THE WORLD IS NOW PRODUCT-LED
Product Operations Lessons From Calendly
Despina Exadaktylou, Founder at Product-Led Growth Hub sits down with Srinivas Somayajula head of Product Operations at Calendly to uncover how Calendly‘s PLG levers are reimbursed via product operations practices.
Main Points of Analysis
- [00:00:00] Product Operations at Calendly
- [06:22:00] Product Operations Responsibilities
- [09:50:00] How Product Ops. Sustain PLG
- [00:14:17] Achieving Cross Alignment
- [24:15:03] Distilling Customer Feedback
- [30:34:29] How to Put Together a Product Ops. Team
- [47:02:14] Getting Started with Product Operations
Despina Exad.: Ηello, everybody, I’m Despina from Product-Led Growth Hub and we’re back with another yet interview about Product Ops. with Srinivas the head of Product Ops at Calendly. Srinivas welcome.
We are so excited to have you here. And before we dive into it, we would love to hear a bit of your background for people that perhaps were not in our last conference PLG Disrupt where you had a session again about Product Ops.
Srinivas Somayajula: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. Looking forward to providing any guidance I can around product operations. As Despina mentioned, my name is Srinivas Somayajula. I lead the product operations organization with Calendly I’ve been with Calendly now for about 10, 11 months or so.
Prior to Calendly, I was the director of product for the core marketing platform at Mailchimp. So most of the marketing automation capabilities that you experience with MailChimp, I had the product management responsibility for. And prior to MailChimp, I had spent about 15-16 years in management consulting with companies like Accenture, Deloitte, basically doing anything from technology strategy, corporate strategy, and market intelligence.
But the common thread throughout all of them has been around the product. So in that time, as well as at MailChimp and at Calendly the three flavors of product-oriented work that I specialize in is a number one very high-level strategy. Where is the business going? How does a product support that strategy? Number two, once we have that strategy in place, how do you kick start the major efforts? How do you do roadmap planning? How do you get things lined up to make sure you’re maximizing the success of your business outcomes as well as your product outcomes?
And then number three, building a team, building product management capability, building product management competence within the organization. So in summary, those three things kind of sum up everything I’ve done throughout my career.
Despina Exad. : And this is, I guess, the first time you run a Product Ops team in general? Or have you run a Product Ops. team also in the past?
Srinivas Somayajula : Yeah. I mean, I think in name I would say leading a product operations organization, this would be the one. But by virtue of everything I’ve done, you’re always sort of doing product operations, because the way I think about product operations is it’s about grooming and coaching the team to deliver the maximum outcomes for the product.
It’s around process discipline and craft mastery around product management. It’s the strategy work, the analytics. It’s the analysis you have to sort of dig into to understand what’s going to drive the success of the product.
So by label, yes, this would be the first time I’m leading a product operations function, but by just task. I’ve been in product operations, I would say my entire career.
Despina Exad. : And if we can dive a bit more into it, what motivated you to run a product ops team? I’m only asking because product ops is not like a standard role in every SaaS organization and it’s pretty much an emerging role or team across PLG organizations.
So we would love to know me and our audience, obviously, what got you there if it is a challenge if it is something like, you know, a progression of your career. Pretty much.
Srinivas Somayajula : Yeah, absolutely, so a couple of different points, right? One is,I think as a former product manager, I empathize the difficulty of the job. So not only as a former product manager but as a leader of a product organization,I understand how hard the job is fundamentally.
And if you look at where we’re going with technology, the job is getting harder and harder. Right? So a product manager now is responsible for not only coming up with a strategy and vision for their product but then coming up with the roadmap and decomposing that into the 12 to 18-month roadmap or plan.
And then in the midst of it, managing changes and stakeholder and customer feedback, learning how to do experimentation, learning how to do successful, unbiased research, learning how to do product partnerships to drive KPIs forward, setting KPIs.
I mean, the list goes on and on and on. Right? And in the midst of it, you’re also sort of playing intermediary between, you know, customers, leadership, the business goals and your product team and your squad and domain.
So you’re trying to manage and balance a lot of stakeholders. The role is getting harder and harder as more technology companies prop up and more sort of interconnectedness is happening.
