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PASS Chapters - First quarter hurdles and milestones

Hello everyone,

Douglas and I have both been hard at work, pulling in everyone we can to make the PASS Chapter Portfolio a more valuable place for User Groups. We realized we’ve been pretty quiet over the last couple months, so we thought we would give you an update on everything happening. It sure hasn’t felt quiet here at PASSHQ!

We are currently at 211 official PASS Chapters as of today, a growth of 11 full chapters since the November Summit. In addition to the increased growth, we met with all of PASS’s Regional Mentors to introduce them to the new Chapter Direction and to outline the new Regional Mentor resources we created. Both Douglas and I continue to meet with the Regional Mentor teams to help them reach out to their groups, listen to what their chapter leaders need from PASS, and work to make regional communities successful. We are so excited about the enthusiasm the Mentors are giving to this new direction. Interested in who they are? You can see their smiling faces on our chapter pages.

Also, here are some little projects we are working on to bring the chapter portfolio through the first quarter of 2010:
• We have outlined PASS’s value proposition to its user groups on the website.
• We are working with the Microsoft SQL Server Product group to deliver on the SQL Server 2008 R2 Community Led Events. If you have a local user group in your area, you can put on one of these PASS-Microsoft sponsored events.
• The European Conference is upon us, starting on April 21st and we are mobilizing the European community to connect, share and learn. We hope to help the European PASS Community be as strong and cohesive as their North American counterparts. More details to follow in a few short weeks.
• The first chapter leader survey has gone out to all PASS User Group leaders. Check out Douglas’ Connector article for our findings as we try to bridge the gap between the chapter leaders and the PASS organization.

And that’s just the first quarter! I will keep you updated as events unfold.

All the best
Blythe
 

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Rushabh and Blythe visit SQL Saturday #33 in Charlotte NC

  It has been a little over a full week since I traveled far away from the PASS HQ home of Van ...

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PASS Board Meeting Update - by Andy Warren

I’m just back from the March 2010 Board meeting and it went better than usual (for any meeting). Most of arrived Sunday afternoon/evening and after a bit of social time I spent about four hours with Hannes, Craig, and Blythe working on SQLSaturday transition stuff (lots of details next week, but we’ve made good progress!) and then chatting with Rushabh for a while too. Worked right through dinner and by the end I could barely talk, had been fighting a minor cold and all the talking just made it worse.

Expected to get up Monday really sick, but the cold medicine had helped, and we started the meeting on time. We talked through some adjustments to the agenda and then started working. Normally I try to share a lot of the details of the meeting, but this time I’m going to wait for the minutes to come out because we’ve agreed to greatly increase the level of detail. Don’t expect perfection on the first try, but our goal is to show you a really good summary of what we discuss, with bullets of the pros and cons that we saw.

We’ve also agreed to discuss as little as possible in executive session. There are some things not appropriate to disclose; salaries (privacy concerns), things that we discuss under NDA with Microsoft, some details of our Summit strategy that might give a competitor an advantage, etc. I think the Board fully understands that we need to be as transparent as possible and I think we made huge strides in that direction. We still have to execute, but the intent is now there as never before.

This changes things in interesting ways. One is that when we get into brain storming mode we tend to talk all at once, or at least more than one at a time, making it really hard for Blythe from HQ to keep good notes that in turn will generate good minutes. What we plan to do next time is do a quick flip chart summary at the end of each topic, that gives us all a chance to make sure we reflect all the major points and is also a checkpoint to make sure that we haven’t violated any privacy/NDA type concerns. It should also make it a lot easier to get the minutes out faster for review by the members.

It was the most effective PASS meeting I’ve attended. We stuck to our revised agenda and actually finished up a few minutes early. I don’t know that we’ve mastered meetings, but we’re gradually moving to an approach where we hammer out some concepts and send them off for work rather than trying to nail down the finished product. A full meeting is still a bit chaotic when we’re kicking around ideas, but it’s workable. We’ll have another in person meeting in either June or August and if we can repeat it then, we’ll have a formula we can document and maintain.
 

