PMO Spelled S.O.S

At the beginning of 2004, anti-spyware vendor eAccerlation was in trouble. It’s product suite was on the verge of being blacklisted by virtually all the name players in the anti-spyware business and there seemed to be no way to restore the company’s reputation.

The main problems came from an earlier time in the company’s existence, when it was known as eAnthology. By employing some less-than-customer-friendly marketing opt-out techniques, using an outdated download manager that implanted itself on PCs and, worst of all, cross marketing its own anti-spyware product suite as adware, eAcceleration got on the bad side of most blacklists.

To make matter worse, there were no formal guidelines, policies or procedures within the company to direct its self-taught team of developers through the myriad of changes needed to fix the problem. Through the years product development was done in, basically, an ad-hoc mode with developers reacting to customer demands instead of planning for future rollouts, updates and patches.

It is into this predicament that Nason walked six months ago as the company’s new CIO. Crazy perhaps, but Nason realized the software itself was fine. What was wrong was the company’s inability to put together a directed effort to fix its reputation. With hundreds-of-thousands of lines of “spaghetti code” to go through and no leadership, process and policies on how to make changes, the company’s developers were simply spinning their wheels.

“The company was so tightly tuned to maintain what they were doing and to be entirely in reactive mode … that there was no real mechanism to sit down and plan anywhere to go,” said Nason. “The biggest thing we were missing was the ability to make any change. I could look at what I wanted to do and I could look at where I wanted to go, but we didn’t have any structure by which to do it.”

This is when he decide to set up a PMO. Headed by Keith Morris and five staffers, Nason’s PMO began the difficult process of re-engineering the company’s code, re-working its marketing to reflect its new focus on quality and institutionalizing process and governance.

The result? In three months eAccerlation was able to re-write its code and submit it to the major blacklist vendors — Symantec, McAfee and Pest Patrol — and get its name off their offender’s lists. It’s customer base is once again growing and it now has a processes in place that are allowing, for the first time, the company to really plan for growth as opposed to reacting to it, said Nason … all without adding personnel outside of the PMO staff.

“It’s difficult to get out of reactive mode without a process,” said Nason. “Now that we have a process, we can move forward with other things. Could we have done it without the PMO? Yes, but it would have cost us significantly more in terms of dollars. It would have cost us significantly more in terms of time. And the longer it took to do it, the more dangerous the situation was going to become for us.”

Morris attributes the speed at which this dramatic turn-around was accomplished to having a greenfield opportunity: no processes, policies, procedures or governance existed to be overcome or replaced. And he had the backing of the company’s c-level management. Without this, his and Nason’s job would have been near impossible.

“One of the key factors for the success of the PMO is upper management buy-off,” he said. “A project manager … only has a certain amount of authority. If you don’t have an alignment to the CTO or CIO or CEO you really don’t have enough authority to get the job done.”