So with that sort of empathy in mind, every product leader sort of naturally gravitates towards, well, how can I make the job easier and how can I build up scalable systems? How can I build up scalable processes? What additional functions do I need to create within an organization?
And when you start doing that, which is what we did quite a bit at MailChimp, and even in the short time I’ve been at Calendly, we’re starting to grow and scale up the team and bringing different functions. Next thing you know, you have these different functions. There needs to be somebody who is coordinating and mediating all of these things.
So naturally, there’s an evolution towards the product manager’s job. More and more tasks are getting added on to support them. You start adding additional functions within the organization, but once you add additional functions, you need to be able to effectively coordinate not just within a product team, but also across the organization. So I think there’s a natural evolution.
We’re going to see more and more of this product operations function coming up. And what’s interesting also is design as a function is now speeding up design operations.
Engineering has created many sorts of blank ops functions. So I think every function is realizing the job is getting harder and harder and we have to evolve to sort of drive that operational excellence with focus and coordination.
Despina Exad.: And that brings me to my next question since there are so many functions and Product Ops are merging and responsibilities look different, per organization depending always on what’s most important for every business.
So in short, we categorize them as outcomes-driven, efficiency-focused and customer-centric. In which bucket do you think your team’s responsibilities fall? If it is one or all of them or just some of them.
Srinivas Somayajula: Yeah, good question. So the way I conceptualize product operations function is essentially trying to meet all of those. At the end of the day, we are trying to deliver value to customers. So customer centricity is at the heart of what we do. And we have to balance that with not only the outcomes that our customers are after but also asset the business it’s after as well.
So we are fundamentally outcomes-driven as well. But in order to do this effectively, there is an efficiency play as well, or so at Calendly, the way I categorize what we do in product operations is across four different key things.
One is around analytics and research. So fundamentally we have to support what our customers need as well as our business outcomes are. And a core function to do that effectively is through analytics and research.
Number two, process excellence. So aligned to this notion of efficiency. We’re getting a lot of customer feedback where we understand what we’re trying to do as a business, how do we maximize the success of the outcomes as well as what our customers need through mastering sort of product delivery and being efficient in that sense? So identifying processes that need to be fixed and then driving process excellence.
Number three is that the product can’t work in isolation to deliver to our customers, so we have to coordinate across the organization. So communication, collaboration and coordination is a key function of product operations. And how that looks is it could be as simple as bringing functions to a table to solve a process problem and making sure we’re coordinating effectively or producing a monthly newsletter.
So everybody in the organization knows what product is doing and what product features and capabilities are coming out for our customers. Various different things, but fundamentally to drive increased awareness of product activities as well as communication and collaboration.
The fourth thing is I’m a big believer in mentorship. So creating effective scaling systems within the organization, across all the teams, but then specifically in product to drive learning and growth of the people that sit in a product organization. So that could be, you know, working with each individual against our competency model and saying, hey, you are doing really well here, but you have some weaknesses here.
So let’s put a professional development plan in place to drive improvement or bring in sort of scale coaching and mentoring sessions with industry best practice leaders and so on and so forth. So in summary, analytics and research process, excellence, communication, coordination, collaboration and learning and growth are sort of the four key functions that we focus on.
And coming back to your question, that effectively drives being outcomes-driven, efficiency, focused, and customer centric.
Despina Exad.: Ok, thank you so much for that. I want to move forward and say that at Product-Led Growth Hub we believe that Products Ops are the heart of every PLG organization, thus this research. And we know that Calendly I mean, if you are into PLG even for a second, you know that Calendly is a paragon for PLG in the ecosystem.
But we would love to know how Product Ops. help sustain your goals, goals closer to Product-Led Growth and not through acquisition, through retention, through expansion, I mean, throughout the customer journey.
Srinivas Somayajula: Absolutely. Good question. So when our founder, Tope Owatonna, started the company, he created a great product that achieved product-market fit and inherently the way the product is built, we have sort of a virality and a flywheel that helps us sort of be that Product-Led Growth company.
