Myths of Product Ops

Chris Compston
6 min readJan 31, 2022

Six myths of Product Ops and why dispelling them is imperative

Myth 1: We focus on Product Management only

While the Product Ops discipline does have the word ‘product’ in it we need to remember that Product Management is not the only player in the development of products.

An effective Product Ops function will be looking across the whole product development lifecycle. From how teams are aligning on strategic priorities all the way to how product teams collaborate on content production, for example.

Product Design, Customer Research, Product Analytics, Engineering, Content Designers and even business stakeholders impact the product development lifecycle. Product Ops needs to cover all these disciplines at different times dependent on the organisational challenges, strategic priorities and general needs identified.

Myth 2: We must have Product Management experience

Given the above it would actually be incredibly restricting to only have Product Management experience. The best Product Ops teams will have a varied background and strong experience in all aspects of product development.

Product Ops people need to know what good looks like, they need to be able to highlight challenges and support people to change behaviour if required. They can’t be expected to have experience in every role. Instead they need to have a good enough level of understanding of what those roles do and what their varied challenges might be.

Many of the traits of a strong Product Manager would benefit an operationally focused team of course, but Product Management is not the one role to rule them all.

Myth 3: We tell people how to work and what to do

I’ve often explained the role of Product Ops as focusing on “how our teams work over what they work on” and while this still holds true it doesn’t give the full picture, that can be damaging.

We do focus on the ‘how’ vs the ‘what’ but that doesn’t mean that we define processes and then inflict them on product teams. We should however be focused on how effective and efficient our teams are, rather than being focused on customer outcomes, business goals and the things our people are building to achieve them.

How does that look in reality? Good Product Ops teams should be giving teams the data, analysis and insights into how they might amplify the good practices they’ve fostered and change any behaviour that is causing them problems. The teams themselves should then be introspective and employing a continuous improvement mindset.

Product teams should be asking themselves how they might solve some of their own challenges and how they can improve. Product Ops is a pull function, not a push function. Teams should reach out for support because they want to improve, rather than Product Ops pushing themselves into a space and making changes.

Myth 4: We will fix things for people without their support

While Product Ops teams can be proactive when they identify broad organisational challenges, teams really do need to want to change.

Product Ops can hold up the mirror to how teams are operating and they of course can provide thought leadership. This can be in the form of analysis or broad insight around how other teams in the organisation are operating. But the most effective way for this to happen is if the team themselves have identified a need and have a continuous improvement mindset.

It does come down to those teams to reach out for help and to start by helping themselves. Nothing will be solved by an outside entity enforcing changes unopposed. Product Ops will give all the support that is needed, if there is a willingness to improve.

Myth 5: We focus on the same challenges at every organisation

Just as every organisation is different, the challenges they face are also vast and varied. This is dependent on business maturity, organisational scale, growth strategy, industry and many more factors.

Generally Product Ops will be looking at how the product organisation operates and how they can support any improvements to efficiency and effectiveness. How that manifests itself in both day-to-day work and the longer term strategy of the team will be impacted by the needs of the organisation at any given time.

Some organisations might be employing Product Ops to fill the gaps where product leadership is lacking time, focus or capability. Some are hired for their change management expertise for an organisational restructure, I’ve also heard of some teams looking at strategic alignment while others focus solely on managing the process of streamlining business data, or software and hardware for their teams.

Over time and with the changing needs of the organisation the Product Ops team might have to shift between these different areas. As the product organisation matures or gains new capabilities through hiring, the team might be able to step away and move to new and more pressing concerns.

Myth 6: We operate on one level within the product organisation

Along with the changing needs of the product organisation between companies, there are also their changing needs across time. In our case over the past year, with the changing needs of the organisation and limited team size, our Product Ops team has been operating up and down the various levels.

This can mean that product teams might not feel the support of Product Ops simply as the latter are working with product leadership more closely and often. A good Product Ops will be able to adapt to the environment and work at the level that drives most impact.

For example during 2021 our Product Ops team was support an organisational transformation and a change to our annual planning process. Our team worked more closely with our VP of Product and Product Directors over the course of six to nine months to support these changes and less with the Product Managers in the team.

Due to our limited team size and the need at the time being with product leadership, rather than with product teams, the perception of our team was that we weren’t achieving what was expected at that level. The invisible work done is hard to make visible when teams believe they understand what the purpose of Product Ops is already.

What impact do these myths have?

These are just a few of the myths surrounding Product Ops I’ve seen over the past few years and there is probably many more. It’s also to be expected as the growth of the function intensifies and leadership teams are starting to be interested and question how this might improve their organisation.

However these myths can still have a negative impact. We’re still seeing today many job advertisements with Product Ops in the title that actually appear to be another role completely. Those roles are still valuable of course, but lumping together roles that don’t have a specific place in the organisation into the same bucket does a disservice to the value of having a Product Ops team and causes overall confusion.

The most significant impact is that the internal perception of value of the Product Ops team is never fully recognised. Teams and individuals might not know how to engage or collaborate with them, their invisible work remains invisible and the perception the teams have become reality. This is a very challenging place to be and the true rewards of having a Product Ops team will never been gained.

For the Product Ops team it is imperative that they dispel these myths, either directly or indirectly, through the work they do and how they promote themselves both internally and externally. This can be time consuming but the benefits should outweigh the effort.

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Chris Compston, a Product Ops Coach & Consultant and creator of the Lean Capability Canvas — maximising the performance and impact of product teams. He has over a decade working in technology organisations. Enabling teams to build better products for their customers and the business.



Chris Compston

Product Enablement & Ops Coach | Conference Speaker | Maximising the performance and impact of your product teams