- Andy Warren

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Survey Results Show Top Chapter Needs

A key challenge PASS faces as a user-run organization is, ironically, identifying the needs of our community, collecting feedback, and understanding issues. One of the best cross sections of the PASS community is the local Chapters. In an effort to better plug in to our Chapters in a structured manner, we have begun a series of Chapter Leader surveys. We hope these surveys can help us identify how PASS can better serve every Chapter Leader and member. Surveys are often considered more art than science, but our intentions are pretty simple and straightforward: We want to gather basic information in each survey and include questions that will help us better understand the grass roots of the organization.

Last week we closed out our first Chapter survey, and I want to share the results with you. Of PASS’s 211 Chapters, an impressive 104 Chapter Leaders (49%) responded to the survey, making the results more than a sampling of current Chapters. I would personally like to thank everyone who participated. Here’s what Chapter Leaders told us about their Chapters:

  • 73% of Chapters that responded have a membership of 500 or less
  • 74% of Chapters that responded have regular attendance of between 10-50
  • 39% of Chapters that responded have 6-10 meetings per year, 33% have 11-16, and 24% have fewer than 6
  • 49% of Chapters that responded took advantage of PASS’s one complimentary registration and sent a representative to either PASS Summit 2009 or European Conference 2008; most of those who didn’t send a representative said they couldn’t afford the associated travel expenses or time away from work or their Chapters were new (they were established only shortly before or since those conferences)

We asked Chapters about what PASS services they were currently benefiting most from. (Note that the Chapter Leaders who responded are more likely to be actively engaged with PASS, so it is possible some numbers reflect higher-than-average usage):

  • 61% use the monthly Chapter meeting PowerPoint presentation
  • 51% take advantage of the complimentary TechNet subscription
  • 49% use PASS Webhosting
  • 47% use LiveMeeting services
  • 30% use Regional Mentor support, which is a focus area for 2010

When we asked Chapter Leaders to rank which potential PASS services/benefits would help them be more successful, Chapter Leaders responded as follows:

  • 65% rated “Email/Newsletter functionality for Webhosted sites” as their #1 or #2 priority
  • 55% marked “Event Registration” as priority #1 or #2
  • 34% rated “Sponsor Bureau” as priority #1 or #2
  • 29% ranked “Speaker Bureau” as priority #1 or #2

It has been my experience that all these potential services/benefits are very important, but these results are in tune with the top two requested services/benefits I noted in the Chapters Vision for 2010 blog. This aligns with our goal in late 2010 or 2011 of making Chapter Webhosting more robust with added event management and membership email capabilities (announcements/newsletters).

We also asked Chapter Leaders for specific feedback on a planned PASS Chapter Speakers Bureau, which could provide a central place for SQL Server speakers to register, load their presentation decks, and designate areas they will travel to. Moreover, speakers can identify if they are available to deliver LiveMeeting presentations. Even though the Speakers Bureau did not rank top in the PASS services/benefits mentioned above, the amount of survey feedback it received shows that it remains an acute need. According to the survey results, Chapters’ primary needs in a Speakers Bureau are:
 

  • 77%: Access to all speakers who live in local regions
  • 59%: Ability to search by the following (speaker name, topic name, location, travel radius, evaluation score, availability for a meeting date)
  • 47%: Access to speaker schedules so Chapters can know when speakers are traveling
  • 39%: Remote (virtual) speakers
  • 34%: Emergency speaker list – finding a speaker when there is a last minute cancellation
  • 26%: Post feedback on presentations that can be viewed/searched by other chapter/event leaders

Again, I want to thank all the Chapter Leaders who took the time to respond to this first survey, and I look forward to great participation in each survey in the future. I trust this summary gives the PASS membership a better window into our Chapters. With each survey and feedback channel, we hope to better understand the needs of our Chapters, Chapter Leaders, and members. In the meantime, I encourage your feedback—please let me know what items we should be asking about in the future.
 