So when somebody shares a Calendly link inherently there are two parties that are engaging in that transaction of scheduling a meeting and one party already knows the value of Calendly, the second party experiences the value of Calendly.
And then that’s where our viral loop kind of goes, right? So once we’ve achieved that point of product-market fit and virality has taken over. The hard part is one, not necessarily sustaining that but sustaining that as you continue to evolve your platform.
So as we evolve our platform, we are adding a lot of capabilities as requested by our customers and really, truly understanding their problem statements. In that what a product operations function helps us do is across those four dimensions I talked about analytics, research, process, excellence, communication, coordination, and learning and growth.
At the heart of it, our analytics and research function helps us continue to stay close to the customer. So one of the biggest sorts of outcomes that I look for in that research function is are we really understanding the customer across the Calendly platform? So not just about an individual product feature or capability, but what are our customers doing?
What are they trying to accomplish with Calendly without Calendly, how does their business work and sort of sourcing that unbiased research to then at scale bring that and synthesize the insights shared effectively with our product teams to make sure we’re continuing to invest in the right areas of our platform as not to disrupt our viral flywheel? And everything Tope has done to make us a PLG company.
The second is process excellence. Again, as you sort of evolve the platform, there’s capabilities that we want to bring where we’re in context of the application learning and continue to evolve the platform the right way. Namely, one thing that we’re investing in a process excellence manner is experimentation. So how do you do effective experimentation? How do you craft the hypotheses?
What are the core experiences we need to experiment around? How do you know what is a control? What is a variant sort of putting these disciplines in place where we’re effectively doing that and sort of scaling that across the product organization?
The other function to sort of continue the narrative around coordination, to me, fundamentally, a Product-Led Growth company, while the name the label product is in PLG, it’s actually a unification of the entire experience that we deliver to our customers that manifest the Product-Led Growth.
So we work in concert with our customer experience teams to make sure they’re well aware of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and using them as a proxy or advocates on behalf of our customers to ensure we’re delivering products effectively to our our existing customers, as well as working with sales teams to understand the future needs of our prospective customers and bringing that back into the product organization.
So I think in that sense, we’ve achieved sort of product-market fit. We are still that PLG. But as you evolve the platform, as you learn more about the customer journey and what their needs are, we need to sort of bring those at scale insights into the organization and then have a marrying process that sort of effectively takes those and puts those into action.
Despina Exad. : OK, that was very insightful, thank you so much. We already discussed close collaboration within Calendly, and I would like to make this a bit more specific and actually mention the key partners of your team outside of the product management team or the Product Ops team per se.
How do you achieve cross alignment? I mean, I personally believe that the North Star Metric is there. It should be there for every organization PLG or not. To drive that KPI across every department. And it’s so difficult to achieve that.
So for us, Product Ops should harmonize this process, make the North Star Metric the one ultimate goal that all KPIs will be wrapped around. So if you can give us context around that, it would be great.
Srinivas Somayajula : Yeah, yeah. So maybe some clarifying statements. First one, when we’d say product organization for us that’s sort of inclusive of product management and design. And I know different product organizations have different functions that make up the team. But let’s assume for a second a product organization is inclusive of product management and design and content and some of those disciplines.
If you assume that some of the key partners that we work with are obviously our go-to-market teams. So sales and marketing. Our customer experience team serves our very diverse customer base all the way from the single user to large teams and what we call managed accounts and then our operations teams as well.
So sort of touching on each of those as a company, we have moved towards adopting a very disciplined and rigorous planning process. And the core of that planning process is establishing strategic priorities that then decompose into very specific OKRs for Calendly as a company and then individual disciplines.
So when we try to drive alignment as product operations across the company is first we come back to those core OKRs. What are we trying to accomplish as a company, whether that be net new customer acquisition or retention or activation or a new strategic priority around a vertical or a functional segment or what have you?
We have to rally around that and make sure we’re keeping that at the center of the discussion. But you also can’t lose if that’s your ambition, you still have a business to run. So how do you straddle the line and balance the business to run versus where you’re moving? So we’ve actually installed a very disciplined process to take us through. That laddering exercise of strategic priorities as well as OKRs.
