Doing Product Ops Right

Anabela Cesário
VP of Product Operations and Chief of Staff to the CPO
Automatic Summary

The Journey to Product Operations Mastery: Inspiring Lessons from Star Wars


Maybe you're one of those folks who first experienced Star Wars as an adult, and found yourself hooked. Regardless of when you started, one thing remains true: Star Wars offers us a compelling tale of good versus evil, and how our choices define who we are. Well, drawing from that sentiment, we'll explore how leaders in product operations can also make the right choices for their organizations.

Of Star Wars and Product Operations

Star Wars isn't just about dueling with lightsabers or piloting starships at impossible speeds. Its universal appeal stems from an underlying life truth - the choices we make define who we are and the trajectory of our lives, or our organizations.

If you're into product operations, this is especially true. Your choices will either make your product function effectively, or lead to its downfall. Personally, my journey through product operations has been filled with complex challenges and even more complex decisions.

Principles of Product Operations

  • Define Product Operations: As leaders, we must decide on the definition of product operations that meets our organization's specific needs. There are countless definitions out there, but none will fit your situation 100%.
  • Staff the Function: Decide on the team composition that will handle product operations. Good decision-making in this area has become increasingly complex due to the sheer number of possible choices.

Understanding that product operations fall at the heart of the extended product group is vital. It's a communication mechanism and a source of insights and data to support product strategy.

Significant Choices in Product Operations

  • Customer Focus: Every product is irrelevant without a customer, and product operations should focus on deciphering the needs of your customers.
  • Clear Direction: The product operations team requires guidance, focus, and direction from a leader. Just think of Princess Leia.
  • Business Impact: A key product outcome is its influence and impact on the business. Product operations should actively collect product and market data, monitor product adoption metrics, and contribute to setting company strategies.
  • Stakeholders Management: Some product operations teams focus too much on customers and neglect their stakeholders. Maintain a healthy relationship with your stakeholders as they play a significant role in the company.
  • Foundation for Success: To scale a function, product operations must create the right foundations. However, the application must adapt to the company culture and reality.
  • Talent Development: It's important to train the teams. Training can be a strategy for engagement and retention in a hot talent market.
  • Right Product Operations Team: Choosing the right mix of team members for your product operations team is crucial. Consider factors such as experience, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities.

Final Thoughts

Making the right choices in product operations is less about following the latest trend, and more about focusing on impact and serving your customers and stakeholders. I hope these points help you navigate your product operations journey. Just like Star Wars, it's the choices you make that define which side of the force your product operations will be on. May the force be with you and your product operations.

Video Transcription

Ok. Hello everyone.

Good morning. Good afternoon and good night for you. How many of you have watched the Star Wars

movie? I would guess the majority of you, right. I watched Star Wars for the first time, only one year ago. And, yeah, I know. I know,

I was

probably the only human in the universe who had not seen Star Wars.

You know, though, I was

late to the game. I still enjoy it so much as if I were an 11 years old kid and I understood why, why, why it has become one

of the most universal

stories of our time. It's my message. The good and evil are a choice.

You can choose who you

wanted to be even if you are the Darth Vader. So

you can choose to be the good guy. You know, you are

not defined by your DNA, nor by the choices of your father, but rather by your own choices. I really love that message because it related to the topic that I want to talk about today. It's the choices we make that make a good or bad prototypes function.

But before I get started, let me tell you a bit about myself. Ever since I was a kid, I

have left to help others, my family, my friends, my colleagues,

you know, they would come

for advice and I would help them. Yet growing up, I realized how hard it was to give good advice. And over time, I learned that only honesty can unblock two growth. Since then, I've been helping my team growth and

find solutions to their challenges.

The only difference is that challenges are a bit much more complex nowadays and with complex challenges came complex decisions and sometimes I can feel the dark side pulling me to one side, inviting me to take a shortcut. You know, the easy way out

I have experienced in my own company, the benefits of being on the light side of the force

while preventing

the dark side from growing. I believe that it's up to us leaders to build product tops responsibly. And for me, it starts with two big choices. The first one, how will I choose to define product operations? The second one, who will you choose to staff the function, making good changes and choices have become harder and harder because there are too many prototypes, definitions out there and none seems to fit 100% your needs, right? Sometimes they even open, do the opposite, they open the door to so many many many possibilities in our case. 3, 3.5 years ago, we started by understanding how our Y in product management. Melissa Perry is the function and you know, Melissa puts product operations in the heart of the extended product group and she sees it as a communication mechanism and the source of insights and data to support product strategy. We were in many ways inspired by her. But on the day to day, Melissa was not there, right? And we needed to choose our own path and what side of the force we wanted to be in. So today, inspired by Star Wars, I want to take you to the journey of the seven main choices we have made. And that in my opinion represents what product operations should be a force for good.

