Eric Raab, Yodle: My First 100 Days as a New CIO

By Jack Rosenberger

Four months ago, Eric Raab became the CIO of Yodle, an Internet marketing company for small businesses, where he oversees an IT department of 75 employees. Raab recently spoke with CIO Insight about some of the lessons he learned during his first 100 days as a new CIO, in addition to his priorities, IT inititiatives and management practices.

First Things First. “Coming in as a new CIO at an organization, you’re responsible for the technology, of course, so one of my first tasks was to evaluate our technology at Yodle. For instance, are the tools for app development good enough? Other priorities were to analyze the cost structure and the budget. But the most critical feature I needed to get aligned with, in order to allow our business to grow, was to understand Yodle’s engineering culture. How do people interact? How does the cross-communication occur? What about employee reporting?”

“In terms of understanding our engineering culture, I also had to know the answers to questions like, ‘What do engineers value in terms of making decisions?’ ‘What rules do they go by?’ And, of course, I needed to know how IT adds value to Yodle as a company.”

Early Lessons. “I quickly learned Yodle has a strong focus on supporting existing business operations. And I discovered there is very good communication between the business side and the technical side, which I appreciate. Yodle, I found out, is based on a culture of respect. The businesspeople and the engineers respect each other’s role. We recognize that not everyone is the best person to do every job. And that no one of us is as smart as all of us.

“It’s important to learn your company’s work pace. For instance, every company has different pace for releasing software to users. At my previous company, we had releases once a quarter. The releases had to be scheduled with training, product notification and much more, so everything for the release had to arrive at the same time. At Yodle, we do releases more frequently, about once every week, and the training is more fluid, so it’s possible to release incremental features and product enhancements every week. Yodle has a culture of trying things quickly, seeing what works and what value the product can add to the company and its customers. We adhere to agile practices, and we never design or build an app beyond what we know it has to deliver. We define where we need to get to, and we go to that point. Then we assess the situation and plan the next steps.”

Being a Game Changer. “During my first 100 days I put in place several processes for people to leverage their knowledge. For example, I instituted a tool called 15five that allows individual contributors, managers and directors to report on and discuss their successes and blockers in the previous week. The highlights are communicated with the executive team every week and any cross-functional issues are quickly ironed out. Also, we now push product requirements to the software engineering teams. We have multiple application feature teams, and each team, which is made of five to nine persons, is responsible for its own fate. They develop a roadmap, etc. We have each team do a release every week, and they do a demo every week. As a result, they get input directly from the stakeholders. We have quick evaluations, establish priories, develop a plan and iterate on that.”

How I Roll. “I met with every individual in IT at least one time during the first 100 days. I met with most of them during first 30 days, and I review everyone’s resume to see what their levels of education and experience are, and to see how the skills of our team line up with the goals of our business.

“As for your budget, when you come in as a new CIO, you’ll find you’re doing some things that cost more than they should. Tradeoffs were made in the past based on availability, urgency and other factors. Once you understand your budget, you can find out where you can spend less—and you can get some quick kills.”

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. You can read his previous CIO Insight article, “What CIOs Should Be Thinking About But Aren’t,” by clicking here.

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