OKRs actually cover the balance of what we are trying to do, net new versus what we are trying to improve as an operational business. So with that sort of context in mind, you know, with sales and marketing, Product Ops is sort of the key enablement function to do a couple of things.
Number one, make sure those teams are well aware of what our roadmap is right now and give them complete visibility into what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. But then also bringing them as partners to the table to provide us the insights of what we should be investing in as well.
So the way we do that is, again, it comes back to what are the strategic priorities versus what are we trying to improve operationally and where are the gaps? And somebody has to sort of bring everybody to the table and drive that discussion in alignment. But I’m happy to say that we have that anchor in our disciplined strategic planning process to support that.
With our customer experience teams very similar. Where a lot of that is it gets a little more tactical on how much lead time do I need to give you about when we’re releasing something? What is the specific information you need? When we’re communicating to your customers? How are they receiving this information? How can we help you effectively scale yourselves?
And what information do you need to provide to our customers? Because at the end of the day, we want to make sure that they’re happy. So, that’s how we partner with our customer experience team. And then our operations team is super important as well as an enablement function ourselves and product operations.
We have to partner with our sort of Calendly enablement function, our key operations function, and we do a number of different things to partner with them. No one still comes back to anchoring what’s that KPI we’re after and how we are doing that. And for example, our operations function includes legal security, compliance, things like that.
So if product operations see a bottleneck in the sales, it is not effectively being able to sell something, that product was built because there is a legal or a security bottleneck. We are sort of the mediators to bring everybody to the table to drive that discussion.
Coming back to your question. We have a rigorous planning process that we’ve installed as a company that’s driven by strategic priorities and OKRs and as a product operations function. We have to make sure we’re rallying to that and come back and bring everybody to that anchoring point.
Despina Exad.: OK, that was very thorough and you discussed OKRs. We love OKRs and KPIs here a lot and mainly, when it has to do with the product. So if you can mention a few that stakeholders outside of the Product Ops team may use with you as Product Ops, to align. I mean, you mentioned feedback earlier. Customer feedback is just so much.
We will get into that later on. But which would be the key differentiator when they communicate effectively with the Product-Ops team and how the Product-ops team translates that into processes.
Srinivas Somayajula: So at the end of the day for us, it sort of goes back to the question you’re asking earlier around the customer journey. So activation, acquisition or acquisition, activation, retention. And the other one we sort of look at beyond activation is sustained usage or active usage.
So, when I partner with all the different functional leaders, whether it’s go-to-market teams or operations teams or customer experience teams, it comes back to which part of the journey do they impact?
And is the product team effectively providing what they need in terms of whether its product investments or key information to drive those? So, you know, as an example, sales teams naturally are focused on acquisition. So given that, do I understand what their sales targets are and what their acquisition targets are? And for us, we have a revenue function.
So we have a chief revenue officer who is responsible for both sales and marketing. So from the sales side, what are the new segments we’re going after? What are your sales targets from an acquisition perspective? On the marketing side?
It’s also what sort of broad brand marketing initiatives are we doing to drive greater impressions and website visits? And then with product marketing, it gets a little more granular with working with our individual product teams. So working with them specifically on acquisition, our customer experience teams are focused on going across the journey, further activation, active usage and retention.
So they cover a spectrum of that. So in that sense, what we work with them going back to one of the functions that I own as part of product operations is analytics and research. So really understanding at scale what are the blockers for our customers to activate? So let’s deep dive into the support tickets. Let’s do a text analysis around their support tickets to really understand.
I work with our CX leader on our NPS score to make sure we’re rounding out what are the things that are causing detractors or passives within the NPS Score and really, again, bringing all that information at scale to make sure we clearly are driving people to activate within the platform and then moving across further using that sort of same data again and using them as proxies or liaison’s into our customers to understand where is active usage and inactivity happening, and how can we use them as a vehicle to nudge.
So in that sense, our customer experience team has done a phenomenal job to sort of sit with customers and have an outcomes based discussion of this is the amount of time we’ve saved your organization within a year by using Calendly. So that helps us sort of understand A what’s the ROI for that specific customer,and how does that scale across the organization?