— Douglas

Douglas McDowell
PASS Director of Chapters

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2010 PASS Summit Online

As we get deeper into the logistics and planning process for 2010 PASS Summit, Craig Ellis  from PASS HQ sent out an email today asking if we wanted to plan broadcasting a live track at the summit for the community not in attendance. This was based on some feedback and suggestions we had received from a couple of board and community members. I have put the discussion in front of the board and also want to solicit your input. Some of the considerations the board will need to weigh include...

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Upcoming PASS Board Meeting Agenda

 

Next week, the PASS board will be meeting in Person in Miami for our in-face board meeting. Following are the major agenda items for discussion during that meeting - please note that some of the agenda items may change. I will attempt to regularly post results of the board meeting as well as ongoing discussions/decisions. I will try and keep an eye out for any comments you may post here.

 

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

8:30am 9:00am

Breakfast  - Westin Diplomat 305 Conference Room

 

9am 9:15am

Board Welcome

Rushabh

9:15am -10:15am

Transparency

  • NDA vs. disclosure
  • Executive Committee Communication

Rushabh

10:15am  - 10:30am

Break

 

10:30am -12:00pm

Discussion of PASS’s three FY 2010 organizational Goals

  • 2010 Board Portfolios

Rushabh

12:00pm 1:00pm

Lunch

 

1:00pm 3:00pm

Business Plan/Accountability/Project Plan

Bill

3:00pm -3:15pm

Break

Bill

3:15pm 4:15pm

Project Prioritization (Hannes and Craig)

  • How the Board and PASS HQ review and prioritize projects
  • Includes online project tracking system for visibility

All

4:15pm -5pm

How to build two-way communication with PASS and the Community

Rushabh / Thomas LaRock

6:45pm

Board - Meet in lobby of Westin Diplomat

All

7:00pm 9:00pm

Board Dinner – Chef Allen’s (19088 NE 29th Ave Aventura FL)

All

 

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

 

8:45am 9:15am

Breakfast and Welcome – Westin Diplomat 305 Conference Room

Rushabh

9:15am -10:15am

Financial projections for FY 2010 revenues

  • Agree on a target attendee number

 

Bill

10:15am -10:30am

Break

 

10:30am 11:30am

Summit ideas - brainstorming

 

Rushabh

11:30am -12:30pm

Spring 2011 event discussion 

 

Rushabh/Judy

12:30pm  – 1:30pm

Lunch

 

1:30pm 2:30pm

Discuss election process

  • Goals
  • What we'd like to do differently
  • Improving transparency and gaining community input

Rushabh/Bill

2:30pm -3:00pm

Bylaw discussion overview – high level

Rushabh

3:00pm 3:15pm

Break

 

3:15pm 4:45pm

In depth Bylaw discussion

  • Focus on what we’d like to see accomplished rather than the actual wording

Rushabh

4:45pm 5:15pm

SQL Saturday status and discussion

Rushabh/Andy

Rushabh Mehta, President

 

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Follow on to Summit location survey

Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply to the Summit location survey results blog post, blogged themselves, commented, tweeted, or otherwise shared their thoughts. I and the other members of the PASS Board value your feedback, whether you agree or disagree with the decision. We're listening - and reading - what you're saying and I wanted to follow up with a quick update.

HQ has been looking at mid-US and East Coast sites as part of its ongoing task to investigate potential Summit locations. We haven't historically announced locations, or even begun serious review, this far in advance but I've asked PASS HQ to continue its research into cities and venues for 2013 outside of Seattle. We'll keep you posted as we have more information.

All of us on the Board are passionate about Summit. We truly believe it's the best user conference in the world and are working hard to make sure it only gets better. And it's nothing without you - our amazing fellow SQL Server community members. Thanks again for your feedback, ideas, healthy debate, and respect you've all brought to the discussion.

