As a product owner, you know the importance of providing value to customers. Your job is to create the best possible product experience based on your understanding of problems, needs, and jobs to be done. But, can you wear all the hats and successfully build products people love?
To build effectively, you'll need help from people with unique skill sets. See where we’re going with this?
Cue: Product Operations Managers and Product Managers—two critical roles that every SaaS company needs when it comes to creating winning products. Let's dive in!
A Product Manager takes care of building a tangible product and new features by putting user needs at the heart of everything they do.
A Product Operations Manager puts together processes, structures, and systems to get customer data and user feedback insights while working around speed bumps to improve the product faster and more efficiently.
A Product Manager should be technically inclined and have communication, analytic, research, and business skills.
A Product Operations Manager should be flexible and have data processing, risk analysis, and product development skills.
Both roles are equally important and have other soft and hard skills that boost their capability, including emotional intelligence, product vision, and the ability to ask the right questions.
Product Operations vs. Product Management #
The first thing to know when comparing the Product Ops Manager and Product Manager is that both roles are critical for any growing SaaS company.
The responsibilities of a Product Operations Manager (POM) and those of a Product Manager (PM) overlap significantly, but there are also some critical differences between them that are key when considering growth.
“Operations keeps the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the project engine that moves the organization forward.”
– Joy Gumz, Senior Director at Project Auditors
A Product Ops Manager can help ensure that your product launches smoothly and runs efficiently after launch, while a Product Manager will focus on roadmap planning and ensuring your product solves real customer problems and has clear goals before it launches.
The differences between product ops and product management #
Product operations are the day-to-day management of your product and its running processes. This includes setting up and managing infrastructure, ensuring that there are clear processes and guidelines for the team and that new features are delivered on time, collecting analytics data to inform decisions, monitoring customer support tickets for bugs or other issues, and more.
Product management is about the strategic direction—deciding what to build next based on product usage data and what customers want (and don't want), and how best to achieve product growth goals for the company as a whole. They then make sure it gets done by working closely with leadership in different departments like Design and Engineering.
Key responsibilities of a Product Operations Manager #
In a SaaS company, the Product Operations Manager is responsible for ensuring that all products are delivered on time and within budget by working closely with sales, engineering, and implementation teams. They ensure the smooth implementation of new features in the product.
A Product Operations Manager’s key responsibilities include:
Managing data: Product Operations Managers need to be able to collect, store, and digest large amounts of data. They also need to be able to use that data to improve key areas of the business.
Managing people: Product Operations Managers are responsible for managing teams of people who work in their department. This means they need to be able to communicate effectively with everyone on the team and build strong relationships with them.
Managing processes: Product Operations Managers need to understand how a company works as a whole and know how their department fits into the larger picture. They also need to know how every step of their department's process works so they can make sure it runs smoothly, and take a holistic approach to solve clunky process flows.
What does a Product Operations Manager do? #
A Product Operations Manager is the person who manages all of the products in a SaaS company. They support the product development and delivery process by ensuring it's on time, on budget, and meeting customer data demands.
They set up processes that ensure all aspects of the product are managed effectively throughout its lifecycle: from inception through testing, launch, and post-launch support. This includes:
Setting up systems for managing bugs/issues reported by customers
Defining policies around versions (e.g., what constitutes a major versus minor release)
Ensuring compliance with internal procedures like security standards
Tracking issues across teams so that developers know where they need to prioritize their efforts when squashing bugs
The Product Ops Manager skillset #
As your product grows, the responsibilities of your early-stage Product Manager will change. As a result, having someone on your team who can take over some of those responsibilities and build on them is essential. That person is a—you guessed it—Product Operations Manager.
The role of a Product Ops Manager is to act as the bridge between operations and product management. Below are some important Product Ops Manager skill-based hiring pointers to consider when you’ve identified you’re ready to look for one:
Organizational skills: A Product Operations Manager needs the ability to manage and control all aspects of the product, from its design to its distribution.
Product development skills: They are responsible for managing the entire product lifecycle, including research and development
Communication skills: They must have excellent communication skills in order to coordinate tasks and effectively communicate with stakeholders and other departments within the company.
Leadership skills: They should also be strong leaders who can motivate team members and inspire them to perform their best work.
Analytical skills: A Product Operations Manager must have excellent analytical skills so they can decipher data and make informed decisions based on this information. They should also be able to translate this data to other teams that may not naturally be so data-savvy.
Resources management skills: They must also be able to budget and manage costs during production—especially in scrappy startups that need to make the most of limited resources.
Right, that’s our Product Operations Manager in the bag; let’s get into the weeds of a Product Manager.
Key responsibilities of a Product Manager #
Product Managers are responsible for defining your product's strategy, vision, and roadmap. However, it does not necessarily mean a product leader – a PM does things slightly differently and more specifically.
Here’s how Deep Nishar, Product Strategist and former Product Manager at LinkedIn, puts it.
“A great Product Manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.”
— Deep Nishar, Product Strategist and former Product Manager at LinkedIn
PMs handle backlogs – the list of things that need to be done for your product team to achieve growth goals. A Product Manager is also responsible for all aspects of the product development process.
A Product Manager’s key responsibilities include:
The evolving role of Product Managers #
The role of a Product Manager is changing. It's becoming more technical and strategic while also becoming ever more customer-centric.
