Antonia Landi on building a well-oiled Product Ops machine
Product State Q&A
Antonia Landi is Head of Product & Engineering Operations at Zenjob. She’s a Mentor and Community Lead at Prod Career Accelerator. She’s held product management roles at AVIV Group, LivingPackers and Acrolinx.
EC: Why does Product Ops exists and what does a highly effective team get done?
AL: An effective Product Ops team enables the Product Team to do their best work.
I like to think of it as a well-oiled machine — from strategy and quarterly planning, to day-to-day work, everything runs smoothly and everyone has access to the tools, information, and guidelines they need to succeed.
However, this definition is also why Product Ops work seems so diffuse and is so different at every organization. The core aspect of ‘removing barriers’ heavily depends on what those barriers are.
Some Product Teams struggle with getting easy access to accurate product analytics — some others have a low product management maturity and need coaching. Other companies aren’t able to close the feedback loop, while another team might constantly battle to get customers they can interview.
Within all those possible tasks, there are aspects of program and project management, but the core difference lies in the team’s mission.
Product Operations is there to elevate the Product Team’s maturity and ultimately get the organization from where it’s at to where it wants to be.
EC: What kind of Ops org structures should leaders consider, and when is the right time to start an Ops team?
AL: Some people think that there’s a magic number of PMs after which you definitely need to hire an Ops person, but that’s simply not true. The right time to hire your first Product Ops person heavily depends on a number of factors.
How painful is it to be a PM in your organization?
And how much of that pain are you as a Product Leader willing to accept?
Some companies hire for Product Ops before the pain becomes too acute, some others only hire once the team’s velocity takes a considerable hit. It’s up to you to decide how you want to run your team, and whether that includes operational excellence.
One thing people tend to forget is that Product Ops work has always existed - just because you hire someone to do it full time doesn’t mean those tasks haven’t existed so far.
The question you need to ask yourself is: ‘Do I want someone to do this systematically with a long-term plan in mind, or do I want to keep addressing issues as and when they come up?’
As far as team structure is concerned, there are two axes you need to consider:
Embedded vs centralized, and
Specialists vs generalists
Again, there is no inherently right answer here. I prefer centralized Product Ops teams as opposed to having Ops folk serve specific teams, as this ensures you are looking at the whole organization when making decisions.
However, some embedding might make sense in large corporations.
Whether you hire specialists or generalists again heavily depends on the needs and weak points of your organization. I’d suggest to start with a Product Ops generalist who will then aid you in assessing whether it makes more sense to hire specialists (i.e. Design Ops, Research Ops, Data Ops, etc.) or keep taking on generalists.
EC: How has the Ops leader role changed in recent years, and how do you think it will continue to change in years to come?
AL: When I started my first official Product Ops job I remember googling ‘Product Operations’ and found a handful of ‘What is Product Ops’ articles and a playbook by Pendo — and that was it.
Compared to back then there are a lot more resources out there — and a lot more leaders in the field.
I think we’re at a pivotal point for Product Operations where it still looks like a fad to some people, while others are completely committed to the function.
But what we say and what we do doesn’t line up.
Companies that previously invested in Ops are now laying off the very people they hired to transform their organizations for the better, while others are hiring working students in Product Ops roles that are essentially personal assistants in disguise.
Many Product Ops leaders have the difficult task of setting up the function at companies that have never worked with Ops before, and this isn’t something to be taken lightly. A lot of work still goes into getting people on your side and ensuring they understand you’re here to help, not to hinder. But as we get better at advocating for ourselves, and the Product Leaders that hire us get better at giving us the mandate we need to be successful, we will hopefully move toward a world where our job is accepted instead of questioned.
Overall, the economic downturn is changing the tech landscape, and with that companies are re-evaluating what’s important.
To me the answer is obvious: Investing in operational excellence now will ensure a resilient product organization that can weather any storm and thrive instead of tread water. Whether that sentiment is shared by others remains to be seen.
“Product Operations is there to elevate the Product Team’s maturity and ultimately get the organization from where it’s at to where it wants to be.”
- Antonia Landi
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