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Pro Tips from the NFL on Mobile App Development

By Patricia Riedman Yeager |  January 30, 2017
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By sheer numbers, few events top the Super Bowl. Last year’s Super Bowl pre-game festival, in Santa Clara, Calif., attracted more than 1.1 million fans.

“It’s not a single day or a series of three hours. The Super Bowl is a week to two-week celebration of football,” says Jazz Singh, director of product, mobile and connected at NFL Media. This year’s Super Bowl LI, taking place Feb. 5 at Houston’s NRG Stadium, is expected to match or exceed last year’s crowd.

Part of Singh’s role has entailed overseeing the creation of the Super Bowl LI Houston – Fan Mobile Pass app, which is designed to help fans navigate all the pre-game activities, which include interactive games, youth football clinics, player autograph sessions, concerts, and plenty of opportunities to buy merchandise and food.

Working on a tight schedule, Singh says he uses an agile development approach to get everything ready in time for the big game. NFL Media is based in Culver City, Calif. Singh reports to Linda Tong, the NFL’s VP of Product & Innovation.

Here are his tips on simplicity, scrums, and setting priorities. 

Jazz Singh leads a session at InnoLead’s Teach-In event, in October 2016.

Take Care of Basics

“First, we want to take care of the basics—fundamentals,” he says. “A lot of times, those things get overlooked. We want to make sure the apps are functional; then we can start sneaking in some really cool innovation for future events or future builds of some of the apps.” Basics are things like helping fans from out of town find the restrooms and concession stands, or navigate a new city.

Release Early and Often

“The early release is something we always try to do,” he says. “There is no better feedback like hearing from actual people using your product.”

1. “It allows you to get a great view on your velocity when it comes to the features you want in market by a certain date. Do we think we can finish most of what we scoped when the project started?”

2. “It gives us valuable feedback on feature improvements and performance enhancements that we can reprioritize back into our sprints, helping to iterate to a better product.”

Essential Data Collection

“There should never be an excuse not to collect data or feedback about your project,” he says. “Whether it’s a focus group, crowdsourcing [feedback] on a paper/graphical prototype, lessons learned from previous events, or walking around the office and talking to co-workers—there’s always an avenue to get some fidelity of data/feedback.” His team has employed them all—even going so far as to talk to fans at local businesses near NFL Media’s office.

Scrums

As part of the agile process, teams get together for regular progress review meetings called “scrums.” “It’s not necessarily daily, but we do make time to review not only feedback we get from our fans, but also the unreleased features of the app,” Singh says. “It is a task that is performed multiple times per week in order to ensure we are both getting and giving feedback to our teams in a timely manner. The goal is to always find issues sooner, so you can fix them faster. The more times you can do this, the better your product will be.”

Ruthless Prioritization

Singh is a big believer in setting strict priorities and constantly reevaluating them.

Prioritization “is an iterative task that should be completed by various disciplines within your team, multiple times within a product lifecycle,” he says.

At this stage, Singh recommends asking questions like:

  • What are your goals and how does that feature help you get there?
  • Does it align with sales/marketing efforts for your product?
  • Did the feature test well?
  • Do we have the operational capacity to maintain the feature?
  • Roughly how long will it take to build, and what resources will it take?

Don’t Let an Impending Deadline Overshadow Quality

“Quality also plays an important role,” Singh says. “As a general rule, important bugs always take priority over new features; this ensures performance and quality are the driving forces to great app experiences. New features can definitely enhance the experience, but they can always come later.”

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