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PASS Update #20

On the Friday at the end of the Summit we had a 4 hour Board meeting, welcoming new board members Brian Moran and Jeremiah Peschka (and newly elected Tom Larock too). Perhaps out of order, one key thing we discussed was when to have our first in person Board meeting of 2010. As I’ve mentioned before these are really important for collaboration, and especially important to have one early in the year to make sure that new members get integrated. At present our plan is to have a full 2 day meeting following the MVP Summit in February, allowing those of us on the East coast to make one cross country trip instead of two. I think if it works it becomes a good pattern to follow. No final announcement.

We also talked about making sure that Brian & Jeremiah are mentored the first couple months to make sure they get off to a good start. We’re already doing a lot better than last year, bringing them in to this meeting and making them feel part of the team, and HQ provided them with a great packet of information about how various things work.

Another topic was transparency. As I’m sure you know transparency hasn’t come easily to PASS, and even at this meeting it was a bit of a battle. I’ve lobbied many times for a policy of setting as few rules as possible. Most of us (and you) know that some things shouldn’t be made public (think of why someone was fired for example), and that some things are a maybe, indicating that it’s worth asking before doing. Interestingly for me Bill Graziano is in favor of something close to this approach, and his rationale (I’m going to brag just a little) was that he had watched me blog for a year and nothing bad had happened. Transparency isn’t easy and it can be scary. If that doesn’t resonate yet, it will at some point!

Anyway, going along with that is a change to a long standing informal policy of all Board members supporting decisions publicly. In the past we’d discuss (aka argue) about a decision, but once the decision was made Board members were expected to support the decision. That’s not as horrible as it might sound, it’s useful for leaders to unite behind goals. But…it’s incredibly important for members to know that there is discussion behind a decision, and in some cases to hear why a Board member disagreed. It needs to be done carefully, but it means more freedom and transparency for the Board, which should be good for the community. What we didn’t agree on is how much/often each Board member needs to post. It’s a challenge, as not all current (or future) Board members will be comfortable with writing, blogging, and transparency. I’m expecting that we require something going out at least quarterly with a goal of moving to monthly. I think monthly would work unless they have a lot to talk about (this is post #20 this year after all!).

The big discussion was portfolios, deciding on how to decide who gets which portfolio. I wish I could report the results here, but we didn’t get this finished (and was probably unrealistic to expect it to be). The President is responsible for assigning and defining the portfolios, so it was useful for Rushabh to get some some early feedback about proposed changes and who wanted to do what. Two possible changes might interest you; one was that it looks like Virtual Chapters will not be part of the Chapters portfolio, the other is that the number of permanent portfolios may decrease, instead Board members will adopt ‘projects’ that may last for a few months.

The two big portfolios are Chapters and the Program Committee (responsible for the session schedule and event calendar at the Summit). I’ve been doing Content for about a year now and it’s been interesting, but I had thought about it prior to the meeting and decided to ask to work on Chapters for the second year of my term. Why? Part of it I’d like to build on the great work Greg Low has done, part of it is I think I bring a slightly different view of chapters that could help us move to the next phase, and part of it, selfishly, is wanting to gather some new experiences during my time on the Board. Turns out that Douglas McDowell is also interested in Chapters, so it’s a contest!

Fast forwarding a little, I did a 1.5 hour call with Rushabh about a week after the Summit, essentially interviewing for the Chapter portfolio. Part of that is (I think) wanting to make sure that my ideas for Chapters wouldn’t undo work that had been done by Greg or run counter to the vision Rushabh has, and I think in large measure nothing I proposed failed either of those two tests. I don’t envy him trying to figure it all out, Douglas would bring a different but equally strong approach to the Chapters, and he has to consider what everyone else wants to do as well. In general we make a pretty serious attempt to make sure each Board member is happy with their assignment, always better results when passion fits task. If that sounds easy, it’s not! Imagine taking over as a manager for a team of volunteers, trying to figure out who has a vision for something, who is strong, who is a great collaborator, and trying to match all that up with where you want to go.