It worked for us about systems and I think it also can work for you too. The first choice is related with customer focus due to my previous experience in product management, I look at product s as my new product and as you know, a product doesn't exist without customers, right? But it was difficult to understand in the beginning, who were my customers?

What were their challenges? You know, sometimes this is not that obvious in the beginning. So some people start by reading a few things, analyzing a few others and they rapidly go to the solution space. It seems that they don't even understand, they don't need to talk about customers, right? It seems that they spend a lot of time working based on their assumptions. So can you feel it? This is the dark side calling them, invite them to take the short way out in our case. 3.5 years ago, our VP of product invited me to bootstrap the product operations at our systems. And back then, the goal was to improve the efficiency of the product management team during the hypergrowth stage that we were facing, we started by understanding our customers and their main needs. And for that, we kicked off a discovery phase looking for qualitative and quantitative insights like we do in product management when we want to understand our customs. So in one month, we interviewed 70 stakeholders and we were able to raise uh 76 main concerns. It worked well for us, it allowed us to empathize with them and understand their problems. And after that, we sat down with them and defined the right solutions for them.

We worked with some champions and then we prototyped and test uh the the the the main concept using a proof of concept. This approach allows us to interact fast and continues to improve the solutions alongside our customs. Now, moving to the second choice, having a clear direction, heavy product tops needs some team and also ad m team needs some guidance, focus and direction from a leader, right? They need someone like like Princess Leia, the rebel alliance leader. She was fearless on the battlefield and dedicated to end the tyranny of the empire in some cases, this is particularly important when you are lost in the middle of so many

many requests. You are working in a reactive mood and creating some solo solutions based on

the time that you have

to dedicate to each one of them.

And sometimes you don't have even time to breathe and to prioritize and manage

your stakeholders. So again, do you feel the dark side calling you?

We escaped the dark side by creating a simple prioritization model that would help us to move

the needle in our organization. And we see it as a way to have the impact across the organization. So what we did was focus on the outcomes that we wanted to achieve with the final four prioritization factors that combined would give us the

prioritization score. Back then for us, everything was much

pretty much focused on improving communication, the frequency of an issue, the number of teams impact and the simplification that we were able to promote in our product development life cycle process. This model was and still

is a crucial tool in

negotiations in instead of saying the plan, no,

we can explain

to a stakeholder that in order to solve their problem, we need to drop another one that has much more impact on our company strategy.

Regarding business

impact, a key product outcome is the ability to influence and impact the business. You know, yet some companies tailored product operations mainly focus on

the processes, the tools and the needs for them. It's mainly to pro provide the

PM and the engineering counterparts to support around defining the right processes using

the the best tools and

promote collaboration between practices. I'm talking about PM UX um dev, et cetera air out systems. We also do that but our CPO needed more, he needed to have data to support product

decisions. And we

played an active role on collecting product and market data. Also we

define and monitor the product adoption metrics

and product initiative success metrics. And you know, we have contributed

to build the strong

data culture that we have today.

But the sherry on top of the cake was the work that we do to deliver business objectives,

assisting our CPO on the product strategy, definition, deployment and monitoring. We

were so so so fortunate

to sit at the table with the product leaders to discuss the product strategy.

Also, we support all the

processes of fostering alignment across the company.

Mainly. In

this case, we are focused on getting buy in from stakeholders and deploying

strategy to different

audiences. So we have a narrative focused on engineering and PM marketing field teams

and so on. So this together with the focus

on the outcomes is having a massive impact at in the outs systems business. Regarding stakeholders management, some company, some companies dedicate their time to customers and they tend to neglect our stakeholders. They think ok, after all, they don't pay us anything. Right. So why spend time with them?

