With my work with Insight Partners' portfolio companies, I’m excited to see a number of companies automating their operational product insights (“automated product operations” for short). Their product leaders had been running a mile a minute with multiple and competing priorities. Product and data were limited so prioritization was made based on the most critical and visible issues. When analysis was done, it was highly manual, took a whole team of people, and required an extraordinary amount of time to analyze, communicate, and act upon. And the worst part was that unknown issues would be hidden - until they quickly escalated and became the next priority #1.
I had previously written about the need to baseline product, operational, and financial data across various sources to understand product performance. Most product leaders are going a step further, by visualizing this data in self-service automated dashboards. This exercise is key, particularly for product leaders of growth stage companies as they need to be vigilant in scaling within hyperdynamic environments.
There are many benefits to automating product operations. By allowing Product access to data that is real-time, accessible, available, and comprehensive, product operations:
- Allows for views of data across different areas for deeper insights - with access to data across areas such as engagement, support, financial, etc., Product can make correlations as to what is happening, identify areas for deep-dive, and better understand the issues and trade-offs across product areas. For example, in reviewing support tickets, Product may find that critical issues were handled as workarounds by Customer Success, rather than reported as product enhancements, creating barriers to scale and contributing to churn.
- Supports faster decision-making and strategy correction - the data provides a means for alignment on what is occurring, putting decisions into action, monitoring results, and changing direction if needed across all areas product and the company quickly. In a growth stage company, limited resources need to be deployed across many different priorities, often with tight time horizons. Product operations helps empower teams to make decisions while allowing leaders the ability to monitor and reset, as new conditions and needs emerge.
- Enables predictability - with continuous data, Product has a basis to forecast with actual data specific to its domain. This lowers risk and allows Product to focus on different levers of the organization to scale.
- Provides for efficiency in alignment and communications - one of the primary responsibilities of Product is to communicate and align with stakeholders. Real-time and available data provides supporting points key to influence. For product leaders, it is particularly invaluable as it not only provides support in communicating across and down the organization but for also highly strategic discussions, such as with the C-suite and Board, as critical insights can be quickly pulled together for a story and assessed against.
The most common friction points for startups in automating product operations are costs, in terms of time and money, and knowing how to start. Assuming your product management function is data-driven, a lot of this data is already collected and can be phased into the process. What are generally required are:
BI or data visualization tool such as Looker, Tableau, Sisense etc. for self-service custom dashboards across various tools to mine data and insights. We sometimes hear that product leaders may want to use an existing tool, such as Jira, for the same purpose, but have seen that this will create undue complexity while limiting the breath of data insights available.
Technical support team member to set up and support data and dashboard needs. This can sometimes be a member of the BI or IT team.
Process for reporting as enabling product operations is not useful if the data is not used. Although it is critical for growth stage companies, early stage (< $10 million ARR) can benefit by enabling it as it will help turbocharge resource allocation and prioritization.
As more tools are available, other data can be consumed and reviewed to provide the product insights needed to drive growth. For example, unstructured data (i.e. call recordings) can already be consumed and analyzed to help inform the Sales process; the data can also be used for product opportunities.
Product leaders that have automated product operations have the ability to shift their products and organizations quickly, by addressing strategy, structure, technology, processes and people. This is a powerful tool in scaling product growth.