-Rushabh

Rushabh Mehta, PASS President
 

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Locating PASS Summit 2011 and 2012 - Connector Editorial by Rushabh

The PASS Summit location survey results came in a few weeks ago, and since then we've been analyzing the data, getting in costs from venues across the US, and reviewing with the PASS Board of Directors. You can find the results here.

At first glance, the results seem fairly clear: 81% of the 1,573 respondents want a PASS Summit on the East Coast at least every four years. When we look at responses from only 2008 and 2009 Summit attendees (our most successful ones by far), the number who want a future Summit outside of Seattle drops to 69%.

When we dig deeper though, other findings emerge. There is a disparity between wanting to have Summit on the East Coast and the desire to have access to plentiful, top-notch Microsoft resources at every PASS Summit. For all three questions pertaining to the importance of Microsoft resources, 69%- 84% of respondents maintain that having access to many, and varied, Microsoft resources is important to their Summit experience.

From these findings, we took two immediate actions:
 

  1. PASS HQ undertook a full-scale research and budgeting exercise for venues and hotels through the convention bureaus in the following East Coast cities: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, and Washington, D.C.
  2. The PASS Board of Directors conducted thorough discussions on the feasibility of a strong Microsoft showing in terms of presenters, experts, executives, and overall sponsorship support for a Summit outside of the Seattle area.

It took a while to gather and digest all the information, but here's what we discovered:
 

  • We would not be able to achieve anywhere near the same level of support from Microsoft as we do when Summit is held in Seattle. We would lose out on at least 50% and likely 75% of Microsoft presenters, developers, and SQLCAT and CSS staff – all things a majority of survey respondents listed as important or very important.
  • Based on Microsoft's release cycle history (major release cycles run approximately every 3 years, with minor ones often coming in between), 2011 or 2012 will likely be a launch year. It would be disappointing for the community to lose out on the advantages of being in Seattle during a potential release year.
  • Seattle is a very cost-effective location for a conference the size and scope of Summit. We were surprised to find that most East Coast locations we considered would cost substantially more and would likely raise registration prices and negatively impact the budget available to many other PASS activities, including Chapter resources and online events. We should also point out that survey respondents listed the cost of moving Summit to the East Coast as the least important of four PASS priorities (others included: Chapter resources, events such as 24 Hours of PASS, and the PASS website).

So where does this leave us? The Board has decided to hold PASS Summit 2011 and PASS Summit 2012 in Seattle for the reasons listed above. It was difficult weighing all the different considerations for the benefit of the SQL Server community, and we really appreciate the input we received. We feel that continuing to host PASS Summit in Seattle – in order to access Microsoft resources and support and keep costs down for the organization and for the attendees – is the best decision for the community as a whole.

We are listening to all of you who desire more PASS presence on the East Coast, and are currently looking into holding a smaller conference there in the near future. We’ll share more information as it becomes available.
 

Rushabh Mehta
PASS President

 

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PASS Location Survey Results

We're hearing what some of you are saying about PASS being slow to release the Summit location survey results and we are taking your concerns seriously. I hope this post helps provide some insight into our actions. We can, and will, improve the frequency and openness of our communications on issues of importance to our members in the future.

We know the process has seemed extraordinarily long to those not involved in the conversations. In hindsight, we should have released the survey info earlier instead of waiting until we had figured out our plan and conducted the research, which was prompted by the results.

We have always had plans to disclose the survey results to the community, but had decided to wait until we had weighed in on the results, did research, and met to discuss as a Board last week. Our next step is to issue the results and our decision for future Summit locations in this Wednesday's Connector newsletter - our usual and regular form of communication with our members.

Thanks for your patience and please stay tuned on Wednesday for the survey results and decisions!

- Rushabh Mehta, PASS President
 

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Chapters Vision for 2010

It is March already, and I have been spending all my PASS time in 2010 talking to Chapter Leaders and Regional Mentors about what we are doing in the Chapters portfolio in 2010. Now I’d like to get a broader update out to the community about what we are doing and the exciting things we have planned.