And B, where are users not not actively using the platform? And how can we drive that ROI conversation better in the product or even outside the product to make sure we’re driving active usage rate?
And retention is a fairly easy one to talk about there. Ultimately, we’re ultimately trying to keep our customers and keep them happy. So learning from them as much as possible, even learning from customers that recently churn is a lot of what we focus on in partner with our CX teams on.
Despina Exad.: Ok, and we talked a lot about feedback directly or indirectly here. So my next one will be. Customer feedback is everywhere now that we have a product that actually is able to gather feedback. It’s even more complicated. So as a Product Ops.team, how do you manage that?
We have a lot of feedback that does not align anywhere, neither the vision or the mission, just one use case or perhaps a case from a big customer that we need to consider but you cannot alter the rest of the things that are going on. So as a Product Ops team how are you able to align it internally in your team and then pass the message to the rest of the stakeholders in the organization?
Srinivas Somayajula: Yeah, I think fundamentally it starts with a couple of key points that you brought up. One is, you have to have a catalog of the feedback to have effective conversations. So number one, what we’ve done is I’ve partnered with the different leaders within the organization to understand what are all the sources of feedback.
And when you start doing that, to your point, you understand there are a plethora of sources of feedback, some that we over index on and listen to, a lot of others that we don’t listen to at all. So then you have to go through an exercise to say of all the sources of feedback we have, which one is valuable and which one is not valuable and why?
And I think that is why this question is critical. And you have to have all the functions at the table to sort of have that dialog and coordinate and align around. So once we’ve gone through that exercise, we realize that we need to get. Frankly, better about getting a good pulse on the voice of the customer.
So we’re investing heavily in a toolstack to not completely net new capabilities. But how do we bring all the feedback that we have into a central repository to then be able to just look at it and understand?
So once we have that, then you have to overlay the customer sort of layer on top of that. So to your point about, you know, is it one customer, is it 10 customers, is it a thousand customers? You have to be able to build the magnitude around that feedback to then be able to effectively bring that back to the product team and then react to it.
So that analytics and research function within the product corporate organization is solely responsible for doing that. So, not just A what is the insights and what are the feedback that are coming back, but B, what is the magnitude, the volume, the frequency of it, and formulate hypotheses to then go further validate with customers?
Is this a thing or not? And you can’t always just throw out a feedback point or an insight point because one customer said it because you have to turn that into a hypothesis and go validate if there are other customers in the ecosystem that feel the same way, that just haven’t provided you that feedback yet. So while we take into consideration volume and frequency, we still keep a pulse on, even if it’s low volume, low-frequency feedback, working with our sales teams to further validate the hypothesis, working with our CX team to validate, you know, is this bigger than just one person and so on and so forth.
Despina Exad: Ok, and I want to go a bit more in-depth here and ask if you can share some, you know, best practices, for example, something you do internally as a process that helps to distill that feedback that is actually useful and perhaps the toolstack that accompanies this process. We have a dedicated toolstack session here in the hub.
But honestly, there’s just so many processes and tools now out there. And I think every single product leader is getting a bit lost in regards to which to try and going to iterate the process per se.
Srinivas Somayajula: So one best practice that we started moving towards is we have a lot of sort of outside the app outside of the customer journey surveys that happen. So when I say outside of the customer journey, it’s naturally across a customer journey, but like it’s not in context of when the person is experiencing an aspect of the customer journey. So what we recently brought in is a tool called Usabilla, which allows us to get in context in the app while the person is in their workflow to collect feedback.
And it’s a pretty powerful tool in the sense of it gives us not just information about the feedback itself, but it lets us really understand who the customer was. What were they trying to do? Get a little more context around what frame were they in when they were trying to accomplish something?
So it’s a pretty powerful tool and we can get generic feedback that customers want to provide for us, or we can sort of insert feedback elements on specific areas where we’re testing hypotheses and so on and so forth.
Number one, that’s number one. Number two, you know, Optimizely it’s another tool that we’re investing in. It’s to me, experimentation is a research and a feedback function. So in that sense, we’re bringing in Optimizely not just for experimentation, but also to support our feature flagging infrastructure, but from a feedback perspective, experimentation.
