PASS Update #3

It's been busy since my last update, lots of stuff to work on! I probably won't get it all in one post, but I'll try to hit the highlights. The main event over the past two weeks was my first board meeting in Seattle.

I arrived Monday afternoon and shared a taxi to the hotel with Kevin Kline. Kevin is a nice guy and has been with PASS since the beginning, and has the distinction of being the only two term President so far. He was kind enough to share some advice about how I might work on getting my ideas to succeed, and in general just talked about how things had been versus where they were going. Good conversation.

I had the chance after arrival to spend some time with Greg Low who heads up the PASS Chapters. Greg has done some great work on growing the number of chapters, and we talked about how/when to try to start translating our content into other languages. I'm sure most of you understand the challenges involved in that effort, but it's something that needs to some point. Deciding when is the challenge. We also talked the challenges of supporting community events with limited funding; Greg worrying that groups will be upset if they don't get funding, me believing that PASS can at least provide moral support (morale too!) and should do so. More on this in a bit.

Most of us were there for dinner Mon night and we talked shop some, but not entirely. Low key, and I called it a night about 9 pm so as not to be too tired for the first session on Tues. Tuesday we started at 7 am with a meeting with President Wayne Synder as he talked about the role of the Board, and our specific responsibilities, and our legal obligations (something to think about, we're ultimately accountable for both money and for things that go wrong). After that we had some opening stuff from Wayne about setting goals and meeting our goals - board members are volunteers, but clearly they have to shoulder more accountability for meeting goals than most. I thought he did a good job of stating his case, and won a little more respect from me by starting it by admitting there were areas where he had fallen short. I thought it was honest, fair, and a great way to level set.

Next up was a financial briefing. Some of that falls into the realm of confidential (you'll see it all in the once a year financial statement so don't worry), but it was part of the annual mid year course correction that is done once the final numbers from the Summit are done. For this year we're going to fall slightly short of our original 2009 budget, but each Director will be making some adjustments in spend to bring the difference back to zero. It's definitely a complicated process, as we're already accruing money and expects for FY 2010 and finance has to keep it all straight. Overall it was a good presentation, the current fiscal picture is sound, and the big challenge is to set a realistic budget for FY 2010 - something we'll complete at our May meeting.

We spent some time reviewing our mission statement, goals, etc - and while we made some progress, it felt incomplete. I think it's a good exercise because each year we have new board members and they need to understand/share the vision. But...we'll come back to this, because we weren't done yet!

From there we want into presentations by board members about their goals for the next 90 days. Bill Graziano started off by covering Marketing, which is primarily Summit marketing but includes general efforts as well. Nothing big to report here yet, they are forming plans for the Summit and seem to be in good shape to leverage what they learned in 2008.

Next up was Greg on Chapters, and his focus was technology needs (so that chapters are fully integrated into the main site & membership list), building regional mentors and sharing those lessons (he's had nice success outside the US), and working on a virtual speaker bureau (mostly technology).

Rick Heiges was next, his portfolio is PASS Community Connection, but he also currently handles MVP relations. Note that I'm going to try to state the following fairly, but realize I have some bias due to my involvement with SQLSaturday, and I abstained from the discussion of Community Connection related plans. We have a couple events in the works, but we're missing infrastructure to support it, and also some concerns at HQ (warranted I think) about the admin side if they really start to take off. Definitely needs technology assistance, but we won't know what we can get done over the next few months until Douglas McDowell gets up to speed this week and then we can fight for priorities. On the MVP side PASS hasn't done the greatest job in the past working with MVP's, and perhaps vice versa. Rick talked about needing to get information out to MVP's earlier about the Summit and in general engaging with them - all good stuff it seemed to me.

It was my turn next, and I ran longer than my allowed 30 minutes (not on purpose). There's a lot to do as far as content and communities, and I needed buy in from the board before starting some of those efforts. I'll have another post next week that goes into more detail, but a quick summary is that we're going to return to publishing the SQL Server Standard as PDF only, we're going to add some key pages to that have been missing, and we're going to work hard to help our members connect with content - especially from blogs. A key point of my strategy is to do the things we're good at, and not try to duplicate the work of other sites that are good at what they do.

We took a break then, but in truth it was really just moving the meeting to a less formal setting in the lounge area until dinner, and then on through dinner. I had a chance to meet some of the staff at PASS HQ and they really impressed me. They want to work and win, and they know that they need help and input to get there from the Board. It's hard to convey here, but I know that they'll go where I need them to go, just a matter of setting direction. Lots of good sidebars during this time, and I kept coming back to wondering what questions I didn't know to ask. It's literally a new job, and I don't have a day to waste understanding how things work, what needs attention, etc, etc.

On Wed we started out by working on our goals some more, and what on Tues seemed not like the best use of time really grew into something interesting. One part that was very good is that PASS has altered it's view on community events to support any SQL event - regardless of label - to the extent that it can. The other part that went back to my talk on Tues was that we've come to a firmer vision of the role of PASS and how it relates to other communities. I don't know that we have in a couple sentences yet, but the essence is; we will embrace those that support SQL Server, and we're going to use our voice to positively impact our profession.

We had a short presentation from Tom Larock about SIG's, and the big change there is his focus on treating SIG's as virtual/online chapters. I think he has some info on his blog and I expect more soon, but I think just refining the vision may give the SIG's a chance to succeed to a greater extent than they have in the past.

Douglas McDowell in at PASS HQ this week catching up on where we stand on technology. Not everything is about technology, but clearly there are places where PASS - like any other business - needs to make investments to grow and sustain. His role is coordinator and project manager; make sure we don't duplicate efforts, that projects fit within the scope of what we can do, and then help board members get it done. Note that in FY 2010 each board member will have funds allocated for technology, they can use those as needed with Douglas providing support. I don't envy him the challenge, but I think he can really help us move forward.

Pat Wright didn't get to present his goals for volunteers due to time constraints, but he's got a good v1 strategy for making sure that all our volunteers are treated well and more importantly, that we find tasks to fit their skills and available time.

We wrapped up Wed by having dinner and bowling with some people from Microsoft, and we spent a lot more time talking than bowling - well worth the time, and then we met up again after that and worked until 11 pm (again) on firming up ideas for the next quarter.

It was an intense 2.5 days for me. Parts of the meeting were a little bit blah, but I'm hard to please at times. I definitely see that the integration of new board members needs more attention to reduce the get up to speed time. I also see that for PASS, now is the time. We've had some small but measurable successes, we need to build on that and earn our place. There aren't many things PASS can do that you (or I) will say "wow", but I think the cumulative impact in the next year can be pretty good - if we execute. I left the meeting excited about working on my part of things, and really looking forward to the next meeting - hoping that I can say all my goals are accomplished and that the rest of the board can say the same.

I found the meeting to be positive and I'm making an effort to highlight that, but it doesn't mean I don't see some weak areas. Some of that is lack of direction, some of it lack of accountability, some of it that working with just volunteers is hard. I'm going to press the other board members to publish their goals and then we can all see what is being done or not done. Being less than perfect doesn't mean we don't have good people - I didn't see anyone there that I didn't want to work with or that I thought didn't care about the success of PASS.

I hope I didn't ramble too much. When the minutes come out I'll get a link posted in an update to the blog, and next week I'll tell you about my goals. Until then, I invite your comments, questions, and suggestions.