Survive and Advance.
Not an ideal product strategy.
Making a run in the NCAA Tournament in March is all about knowing how to survive and advance. Focus on one game at a time. Don’t get ahead yourself or you could find yourselves on the wrong side of the buzzer in the blink of an eye.
This might be the best approach to winning a basketball tournament, but it’s not the strategy you want for your product team.
You run a seasonally relevant digital product. You have a specific timeframe during the year where the spotlight is on your product. That spotlight is extremely bright and the users want it on 24/7. If they don’t like what’s under that spotlight, they’re not coming back next year.
So if “survive and advance” became your product team’s strategy, things likely went pretty south, pretty quickly. For Yahoo!’s Tourney Pick ’em NCAA Basketball Bracket Challenge, it appears the road to the big dance went south in a hurry.
Yahoo! is a major player in the fantasy sports platform industry. Users expect them to be a top-tier platform year in and year out. They expect Yahoo! to be right up there with CBSSports, ESPN, Sleeper, and any other big-name site. They expect a feature-rich product experience. At the very least, they expect the basics. When a platform such as Yahoo! delivers a product just north of the bare minimum its users expect, it raises some flags. Stability alone is never any product team's initial strategy or game plan.
Every team’s season tells a story. Yahoo!’s Tourney Pick ’em is no exception. What story does it tell this year? We know how the story ends. Putting it generously, it ends with an underwhelming user experience. The equivalent of a 2 seed losing to a 15 seed. A disappointing way to end the season. Since we know how Yahoo!’s season ended, we can start to guess how it progressed from start to finish.
Product teams don’t begin the season with a goal to underwhelm and disappoint their users. Stability and reliability are essential building blocks to any elite product but they’re expected in 2021. Teams begin the season with a goal to deliver a product that stands head and shoulders above the competition. We can assume Yahoo!’s product team is no different, so what happened? We can only speculate…
Here are some possible scenarios, that again, are only speculation.
Major overhaul of the platform.
Maybe they’ve needed to upgrade their tech stack for a while. Maybe this was the year they finally switched to the data model their lead architect has been wanting for years now. Maybe they made a significant investment in their DevOps and streamlined their environments for true CICD. Every mature product eventually faces an existential crisis when it comes to the tech under the hood.
Losing a resource unexpectedly.
If the major overhaul wasn’t the plan, it could have also become the only option. Like injuries, some situations are out of the control of the product team. Vendors and services don’t all last forever, sometimes the companies behind them close unexpectedly or pivot in another direction. Like an injury to a 5th year starting point guard, sometimes your only option is to survive and advance the best you can.
Booster club funds ran dry.
Athletic departments often rely on big donations to help pay for things like team hotels, busses, uniforms, top-of-the-line equipment, even food. A product team also needs to be backed by significant investment. It's possible Yahoo! analyzed their user data. Maybe they didn’t like the trends they had seen over the last few seasons. If a product isn’t delivering value, the flow of capital needed to field a team that can deliver an elite product is going to dry up quickly.
What Yahoo! did deliver was a clean, simple interface. So far, they also managed a stable, reliable product with elite uptime and really solid speed. Based on a run through Google’s Lighthouse, Chrome’s built-in developer tool for evaluating site performance, the foundation appears to lean and sturdy. Lean and sturdy may not be want marketing wants to highlight but they pave the way for significant improvement for next season.
Next year's incoming recruits better live up to the hype and restore the program to the level its users have come to expect. If they expect to do that and deliver an elite product, there are a few things they’ll need to address this offseason:
- Group Chat.
Integrate the group chat functionality that already exists for Yahoo!’s Fantasy Football app. It’s a perfect way to interact with everyone in the group, all within the same app.
- Smart screenshots for sharing.
I want to be able to share my perfect Final Four. I want to post it on Twitter for everyone to see and like. Yahoo! should want those people to see that I’m using their platform and influence them to use it too. But giving users a better, seamless way to get a screenshot is the best way to facilitate your users' ability to share in the first place.
- Displaying the champion for each bracket.
Knowing which team your competition selected to win the tournament is probably the most relevant data point you want to see when checking where your bracket ranks amongst your peers.
- Calculate the remaining possibilities for the Final Four/Elite Eight.
A bracket may be near perfect, missing only 2 first-round games. A score like that and you're likely in 1st place after round one. But if 2 games you picked incorrectly also happen to be the two teams locked in to face off in the championship game, that’s information I want to see front and center on the group standings page.
- Sortable Columns.
Users expect to be able to sort especially if your only leveraging a UI Framework like React just to deliver a list component.
All that being said, I believe in Yahoo! I believe this was a rebuilding year for their product team and I will be back. Next March I’ll have Yahoo!’s Tourney Pick ’em advancing all the way to the Final Four.