So being able to do A/B testing, training the organization from a process perspective of how to do those effectively, how to source statistically significant feedback and then be able to react on it at scale. Number three, our CX leader has brought in Qualtrics as a tool to be the central repository and a hub for experienced management across the company.
So rather than having these disparate, different sources of feedback, we now have a centralized repository, the Qualtrics tool that lets us put all that in one place, marry that with customer data, run any sort of analytics that we want on it, and then be able to do that. We’re in the early stages of implementation, but I’m pretty excited about the feedback that comes in.
Despina Exad.: Fantastic. And we talked a lot about your team, how you get into that, and we know the Product Ops is a new entry for the organization chart, of many organizations and obviously as PLG rises. The trend is going to go upwards. How do you think organizations can better understand the necessity to employ a Product Ops. Team?
I think we’ve had a similar discussion during PLG Disrupt from the audience when it’s a good time to have a Product Ops team internally, because in the beginning, obviously, you have some number of product managers doing pretty much everything. But as you scale, this does not become profitable or scalable at all.
Srinivas Somayajula: Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, I think at that point in time, obviously, the easy answer is as you’re scaling. Right? And if you’re experiencing hyper-growth and if you look across your organization and if you look at hiring plans and just sort of where your revenue is going and things like that, if it’s growing aggressively, then that’s sort of a trigger to maybe consider whether its product operations or sort of scaling up any other functional operations team to start considering that.
Right? So that’s the easy answer, right? I think the other sort of easy answer is the earlier the better because you want an operations team to sort of lay the right groundwork and you want an effective operations team to know when you’re sort of a scaling startup and you’re seeing signs of success. You don’t need a very heavy process. You just need a coordinated process.
But as you continue to scale up the organization and continue down that success train, you need to know how to scale your process up and down to support where you are in the journey.
Right. So I think the answer to the question is, you know when you start seeing signs of hyper-scale hypergrowth, looking at resourcing plans, every function is growing, know the sooner the better. And then there’s also very other specific symptoms of, let’s say you missed the boat on those sorts of conditions. You know, when other functions Go-to-market functions or other teams are saying, hey, I don’t know what the product team is doing, I don’t know what our roadmap is.
And when you find product managers redundantly communicating their roadmap across the organization to different folks. If you find that the team is sort of duplicating research and insights efforts or multiple product managers are looking at the same data and different ways of being able to sort of lean in, understand what people in the product team are doing.
And if you find redundancies or if you find confusion around, you know, what the process should be, where approvals are, when do I get my roadmap approved?
Can I deliver on my roadmap? I don’t know. Nobody told me yes or no. So these are sort of symptoms that when you start seeing these, you should start investing in the process. Does that directly translate to a product operations function? I think there is an evolution to a product operations function. But the first trigger is if you start asking yourself, do I need to invest in better processes and coordination?
That’s sign number one that you’re on your journey to grow a product operations function.
Despina Exad.: The second scale of that question would be that were solid points, and obviously, as you grow your Product Ops. team will grow eventually. But having discussed the part of product composition of the Product Ops team internally at Calendly and if you can say your personal opinion on how the Product Ops team would be structured ideally? Even from the beginning down to the ideal.
Srinivas Somayajula: This goes back to the four key functions. So what is the product operations team trying to accomplish?
I think you have to ground yourself and the organization on that. And for us at Calendly, I think for four functions I outlined around process excellence, analytics and research, coordination and learning and growth made sense.
But as I talked to other product operations leaders, we’re all sort of centering around similar things. But what your organization needs, at what point in time can scale very different. So as you sort of are starting up, you might lean more into process excellence because you feel like you have a good pulse on the customer.
Maybe analytics and research is not necessarily right. Or in order to do analytics and research effectively, you need to invest in the right tools and capabilities and you’re not there yet.
So it just depends on where you are as a company to make sure you’re investing in those things. So for us, going back to those core functions in your question, you know, I have a senior manager of product research who’s building up a small product research function to help us explore bigger questions around where is Calendly is going, how to how to customers use Calendly and doing sort of what I call meta-research around our customers of the market, the competitors, things like that.