Chapters Vision for 2010: 3 Key Goals
Since my time as a leader of Atlanta.mdf (Atlanta, Georgia’s PASS Chapter) and as one of the first PASS Regional Mentors, I’ve had a passion for working with local chapters. So serving as the director of Chapters (virtual and physical) for PASS is an honor and a real treat for me.

Under the leadership of Greg Low, Blythe Morrow, and the Chapters Committee over the past 2 years, we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in the number of PASS Chapters around the world. We had 205 Chapters in 50+ countries as of January 2010, which is a 57% growth compared to the same time last year. And thanks to Thomas LaRock’s work in helping transition our Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to Virtual Chapters last summer, we currently have seven Virtual Chapters and have witnessed a huge ramp-up in free virtual training from many of those groups.

While continuing to build on that momentum and growth in numbers for 2010, we also want to make sure that all our Chapters are healthy, active, and growing in value to meet the needs of their members. In that spirit, we have three over-arching goals this year: Sustainability, Infrastructure, and Increased Value Proposition.

Sustainability
Launching a Chapter and keeping it going—and going strong—is hard work. For new Chapters, we need to assure that they are set up properly and that they have the support and information they need to start off on the right foot and survive those crucial early months. Existing Chapters go through rough times, too—experiencing peaks and valleys. So we need to be there for them as well, whether they need resources to help grow programs even more or push past a membership plateau or whether they are facing serious problems.

Our sustainability strategy includes providing a rich set of resources, leveraging the wisdom of our experienced Chapter Leaders, Regional Mentors, other volunteers, and PASS headquarters (HQ) resources. How to successfully set up a Chapter, best practices for running and  growing a Chapter, resources for finding speakers and sponsors, and other intellectual property will be readily available online. Plus, we are strengthening our Regional Mentors Program even more, working through those key PASS ambassadors to provide key communications and support to chapters in their area and feed the needs and ideas of their Chapters back to PASS.

Infrastructure
A strong, effective infrastructure is essential for sustainability at the Chapter level. Both our people and our technology assets are critical infrastructure focus areas.  We are evaluating how to support and align our Regional Mentors to provide a more robust and scalable program that meets Chapter Leader and membership needs.

PASS HQ is expanding the team responsible for community-related support, so Blythe will not be constantly treading water trying to stay on top of it all by herself. In the area of technology, we have a few projects in the queue: We are on the verge of rolling out a sub-site on sqlpass.org that will be dedicated to Chapter Leaders, housing announcements, content/IP, and other resources all in one place. In late 2010 or 2011, we want to make Chapter webhosting more robust with added event management and membership email capabilities (announcements/newsletters). Internally, we will add infrastructure to transition to a Chapter management database (so we can get away from current tools like Google Docs).

Increased Value Proposition
Communicating and expanding the value that PASS brings to Chapters is critical for attracting new Chapters and for improving the quality and strength of all Chapters. The first step here is creating a comprehensive inventory of all the benefits we provide Chapters. That list currently includes the free webhosting I mentioned earlier, a Live Meeting and TechNet subscription from Microsoft UGSS, event sponsorship and program support, a free Chapter Leader registration to one PASS conference per year, access to the Chapter Leader Listserver, PASS Regional Mentor support, and more.

Through the Regional Mentors and a full set of helpful Chapter Welcome Kits and Resource Kits, we’ll communicate everything that’s available to our Chapters and how they can access those benefits. Then we’ll loop back with Chapters around the world to explore how PASS can continue to expand its value proposition.

Thanks for what's ahead...
It’s going to be an exciting year. We are trying to move a lot forward at once, and we are starting to gain momentum. I look forward to working side-by-side with our dedicated volunteers and PASS staff to support our Chapters as they serve the SQL Server technical community. Thanks to each of you for your work!

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