within the organization – including sales, account management, customer support, and even the C-Suite. But more than simply working with them, the Product Ops professional must understand how to translate the data that they’ve analyzed in a way that each group understands how to make sense of that data.

In addition to these core skills, Product Ops practitioners need to be highly organized, detail-oriented, and able to manage multiple projects and stakeholders simultaneously. They should be comfortable working with data and using analytical tools to derive insights and inform decision making.

Perhaps most importantly, Product Ops requires a customer-centric mindset and a deep understanding of the product development process. As Melissa Perri puts it, great Product Ops professionals are inherently great at solving problems. They want to go and understand what the problem is, but then they also have to have that product mindset of trying to turn it into a system.

Getting Started with Product Ops

Getting Started with Product Ops

Implementing a product operations function can seem daunting, especially for organizations that are new to the concept. However, with the right approach and a clear focus on delivering value, companies can successfully integrate Product Ops into their existing product development processes.

The first step is to identify the areas of greatest need and opportunity. Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles recommend focusing on one of three pillars:

  1. Business and data insights: Leveraging data to inform product strategy, prioritization, and decision making.
  2. Customer and market insights: Gathering and analyzing customer feedback, conducting user research, and monitoring market trends.
  3. Process and practice: Streamlining product development processes, managing cross-functional dependencies, and establishing best practices.

The choice of which pillar to focus on first will depend on the specific challenges and goals of the organization. For example, a company struggling with a lack of customer understanding may want to prioritize the customer and market insights pillar, while a company dealing with inefficient product development processes may want to focus on process and practice.

Once the area of focus has been identified, the next step is to define clear objectives and metrics for success. This could include goals such as reducing time-to-market for new features, increasing customer satisfaction scores, or improving cross-functional collaboration. By establishing measurable targets upfront, Product Ops can demonstrate its value and impact over time.

With objectives in place, the Product Ops team can then begin to implement specific initiatives and projects. This may involve conducting a thorough assessment of existing processes and tools, identifying areas for improvement, and developing new systems and frameworks to support product development.

Throughout this process, it’s important to start small and focus on delivering quick wins. As Denise Tilles advises, “Focus where the biggest need and opportunity is, don’t try to master all three pillars at once. Understand where the biggest pain points are and get some quick wins.” By demonstrating value early on, Product Ops can build momentum and secure the support needed to scale the function over time.

One effective way to achieve quick wins is to identify a specific product team or initiative to pilot Product Ops practices with. By working closely with a single team, Product Ops can deeply understand their needs and challenges, develop tailored solutions, and measure the impact of their efforts. These learnings can then be used to refine the Product Ops approach and expand to other teams and areas of the organization.

As Product Ops begins to deliver results, it’s important to communicate these successes broadly and consistently. This can help to build trust and credibility with key stakeholders, including product managers, executives, and cross-functional partners. Regular reporting on metrics, sharing of best practices, and storytelling around impact can all help to raise the profile of Product Ops and demonstrate its strategic value.

Securing executive buy-in is critical throughout this process, as Product Ops is a strategic function that requires top-down support. Product ops leaders should work closely with senior stakeholders to align on goals, secure resources, and remove obstacles to success. This may involve regular check-ins, progress reports, and strategic planning sessions to ensure that Product Ops remains a priority and is well-positioned to drive impact.

Over time, as the Product Ops function matures and demonstrates its value, it can evolve into a more formalized, embedded role within product teams. This may involve hiring dedicated Product Ops specialists, establishing centers of excellence, and developing standardized processes and frameworks that can be scaled across the organization.

Ultimately, the goal of Product Ops is to design PM-friendly solutions that enable, rather than hinder, the core work of product management. This requires a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of product managers, as well as a willingness to collaborate closely and iterate based on feedback. Implementing Product Ops is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process of iteration and optimization. As the needs and goals of the organization evolve, so too must the focus and priorities of Product Ops. By staying agile, data-driven, and customer-centric, Product Ops can continue to adapt and deliver value in an ever-changing landscape.

The Future of Product Operations

The Future of Product Operations

As the discipline of Product Operations continues to evolve, experts predict a number of emerging trends and opportunities.

Shelley Perry anticipates a growing emphasis on specialized skills and training. Melissa Perri foresees more automation and a shift towards treating Product Ops as an internal product in its own right. Blake Samic envisions Product Ops becoming a more strategic partner to product leadership – almost like a mini-COO, where the role is more “scale-focused.”

As AI continues to advance and become more integrated into business processes, it has the potential to significantly impact the future of product operations. One key area where AI could play a role is in the analysis of large volumes of product data and customer feedback. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, product ops teams could more quickly and accurately identify patterns, trends, and insights that might otherwise be missed by human analysts. This could help to inform product strategy, prioritization, and decision making in real-time, enabling product teams to be more responsive to customer needs and market changes. Additionally, AI-powered tools could help to automate and streamline various product ops processes, such as data collection, reporting, and workflow management. This could free up product ops professionals to focus on higher-level strategic tasks, such as building relationships with cross-functional partners and driving organizational change. As AI capabilities continue to evolve, it will be important for product ops teams to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and best practices, and to carefully consider how AI can be leveraged to enhance, rather than replace, human expertise and decision making. 

As Product Ops, in general, continues to prove its value and impact, it has the potential to become a standard function within all growing product organizations, much like sales operations or marketing operations. Companies that invest in building strong Product Ops capabilities will be better positioned to scale efficiently, adapt to changing market conditions, and deliver exceptional customer value.

Summing it all up

The rise of Product Operations represents a significant shift in how technology companies approach scaling their product organizations. By enabling product managers to focus on their core responsibilities, streamlining operational processes, and facilitating data-driven decision making, Product Ops has the potential to unlock new levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

As the experts interviewed in this essay have shared, implementing Product Ops requires a clear understanding of its purpose, a commitment to proving its value, and a willingness to evolve the function over time. It also requires the right people with the right skills – individuals who can bridge the gap between technical and business concerns, drive cross-functional collaboration, and maintain a relentless focus on the customer.

For product leaders looking to scale their teams successfully, investing in Product Operations may well be the key to delivering more value to customers, faster. By providing the infrastructure, insights, and processes needed to support product managers and their teams, Product Ops can help organizations navigate the complexities of growth with greater agility and adaptability.

As Denise Tilles puts it, “In its best form, Product Ops greases the wheels to do the work versus talking about the work.” In a fast-paced, ever-changing industry, that ability to focus on the work that matters most – the work of building great products that customers love – is more important than ever.

A big thank you goes out to the people who I’ve personally learned so much about Product Operations from and helped influence this essay – including Melissa Perri, Denise Tilles, Blake Samic, Matt Shroder, and Shelley Perry!

Mike Belsito

About the author

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the Co-Founder of Product Collective which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management. Mike also serves as a Faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and is Co-Host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent the past 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, Co-Founder, and Executive. Mike's businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.


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