I have a good

relationship with co why bother with them? Oh again, can you see it is the dark side returning yet again at out systems, 80% of the company are our stakeholders and they are always, always requesting something from the product ops team and also from the

product management team. So we learned the hard way

the consequences of compromising the relationship with stakeholders, the field, stakeholders.

For example, we let them

feel very distant from the PM. And from product decisions,

we had several communication channels and tools to interact with them. And we were didn't provide them enough information. So what we did to solve this was we addressed this by defining an end to end engagement process. We sat down with them and designed the just enough process to address the inbound and outbound

communication issues. But you know the game changing event was the communication

guidance we put in place

every quarter, stakeholders know what they can expect from PM

and they know

when and how they will interact with us. The fifth choice is related with the foundations for success from my talks with other product operations leaders. I realized that we agree on one thing that that is in order to scale a function, we need to create the right foundations, the thing and what differs is how we do it. You know, some believe that using frameworks we establish in the market for instance, like safe, we set up the foundations for success quicker and avoid mistakes than by others. I believe that regardless of the common frameworks used for product development, you must adapt your product s function to the company culture and reality, you know what works for others may not work for you. So adult systems, we tailor

the product management

function foundations in a very imperative way. Deeply understand the PM problems

working with some

champions on the solution and interacting, testing them very, very fast. This helps us, for example, to

improve the productivity of the product

management team by 30%. And we did it to help because we were able to address 60% of their menus cases in a centralized way. In just six months, we did it by adopting a product management tool

as a single source of tools. And

this tool allow us to centralize product insights from the majority of our stakeholders in the company. From from PM engineering, custom success managers, field teams uh and so on. We also are able to prioritize our initiatives using prioritization drivers that are aligned with our product strategy and company strategy. And we also are able to manage road maps. We have different road maps tailored for different audiences. Again, we sat down with them and with the PM team and identified the main use cases that should be addressed by our product management tool. And we designed the just enough process to support the top six men use cases. You know P MS love it because he standardized things that take time and had small value like processes, tools and templates and gave them time to focus on what really matters the customer

and the product. The sixth one regarding talent development, some believe that product manager mastery comes from the day to day work of doing the function and learning from our mistakes. Others believe

in training, but they don't have the budget to develop the be teams. Can you imagine? Look without Obiwan, how would he

learn how

to use the force without uh Obiwan in real life? This can be tricky because if you don't train your teams, others will and in such a hot talent market, it can be a strategy that for me, for engagement and retention and our systems. We truly believe that helping our P MS navigate hyper growth is vital for the product and company success. So just like Luke and Obi One, we had our own internal academy, the B two B Product Management Academy that is helping our P MS to learn and improve their skills. We have been talking with the best product gurus in the market like Melissa Perry, Bruce mccarthy, Marty Kagan, so that they can come and help us grow the next generation of product leaders. Hopefully, our Jedis

last but not least how to assemble the right product of team.

Should we look for a and solo A Luke Skywalker A R two D two or AC three po you know, some people prefer hiring new graduates who bring new blood to the team and also a lot of enthusiasm, but be careful because they can also require much more support and bring some rookie mistakes along the way at out systems.

We started as a team of three where two of us had product management experience. This helped a lot, for example, before product operations, I like product management at our systems. And prior to that, I was in engineering, bootstrapping the product ownership area. So I have experience in the full product development life cycle. But if in your case, you don't have the the experience and you don't find these profiles, please prioritize two skills. The first one ability to be an excellent communicator and the second one, a problem solver.

So before I leave you, I will try to unleash the other in me and share the three main lessons I have learned that I believe can help you escape the dark side of the force. The first one, avoid adopting prototype just because it's trendy. If it's not clear for you, if you need product operations, ask yourself why, why do I need product operations? Do I have the right resources? Can product tops help me execute my strategy? The second one is avoid going with the flow and control your destiny, focusing on impact.

And the third one don't ignore your customers and stakeholders, voice and problems, they will tell you what they need and by helping them, they will promote the success of your product s team. So all of these work for us at our systems because at out systems, we believe that anyone in the world has the power, you know, the force to innovate through software, but it's up to you to build the prototypes that works for you and don't be afraid of making the right services.

I hope this presentation help you understand what the role the right is all about. So may the force be with you and product operations?