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What The Heck is XOps in Product Development?


First: XOps is not a new Marvell movie, waiting for Wolverine's revival. Period.


I'm a CPO. I'm not an HR expert, and I sure as hell don't want to spend my days mediating squabbles between product, design, sales and data teams. But here's the thing I've learned the hard way: if you want to build products that actually solve user problems and hit your business goals, you better figure out how to make these folks play nice in the sandbox.

XOps might sound like something out of a comic book, but it's a mindset shift, a way of structuring your teams and their workflows to truly put the customer at the core of everything. Think of it as the secret sauce that turns a bunch of smart individuals into a cohesive product-building machine. I'm too lazy to write what XOps means, DevOpsSchool did it already: 

XOps stands for “Cross-functional Operations,” which refers to the practice of bringing together teams and individuals from different functional areas (such as engineering, product, design, etc.) to collaborate and work on operational tasks and projects.

You get it - working together in a collaborative way to achieve business outcomes and customer satisfaction.  

The Problem with Silos 

"Sounds like more corporate overhead," you might grumble. And if done wrong, you'd be right. But here's why ignoring these principles, even for a greenfield team approach (a startup or organization with no existing product team), could be a fatal mistake:

  • Stifling innovation from the start: Greenfield projects often have a fresh perspective, but without a collaborative approach, siloed thinking can creep in early, blocking creative solutions, and lead to failed product cycles or even worse, marginal monetization.
  • Metrics that miss the mark: Without clear focus on customer needs, early metrics can become vanity metrics, leading your product down the wrong path.
  • Building for yourself, not your users: Without a strong feedback loop, usable data driven metrics, and the project management (more here), even the most passionate team will build a product that nobody wants.

Building Your XOps team 

Even if your team is small and scrappy, you can still adopt the collaborative mindset of XOps. Let me break it down and show hoe you can early break silos and inject a customer-centric approach:

  • Cross-functional collaboration is key: Encourage everyone to step outside their traditional roles. A designer might learn some basic data analysis techniques, while a developer explores the basics of user interviews. This shared understanding will pay dividends in building the right product.
  • Data-Driven, Not Data-Drenched: Start collecting user feedback early, even if it's informal. Focus on the questions that will actually guide your product decisions, not just on collecting data for its own sake.
  • Embrace the Agility Advantage: Greenfield projects have the chance to be truly quick. XOps principles help you maintain this flexibility, allowing you to experiment, learn from what works (and what doesn't), and change course quickly. I boil it down to build fast, fail fast.

    The Team 

    Okay, now let's talk solutions and business. In another post I talked about hacking the product teams, here's how the X-Ops philosophy translates this concept into real-world roles and processes:

    • Development: Think of them as the conductor of your product symphony. They understand the product vision, the tech stack, and the data that matters. Their job is to streamline processes, remove roadblocks, and ensure everyone's marching to the same beat.

    • Design: They champion user research, maintain a consistent design system, and smooth the path from gorgeous mockups to working code. Crucially, they bridge the gap between design's "big picture" thinking and the nitty-gritty of development sprints.

    • Data: No more spreadsheets gathering dust. A DataOps guru translates raw data into actionable insights that product and design can actually use. They focus on the questions you need answers to, not just vanity metrics.

    • Sales: They're the frontline experts, understanding what resonates with customers from a sales perspective. This knowledge is invaluable in developing features that sell, while still addressing customer needs. Close collaboration brings vital insights into what customers might want (and actually pay for), even before they express those needs directly.

    Flexibility is Key 

    The beauty of the XOps model is that it can adapt to your specific needs. This isn't about creating rigid new hierarchies. Here are several ways I approach XOps deployment, depending on the client and the product goals:

    • Greenfield: Your company doesn't have a product team (common in early-stage startups, large corporates undergoing digital transformation, etc.). In this case, XOps principles guide team formation and cultivate a customer-centric mindset from the start.
    • Embedded: For larger organizations with multiple product lines, embedding a ProductOps expert within each cross-functional team ensures streamlined processes and efficient collaboration.
    • Consultant: For smaller companies, utilizing an XOps consultant can jumpstart the process, establishing the right workflows and collaborative practices.
    In the true XOps spirit, designers learn some basic data analysis, product managers experiment with prototyping tools, etc. This cross-disciplinary approach fuels innovation and breaks down communication barriers. Plus the whole team has a full understanding of business outcomes and technology used, makes more rational decisions and typically meet deadlines.

    Change Starts Only With You 

    Let's be real. Building a truly collaborative, XOps-driven team takes a hell of a lot more than hiring a few new people, offer in-office massages and "war-table thinking". As the CPO or VP Product, it's your job to make things happen and drive culture:

    • Shared Outcomes > Individual Glory: Celebrate wins and failures as a team, not as departments vying for credit. This means rethinking your performance metrics and incentives. What, failure? Yeah - 'cause you learned how it won't work. That's awesome. But it's getting stupid when the same failure happens over and over again...
    • Feedback is Your Friend: Implement regular, structured ways for product, design, and data folks to share feedback constructively, without it turning into a blame game. Use data as decision maker, don't let emotions take over. 
    • Tools Matter: Use collaboration platforms that actually make it easier to share work in progress, track decisions, and gather insights across the entire product lifecycle. I have good experience with post-it notes and kanban white-bord. Sounds old-fashion, but works and it's easy to implement.

    Why Should You Care? 

    Think of implementing an XOps approach as a strategic investment in your very own product development processes. This investment pays off in multiple ways. With smoother collaboration and fewer bottlenecks, you'll accelerate your time to market, launching new features and products faster than competitors and reacting quickly to changing market needs. 

    XOps also reduces wasted resources caused by miscommunication and inefficient workflows, helping you save time and money by minimizing rework and preventable errors. Finally, talented people thrive in collaborative, impactful environments; you'll increase team satisfaction and reduce turnover, ensuring you attract and retain top talent. I break it down into:

    • Time to Market Advantage: Get new features and products out the door faster, beat competitors to the punch, and respond to market shifts with agility.
    • Reduced Waste: Fewer projects fail due to miscommunication or bad handoffs. You spend less time and money fixing preventable mistakes.
    • Happier Teams = Higher Retention: Talented people want to work in an environment where they feel empowered and their work has impact. An XOps culture goes a long way in attracting and keeping the best.


    Done right, the XOps mindset isn't about buzzwords or fancy titles. It's about breaking down the silos that stifle innovation and building a product team that's truly obsessed with customer needs. If you want to build products that users love and drive sustainable business growth, XOps is a strategy worth serious consideration.


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