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Want to understand product ops? Read these 2 books


The rise of the product ops role made a lot of waves inside the product community. Opinions range from "product ops are godsent" to "product ops are project managers in disguise". Let's try and look at both sides of the dispute with the help of two fresh books touching the subject of product ops.
Product Operations: How successful companies build better products at scale

Product Operations: How successful companies build better products at scale

First up, the book by Melissa Perri and Denise Tilles that became a field guide into product ops. The book is nicely written, well-structured and concise. It provides just enough to get an overall understanding of what product ops are and why you might want to build a product ops function in your organisation. Also, the book provides practical advice, and even some templates, you can use to sell your org on product ops, hiring your first ops people and onboarding them.

What I think is missing from this book is the acknowledgement that it is extremely difficult to set up a product ops function if you haven't done it in the past. And very few did. Every organisation is dysfunctional in its own unique way and to introduce change on the scale, such as an introduction of product ops, is a monumental task with a very high chance of failure. The authors of "Product Operations" focus on concrete tactics and methods to get started with product ops that are very useful and applicable in perfect conditions that almost never exist.

That's why to understand further about product ops you need another book.

Transformed: Moving to the Product Operating Model

Transformed: Moving to the Product Operating Model

Marty Cagan has been beating the drum of proper product management work for ages now. This new book is yet another attempt to help organisations understand the benefits of the product model and to move towards it. Regular readers of Marty's blog would find a lot of familiar points made in the book, still, it's great to have all the content in one place, perfectly structured and accessible.

You won't find the ready-made recipes or templates in this book and that's on purpose. Marty doesn't shy away from the fact that building a product org is an extremely challenging task with a high chance of failure. Instead of giving you a framework to be applied in ideal conditions, he talks about principles that you need to apply in your unique context. For many this approach will give birth to even more questions and that's also on purpose.

You won't find many words on product ops in the "Transformed" book as Marty is notoriously sceptical about the role, or more precisely, how the role is understood and implemented currently. His point is clear and simple - for many dysfunctional orgs out there, product ops is yet another way to hide the issues and continue "business as usual". In a true product model, Marty believes, product ops play a very different role to what is being advertised currently. Maybe you won't even need product ops in the true product model. However, as things stand, very few organisations have embraced the product model, and most are still locked in their "feature factories".

Product ops - worth it or not?

If you expect a simple, definitive answer - you won't get it here. The usefulness of product ops depends largely on the unique context of your organisation. You can read books and listen to experts talking about product ops, but the actual success of the function will depend on how it is implemented in your organisation.

The big question you need to answer honestly is whether your organisation can be transformed into the product model Marty describes. If the answer at the time is no, then you might need to accept the situation and evaluate if product ops can help you in some tactical way. You might want to start tweaking small things, get tiny wins earning the trust of your superiors before you can suggest more fundamental changes. Either way, reading both books will be a worthwhile spend of your time.

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