The second function we have in that is a process team, so it’s a small process team to understand where and how we do what we do today, where the process gaps, which are the process gaps that we’re willing to sort of prioritize.
And that team, you’ll probably hear this expression a lot because I hear from other product operations leaders that product operations are basically a product on process. So that product operations, product excellence, or function really focuses on processes, our product, and the organization, as are our customers.
And the nearest customer for us is the product team. So making sure they’re effective and then working down the line to other stakeholders as well. And then the learning and growth that’s more organic and working with the broader product leadership team, working with the individual product managers. But fundamentally, product operations support is what is X company’s way of doing product. So for us, what is Calendly’s way of doing product? What do we expect from our product managers and designers and content strategists across that process?
And are they as effective as they possibly can be to be able to help them grow in their careers, grow in their journey with Calendly right? And then communication and coordination also falls within the process excellence team, but it’s also a responsibility of every function within product operations.
So our senior manager of product research, while she owns sort of product research and capability, she also owns effectively disseminating that information across the organization and across the product team. So we all sort of own communication and coordination, but a heavy burden of that falls within our process.
Despina Exadaktylou: Ok I have a byproduct of my previous question here. You talk a lot about processes and I love processes. I think that every single project manager at some point would love to start a process to make a scalable product. And like it or not, Product Ops. coordinate processes, product processes which in a product organization are the PLG processes, right?
So we have many labels for growth in the SaaS ecosystem. I don’t really want to pass over the role from the growth team to the Product Ops. But do you think that in the future the Product Ops team would become more diverse?
For example, acquiring someone like a growth marketer in the Product Ops team to streamline growth processes from the marketing side or its customer experience professional that was once in Customer Success, but now, because it has extensive experience on how to scale customer accounts, join the Product Ops team and thus become more diversified as a team. These are just ideas that pop into my head. Yeah, and I would love your take on it.
Srinivas Somayajula:Yeah, I think. If I understand your question correctly, I think there’s two sides to that question. One is, do I see sort of a growth function being a part of the product operations team? Not in the near term. I think there are some specialized skills there and some sort of clear ownership where I think, you know, if you split up growth and say growth, marketing versus growth, activation, retention and acquisition in a product team, I think growth marketing fundamentally should still stay in marketing because of the sort of the cross coordination nature there and the aligned KPIs and the success metrics there.
You know, interestingly, A there are two sort of non-traditional product teams that I think a product operations team can own, but not as part of a product operations function. And those are growth and monetization. So interestingly, in my title you’ll notice I lead product operations, but the two nontraditional product teams that I currently have responsibility over our growth and monetization. And for very specific reasons. One is I’m a firm believer that you can’t create a product operations function that’s an ivory tower where we come up with the processes and then we disseminate them to the product team and we sort of force processes on product teams.
You have to sort of the expression of dog food, your own, your own processes. Right. So having ownership over a product team and product operations allow me that benefit to hear the feedback much closer and actually be able to instill processes within a product team that I’m accountable for as well to make sure it’s successful. Right. So it’s a checks and balances strategy.
The second point is growth and monetization are very non-traditional product teams. Growth focuses a lot on experimentation and to mean experimentation we talked about earlier, it’s sort of a research function as well, where you can catalog a lot of the insights and make that an advantage for you.
And growth while it follows product management discipline, it also deviates from it using a lot more hyper-focus on experimentation and being lean and things like that. So that nontraditional nature of growth, I think, makes well for a product operations leader to own to be able to have the checks and balances right.
The other function I have is monetization and monetization is another interesting one is the classification of a nontraditional product team. And how I define monetization is everything to do from number one, when somebody lands on our pricing page, what do they see? How do they see it across globally, internationally? What’s the elasticities of prices and things like that all the way to making sure our backend operations are humming along.
So in that sense, it’s an interesting split between sort of marketing and operations, traditional operations. So having that as a function was important to me because, again, the non-traditional nature of it.
