Insights · 4 min read

3 ways to build a successful approach to Product Operations

Becky Asch
Posted March 18, 2022
3 ways to build a successful approach to Product Operations

Product Operations is a nascent discipline in SaaS, and Fullstory is no exception—we established our Product Operations team in the fall of 2021.

As Fullstory’s Head of Product Operations, I like to describe Product Ops as “the Product Manager for the product process.” While there are a lot of opinions about the best model and scope for the discipline, I’d like to weigh into the conversation from a slightly different angle: with a focus on approach rather than remit.

I believe that, to be successful, Product Operations has to be a chameleon to the business it serves, adapting the team’s approach in three key ways:

Focus on culture

Inherently, Product Operations introduces change across teams.

That puts a particular onus on the function to be laser-focused on preserving and elevating the best parts of the team’s culture and helping to ease the transition out of practices that are toxic or that the company has outgrown. There’s a tendency to over-index on what needs to change. As a discipline, we could benefit from “stopping and smelling the flowers,” so to speak. In other words: let’s examine what it is about our culture that is working and think about how to lean into that.

I’ll share an example of how this plays out at Fullstory: I was facilitating a discussion with Product Managers about roadmap timelines and stages. The conversation was focused on how we define various stages of the product development lifecycle and how we continue to improve upon release timeline estimates.

One point that came up again and again was that we have such a brilliant and dedicated engineering team, and we need to make sure that any changes we consider in how we determine timelines doesn’t create undue pressure that would have an unintended negative impact on our engineering culture. What a great “problem” to have, and a perfect example of what it looks like to preserve the best parts of our culture as we think about evolving our product process.

Recognize there’s more to operations than process

As the saying goes, a great solution to the wrong problem is still a bad solution. While in Product Operations we often lean on process as a silver bullet, in many cases the root of the issue is not a lack of process, but different issues altogether—communication gaps, role ambiguity, resource issues, etc.

Let’s be clear about what we’re solving. Process is not always the answer.

For example, leading up to the launch of a feature release, it became clear that the timeline we had initially developed was not sufficient for customer-facing teams to prepare ahead of launch. The root cause of the issue was not a lack of process, but rather one of visibility into what needs to happen upstream and downstream for each team to successfully launch this feature. Addressing the issue required a discussion between teams to come up with a new timeline that everyone was comfortable with. If this had been mistaken as a “process” issue, we would have been solving the wrong problem.

Prioritize the hot spots

Rather than Product Operations having a specific remit within the product world, we should prioritize the hot spots by focusing on areas of the product lifecycle that are broken.

That may sound obvious, but it means there is no one Product Operations playbook. It means Product Operations team remits will look different at each company. And it means that those remits can and should evolve over time—as the company scales, as strategy shifts, as org structures change. I expect that the focus areas that Product Operations is working on at Fullstory today will be very different a year from now.

I’ll leave you with one final anecdote: on my first day at Fullstory, my manager reminded me of a point I made during the interview process. I talked about why an over-engineered process can be just as dangerous (if not more) than no process at all. To her, this was an indication that we agreed on the need for a Product Operations function that thinks critically, addresses root causes, and right-sizes the solution to the problem—a Product Operations team that embraces its inner chameleon.

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Becky AschHead of Product Operations

About the author

Becky Asch is the Head of Product Operations at Fullstory. She's based in Denver, CO.

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