Fast forwarding again, I did a short status call with Grant Fritchey to see how things were going with the SQL Server Standard and discuss some of the feedback we’ve gotten. Here are some points from that call:

  • Two articles done, two more definitely going to make it to completion, one more in pipeline
  • I will start inviting authors to write
  • Long term we may need to appoint a volunteer to find authors, too early to call that yet
  • Discussed a couple complaints about the two column layout, elected to leave as is for now, revisit if needed in 3 months
  • Deciding on cover art still a little clunky, continue as is expecting it to get better with practice (and revisit in 3 months if not)
  • Encouraged Grant to write more and openly about his work on the Standard, asking only that if there is a problem I get to hear about it first (and to be fair, I know Grant would do that without me mentioning it)
  • We will submit an IT request for discussion forums tied to each article
  • Dreamed a little about if we get the content flow really going, adding more value to the Standard by including things of interest to our members (minutes for example)

And last, I had a short call with Alison from HQ about bloggers at the Summit. I saw part of the process for selecting the bloggers for the blogger table and it’s not easy to pick. We’re going to need to identify who is true “press”, which bloggers should get “press” access at the Summit (if different?), which bloggers just want to remain bloggers but are influential, and we need to make sure that we strive for some transparency around picking bloggers for the table. No complaints this year, but going forward I think getting a seat at the table and getting to do some of the one on one interviews will become a goal for many bloggers and we need to show them the rules in advance.

Have a question or comment on this, or PASS in general? Email me at andy.warren@sqlpass.org.


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.


Posted by Brent Ozar on 1 December 2009

Wow, the informal policy about all members supporting decisions publicly surprises me.  All I can think of is the Supreme Court, and the way they almost always include a dissenting opinion with each judgment they pass down.  Including the dissenting opinion doesn't diminish the value of the judgment, but rather gives you guidance about when the decision might be different.  I'm glad you're changing it!

Posted by Andy Warren on 1 December 2009

Not sure I'd use the Supreme Court as a comparison. Think about your employer - how often do you get two messages from on high?

But the change is for the better regardless:)

Posted by Allen Kinsel on 1 December 2009

Andy, thanks again for your attempt at doing what you can for transparency around the board, I for one appreciate it!

Posted by Andy Leonard on 1 December 2009

Love the transparency Andy! I hope you get the Chapters portfolio.

:{> Andy

Posted by Steve Jones on 1 December 2009

Interesting to read about how this works. I would like to see people rotate among portfolios. Easy to get in a comfort zone and become the expert on an area, but that also prevents that knowledge from transferring is someone leaves. And everyone leaves the board eventually.

Thanks for the transparency

Posted by Adam Machanic on 1 December 2009

The blogger table was a bit odd, in my opinion.

I think that PASS should ask who wants to participate and evaluated those people, rather than sending out invitations to people it finds itself.

Also, sitting at the table was more a status thing than anything else. A way for people to say "yay, I'm at the blogger table!" Not everyone sitting there produced much content (including myself) and I wonder if this is really a good use of PASS's time and energy. Better to concentrate efforts on improving the quality of the keynotes so that there is actually something to blog about.

Posted by Wendy Pastrick on 1 December 2009

Thanks Andy! I'm really looking forward to the transparency and appreciate your (and the rest of the Board's) efforts to bring this to the forefront.

Best wishes on getting the Chapters portfolio. As a Virtual Chapter leader, I have to wonder why we will still be a separate entity and look forward to hearing more about the new model for us.

Posted by Meredith Ryan-Smith on 1 December 2009

Thanks Andy!  I really appreciate your efforts towards transparency.  I've found that if people know how and why decisions have been made it's easier for them to buy into them.  Also, one of the best ways to get people involved in something is to give them enough information to develop a vested interest in what happens.

Posted by malathi.mahadevan on 3 December 2009

Thank you Andy!! Am really eager to see who will take over Chapter leadership - between you and Douglas, both of you are so very well qualified to take over Greg's work. One small request I have - if you could - is to provide more transparency/publicity to how many *personal* hours of time each of you guys bring to PASS, i know for certain it is not a small number and it would greatly help people to know how much work it really is. I am all for transparency but some of the comments we heard around elections this time I felt were missing that critical element of understanding - that this is a *huge* amount of dedicated, unpaid work that individuals like you and others on the board choose to do for the community and regardless of our opinions on other matters that should be known and respected. Thank you again.

Posted by Andy Warren on 3 December 2009

Malathi, I will try harder to keep track of my hours. Like most of us, I hate tracking my time:-) This week for example, I've spent about 3 hours so far; sent in my monthly report, worked on the contract for the Standard, did a call with HQ about our forthcoming online store, another call with HQ about SQLSaturday, started sending out invitations to write for the Standard.

I tend to work in chunks. It's a rare week when I do nothing PASS related, most weeks I'd say are in the 1-5 hour range.

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