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SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

PASS Update #10

It's been a slower pace since the last update. Grant and I are working on the publication process for content on sqlpass.org, and Tim Mitchell is still queued waiting to deploy some code that will let us provide a filtered feed of all the bloggers in the blog directory. Probably the biggest thing that I've done is attend the board meeting last week in Seattle and I want to share some of that with you, and we'll get the minutes published as soon as we can.

I flew out on Tues about 8 am via Alaska Airlines, they have a direct flight to Seattle from Orlando, though it's a long 6.5 hours. Waited at the airport for Pat Wright to arrive so we could ride together up to our hotel in Bellevue. We arrived about 1:30, checked in, then split up to walk and explore a bit. We were downtown Bellevue this time (for proximity to MS) and it was a nice location, plenty of stuff nearby that didn't require a car/taxi. About 3:30 I met up with Blythe, Kate, and Craig from PASS HQ and sat with them at Red Robin while they had a very late lunch, then back to the hotel to work a little in the lobby and just sit and talk some. Everyone that had arrived met up for dinner at 7 pm for fajitas and etc, talked work a little but it was mostly relaxing.

Wed our biggest item of discussion was the budget for FY 2010 which begins Jul 1. This quickly became complicated for a couple reasons. One is that given an uncertain economic climate, what projection should we make for the Summit? We had a really great year last year and overall things seem to be progressing nicely, but would it be responsible to project an increase in an economic downturn? Same as last year? Down slightly? While that might seem like a guess (and it is go an extent), it's a critical guess as the Summit represents the bulk of our FY 2010 funding. That puts us in the position of having to build a budget around what we expect to generate, then we have to adjust our budget once we know the final number. As a fiscal conservative I'd much rather be in the happy position of having more money to use for good things than having to cut appropriations because we didn't hit our revenue projection. Lot's of discussion and we didn't quite finish, but we did end up with a road map of how we'll arrive at the final budget and that works.

It's also fair to say from my perspective that the Wed meeting seemed like it would never end. I try hard to remember that meetings are not pretty things, they can only be organized so much and with a dozen people in the room, any topic will generate 10 minutes of discussion. Yes we had an agenda and a sort of moderator, but in the case of the budget I think we can learn a lesson - just having an agenda is not enough. What we really needed was more work in advance to make it more of a decision making process, something like this:

  • At least 7 days prior to the meeting email board members good, better, best case budgets based on various revenue projections. Potentially the discussion around revenue expectations would have to be done via email prior to that, but I think having three variations would work just as well. In each case the revenue would be adjusted on a pure percentage basis across line items.
  • At the meeting provide a summary of the 3 budget options and how the forecast for each was derived, and try to reduce the conversation to a vote on the forecast first, and then a quick review of proposed spend by department. In practice I think we need goals outlined at the same time as the budget to see if spend aligns and supports the goals for the board member, but I can also see that it might be more effective to have the VP of Finance and team do that review and take the board through the uncertain areas.

It's not that the budget isn't important or worth my time, but it's only worth so much of my time, and only so long as I'm getting/providing value. It's also important to decide if any part of the meeting is one that needs the long discussion in order to figure out a course or make it easier to accept a hard decision, or if should be more of a decision. Both are fair approaches, but would be very important not to appear to be removing the attendees from the discussion without their approval, so that does require a quick discussion in advance.

Discussed a few other things (a blur!) and ended the day sometime after 7 pm, meeting up for dinner at 8. It was labeled a working dinner, but the restaurant was just a little noisy and everyone was tired, so it more dinner and small talk than work.

On Thursday we went back to the budget for the first few minutes as some details had been finalized, and then we talked about changes to our by-laws. Many of these are to clean up our existing by-laws where they don't handle exceptions very well, but we're also in the middle of revamping our definitions of members. As you may recall PASS used to have two categories of members; paid and free, and the paid members could vote. Now that we've changed our membership to all being free, we need to adjust how we determine who can vote. I'm going to way on the by-laws to be published to discuss that (next 30-60 days), but I will say that the Board is trying very hard to encourage and allow members to vote.

The by-laws discussion was another place where it's important to think through how to present it at the meeting. We would end up reviewing a document that contained only the revised paragraphs, but no markup showing the original text or reasons about why each change was being made. Made it hard to review and because by-laws are a legal document, language matters and so does context! We got through it, but it took longer than it feel like was needed.

Thursday night we scattered for various discussions, I had a long dinner/meeting with Wayne, Lynda, Rick H, and Tom. Tom left about 6:45 to watch Star Trek (and I was tempted), but the discussion was good and continued past 9 pm. Lynda heads up the program committee which among other things builds the speaker schedule for the Summit, and it was interesting to hear about the work and challenges involved in that - and it reminded me that we still need to do more to help the board members share details of those efforts with the members.

Friday morning I met Tom Larock for breakfast, and then Bill Graziano, Sonia, and Blythe joined us for a discussion about chapters and marketing, and that moved into a discussion about networking and people, making sure that our marketing message is more than just the technical value, it's also the people value. We've got a few ideas we're working on and we'll see.

Left for the airport about 10:45 with Tom and Bill, they dropped me off and then I ran into Kevin Kline going through security, so we took advantage of the wait time to have lunch and talk some. Then back on the plane for the not quite as long 5.5 hour ride home, getting to Orlando about 10 pm.

People often ask if the meetings are worth the time and expense. I still say yes, because even though they aren't always as productive as I'd like, they are the only time we really collaborate. In my experience collaboration takes time and patience, not something that goes well on a 15 minute phone call. I wish it took less time, the trips to Seattle use up the better part of 2 days for me, and combined with the time zone change it definitely throws me off my game a little.

So that's it for the past couple weeks, in the next update I'll discuss my goals for the next three months.

Comments

Posted by Steve Jones on 12 May 2009

Thanks for the update. Good to hear what's happening with PASS.

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