But then the second part of your question is, can you build product operations teams with diverse backgrounds? Absolutely. And I am fundamentally a big proponent of that. Right. For all the reasons that you called out. And really two reasons. One, I love the diversity and the sort of pulse of the customer and also the different functions everybody brings because there’s an empathy that you have coming from different parts of the organization.
But number two, interestingly enough, I have a hypothesis that product operations can be sort of a training ground for junior product managers as well. If you’re helping sort of craft the processes, if you’re understanding the processes, if you’re understanding how research and things are done, then those are great skills to pour into a junior product management role. So as we’ve seen traditionally, folks from Customer Success and design, all join in product and engineering as well, joining product. You know product operations provide an interesting avenue to make that transition.
Despina Exad.: Fantastic,I have a last one, because I think I have exhausted you so far.OK, PLG is very new. I mean, I come across people every day asking me what the term even means. If we think that PLG is niche, Product Ops is a niche inside this niche.
Because it drives you to be able to steal a gift for me. How would you encourage an organization that is making the transition now to PLG to train not only the product team but make PLG intentional?
Since Products Ops are pretty much responsible for training and harmonizing the PLG process across the organization. Which practices do you think could be scalable or a good foundation to start with?
Srinivas Somayajula: One, I think. You know, the transition to PLG, the most important thing for me to really understand is where are you making that transition from? And what I mean by that is a lot of conversations I have with a product operations leader. The first question I ask is, who’s really driving your roadmap?
And the distinction to me is and who’s really driving your roadmap? If you know, if it’s our customers via our business development or sales team, then you have to ask another set of series of questions to understand.
Well, are you a sales-led growth organization? Versus when I distinctly talked to them about a PLG what this Product-Led Growth means to your point, that people are still trying to understand what it means. It really leads us down to who is driving your roadmap and what’s driving the prioritization of that roadmap.
So in that sense, I think you first have to understand as an organization, where are you transitioning from? Are you Sales-Led, are you Design-Led, are you CX-Led? Which one of those functions or verticals are you transitioning from? That said, you know, once you sort of anchor to that, there are some common themes, yes there are nuances to it, but some of the common themes that I see is, number one, regardless of what you’re transitioning from, in some way, there is customer feedback that’s driving your hyphen-led growth.
So in the sense of Sales-Led, it’s a prospect that’s driving that feedback. So to me, the easiest place to stand up a Product Ops organization to drive the transition to PLG is to start processes around getting that customer feedback and insights points at scale and start disseminating them across the organization.
To me, that’s a no regret move. The core of a PLG company is to really understand the customer. So just start doing that. That’s a no regret move. Start getting the feedback, start cataloging it, start disseminating that information across the organization.
Once you do that, what you’ll find is everybody will naturally prioritize the same things, because whether it’s on, once you have the insights, the volume frequency will dictate where you’re going to make the investments. If that’s the case, then naturally your product investments start leaning towards essentially what everybody is aligning around.
So I think customer feedback is a good place to start. Roadmap visibility is another one that’s super important. So we’ve invested in a tool called AHA that basically democratizes the roadmap to everybody.
Everybody has access to it. I’ve been in many organizations where you have to know the right person to ask at the right time, on the right day, and maybe you’ll unlock the first slide of the roadmap, right? I’m not a party to that. But so if you’re starting a product operations organization, standardizing what your roadmap looks like to make it easy for consumption, putting it out there for everybody to react to, and it gives you the opportunity to engage in that feedback conversation.
If somebody fundamentally disagrees with your roadmap, I love that because I want to talk to them about it. I want to understand what their feedback is. Right. Is it coming from a source or is it going to make the company’s operations difficult or is it coming from a source? No, I just firmly believe customers don’t want it, regardless of what the motivation is.
Putting the information out there is what’s going to source that feedback. So for me, if you’re starting that transition to a PLG, the no regret things are centralizing customer feedback, roadmap visibility, and that’ll sort of get the flywheel going of coming behind the scenes with process and all the other things that we’ve talked about.
Thank you so, so much. That was fantastic. Thank you so much for contributing to our best to this part of our research and for being here with us today. That would be all from us today.Thank you so much for joining us and watching the session. Please stay tuned for another yet interview in Product Ops and PLG coming soon in your inbox.
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