A Product Manager of today needs to wear many hats and be ready to shift with the times—don’t say we didn’t warn you! There is a constant need for Product Managers that are comfortable in the business world as well as its ever-evolving technologies—hey, ChatGPT, we’re looking at you!
It's no longer enough to sit down and flesh out a product roadmap every six months. A modern-day Product Manager will have to:
Continuously talk with customers and collect user feedback to better understand their needs, pain points, expectations, and jobs to be done
Break up the development schedule with software prototypes and interactive demos, both internally and externally
Understand data analytics in order to make smarter product decisions
Study competitive products and adapt to the tech market as a whole—not just their own piece of it.
The Product Manager skillset #
The product management role is a cross-functional one, meaning it requires skillsets from different disciplines. There is no one right answer, the skillsets needed by a Product Manager depend on the company, its size, and the work culture.
Below are some vital Product Manager skills:
Communication skills: They listen to customers, run research surveys, and communicate findings to other members of the organization; guiding product development.
Analytical skills: A great Product Manager should have a strong influence in identifying business problems and translating those into user stories that ultimately lead to the success of the product vision.
Business skills: A good Product Manager will also be winning new business by providing advice on new features and expansions to existing products. A good PM should be able to sell ideas internally within the company, as well as nail down product messaging to better sell externally.
Critical thinking: Product Managers decide what features a product should have, set priorities and deadlines for those features, and estimate the cost, revenue, and effort needed to complete each task across teams.
Problem-solving skills: Product Managers work closely with designers, engineers, and marketers to meet requirements together in line with company goals—they’re going to face a few road bumps along the way and need to be quick at finding solutions.
Time management: They should be able to prioritize features and release them in a way that’s based on trends and demand.
How to determine whether you need a Product Ops Manager #
If you're unsure whether you need a Product Ops Manager, look at your product roadmap. Since you now know what a Product Operations Manager does, let's look at some of the signs that you might need one:
You're struggling with ongoing product issues and need someone who can coordinate efforts across departments.
You have multiple products in development and are looking for someone who can streamline those processes.
You're working on an especially complex project with many moving parts and need someone to help keep things organized and moving smoothly across teams and departments.
There are gaps in the schedule between product releases.
There’s too much work piled up on one release and not enough time allocated for testing and preparation of future releases.
If any of these resonate with your current product development approach, then consider bringing in an experienced Product Ops Manager who can help you prioritize these projects appropriately.
Why is having both roles important for your product growth? #
The Product Manager is the person responsible for the overall vision of a product. They're in charge of ensuring all stakeholders are aligned and creating plans to get there. The PM will also be involved with ideating innovative ways to make your product more successful.
The Product Manager is also responsible for tracking what's happening in the industry and how it could affect your company. They'll use this information to decide where you should focus your efforts and what features or functionality should be included in new products.
“It’s not just about what you’re building but who you’re building it with.”
— Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, CEO of Product School
On the other hand, a Product Operations Manager focuses on how you actually get things done. They'll make sure there's someone on the team who can execute those plans from a technical perspective. If there isn't, then they're tasked with recruiting someone themselves.
They might also work with other departments—like Sales or Marketing—to ensure everyone knows what needs doing and when. Having both roles on board ensures that nothing slips through the cracks when planning, designing, and implementing product developments.
How to ensure cross-team communication and alignment #
When these two roles work together effectively, they can build a strong foundation that supports long-term growth and success. But when they don't work well together... well let's just say things can get messy, fast.
To achieve cross-team alignment, it's essential that everyone understands what their role is within the organization. Let’s take a look at the details.
A shared understanding of success #
If there are differences in expectations between the Product Manager and Product Operations Manager, these can be addressed early on in order to avoid frustration further down the line. It’s essential that these two team members find themselves on the same page.
As a result of this alignment, both parties will be able to focus their efforts toward achieving shared goals, make the most of different data sets, and work harmoniously rather than working in silos.
Establish clear roles and responsibilities #
In theory, these two roles should work together seamlessly; but, in practice? Not so much.
It's not uncommon for these two individuals to butt heads over their respective responsibilities or even come into conflict over how much time each should spend working together as a team. Have your product lead set up clear roles and responsibilities for both.
Embrace a failing and learning culture #
Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable taking risks and trying new things. That’s not to say you’re encouraging or celebrating failures—and there’s a fine line to tread—but you’re understanding when they happen and quickly look for the learnings.
This attitude also promotes cross-team collaboration and the sharing of ideas, regardless of whether or not they're perfect yet or if there's already a solution in place.
Define clear metrics for success #
This shouldn't be too difficult, considering you have a pretty good idea of what you're trying to accomplish. Once you've got some solid goals in place, it's time to figure out how you’ll measure progress toward achieving them, what are your PMs and POMs KPIs?
Build a successful product with both roles #
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether or not you need a Product Ops Manager and a product ops team within your product team. But, if you're struggling with cross-team communication, product growth, product adoption, process efficiency, or data management, then consider bringing one in—and fast.
For early-stage SaaS companies, a Product Operations Manager is a nice-to-have, not necessarily a must-have. They are often recruited when operations start to get too complex or messy for many to make sense of.
If your budget permits, we suggest not waiting until that messy moment to recruit for this role. Get a Product Ops Manager in from day one, alongside your Product Manager, and build a solid foundation to ensure your team processes and operations keep up with your product growth.