More on Strengthfinders

This past week I attended a one hour facilitated group session that was a continuation of the Strengthfinders assessment.  One part was looking at where our strengths were in regard to four team zones (3 of mine fall into strategic thinking) and the rest was looking at the potential weaknesses that correspond with a strength. Intuitively that seems sound and something I’ve always tried to be mindful about. For example, being a Learner was one of my top 5 strengths and the potential weaknesses include trying to learn things that have no direct bearing on the job (yes, that’s me at times!) and learns a lot but produces little (I’d like to think I’m reasonably effective at getting things done).

We had a group discussion with optional participation, a fine bit of facilitating – it lets everyone interact as they prefer. It just reinforced me for differently we see the world. For example Achievers are driven to get stuff done – whatever stuff they can find if they don’t really really focus. Empaths absorb emotion – a colleague that is down brings them down, and vice versa. There is nothing with those, or a Learner like me, they are just different. Its a useful context for discussion. The one downside I see is that with so many categories it’s hard to just think about someone and identify their strength compared to a tag like “introvert”. I’m curious to see if the next session goes into that more.

They say your strengths change at times, I don’t know. Maybe? Or is just the ones that you’re using right now? Really interesting to figure that out.

I don’t know that we’re born with our strengths, but they certainly form at an early age. My Mom tells a story about me at age 4 or 5 or 6. She finally got me a toy truck I’d wanted and then I took it apart – I wanted to see how it worked.  I don’t know that I’ve changed much since then, I like to know how things work!

As a team builder this is simple, useful, and fairly non-intrusive from the perspective of a usually introverted and definitely private person. It probably depends some on the facilitator. One of the other attendees shared that they knew of a time that hired based on the assessment (I don’t know if that was to achieve balance or to get particular strengths). Considering them seems logical, but I don’t know that I trust it enough to make hiring decisions based on it. I think it would be a very interesting interview question to discuss how they mitigate the potential vulnerabilities that come with their strengths – I’d care less about the answer and more whether they acknowledged the potential vulnerabilities at all.

The ROI of SQLSaturday for PASS & Decreased Event Funding

Returning to the post about Making SQSaturday Sustainable (see also a follow post  about addressing concerns) it mentioned two topics that I wanted to look at more; the ROI for PASS and the decrease in funding to events.

For the past few years the standard has been for PASS to sponsor each SQLSaturday at a mid-level amount, typically $500. The post reduces that to $250 and seems to say it will be only for events that need it and/or first time events. I’ve always considered that sponsorship an important part of the formula. Holding a SQLSaturday isn’t a requirement for a Chapter and it’s certainly a lot of effort. Contributing funds whether needed or not is a way to incent Chapters to hold an event. It was a part of the legal dance that sets up these events as separate entities, done so that any agreement signed by a local leader isn’t in any way binding on PASS. Providing funds made PASS a sponsor and gave them a fair (I’m not a lawyer) way to interact with attendees and to gather names. The game has changed somewhat since the beginning as attendees are automatically added to the PASS membership list (they can obviously then opt back out if they want). This leads to my first question about the change: if PASS doesn’t provide cash, do they expect an automatic sponsorship and at what level? If so, is that unfair?

Let’s say we have 120 events a year at $500 each. $60,000 out of an $8 million dollar budget. That’s noise, about 1% of the budget. To be fair that is in addition to the cost of having an evangelist on staff and supporting the SQLSaturday website and any revisions needed.  I question that we need to reduce the spend in this area. If we doubled the number of events as I hope we do, it’s still a trivial number in the scope of the budget.

Now the flip side is that many events don’t need the $500. Most accept the funds – we do here in Orlando – and use it in some way to further local goals, but most years we would survive just fine without it. I’m not opposed to giving more money for first time events as a way to get them going.  I don’t mind spending differently, I mind spending less. Off the cuff, what if we said:

  • First time events get a guaranteed $500 sponsorship, plus  a dollar for dollar match up to $1000 in collected local sponsorship fees (excluding the $500 from PASS of course). I think few of us have really worked on the local sponsorship angle and that’s something we should incent.
  • Repeat events (to keep this simple) can opt-in for the $250 sponsorship if they need it. If they don’t, then that money goes to some kind of rollover fund, not back into the general budget. I suppose we could make this a rule based on the budget – make events automatically ineligible if they collect more than $5k or $10k, but I suspect if the money went to a good purpose (see my last bullet point) events would cheerfully forego the funds
  • Events that repeat five years in a row get a bonus contribution of $1000. This would reward sustained effort and be a more substantial chunk of cash when received. I think that supports the goals of PASS.
  • I’d also like to see PASS give SQLSaturday speakers a gift for speaking at some number of events on a sliding scale. Maybe it’s a $100 or equivalent for speaking at 25 events (goal #1), $250 or equivalent for speaking at 100 events (goal #2), etc.

Those are ideas, I’m open to a different approach, but I think it’s important that PASS put money into SQLSaturday. Not discounts to Summit, not something that only benefits one person, but real cash. If that cost grows because we’re successful, well, then we’re down to talking about the ROI.

What is the ROI for PASS? Not just for sponsoring the events, but having them at all –  sponsorship, web site, staff? It adds up to I’m a guessing a $300k-$400k total annual expense. Not trivial if so. The simplistic way to look at it is to measure how many new members generated from SQLSaturday eventually attend the Summit. In sales terms, how many conversions? I haven’t see the number, but I bet it’s not large. Free and local is easy compared to $1500+ for registration and $1000+ for travel. If we guess that the “profit” on a Summit registration is $1000 (it’s probably less) we would need to generate 400 new registrations for Summit each year – an unrealistic goal.  Of course that doesn’t count the advertising value or  the sense of PASS being a successful community that might eventually lead them or a colleague to attend the Summit. Or we could measure success as new members (new email addresses!). A useful measure, but one that is going to decline somewhat year over year as the event organizers gradually reach most of the local potential attendees.  None of that is bad, but it can’t be all – not for organization that is supposed to be grass roots.

I’d like to see those numbers – how are we doing about converting SQLSaturday attendees to going to paid events? Or to chapter meetings? Are Chapters more or less effective at driving paid registrations? We should look at the per event. What could we locally do to improve those numbers?

There are other measures we could use – one is cost per hour of technical training delivered. I’d like to see someone work on those numbers.

PASS does what a not-for-profit type business should do – it has an annual fundraiser (the Summit) and then uses any “profit” from the fund raiser to do do good for it’s intended cause, in ways large and small. It’s incredibly important to not just be all Summit all the time. We have to make investments/out right spend to support various efforts that do good. I’m a fan of spending on things that benefit many such as improvements to the tools, but that only goes so far – you can’t buy the pizza with web tools. PASS can’t just pay for everything everywhere, it’s not scalable. It can use the available funds in ways to incent behaviors and try new things. SQLSaturday is in turn a membership drive (that benefits PASS too) and a fund raiser, and then any “profit” from that can then be used to do more good. Maybe it’s a free pre-con, or giving a speaker that comes in from out of town a gas card or a good meal, or just buying the pizza for the chapter when the sponsor falls through. If we’re going to talk about whether every SQLSaturday team spends it’s funds in the best possible way then we should have the same conversation about how PASS spends it’s money.

I can see trying to make better use of the funds PASS has, and I think my suggestions above are just a variation of what they are trying to do. That might be the right thing to do. I think it merits discussion with the event teams along with wider member input before a final decision. I think it’s equally important to say we want to reduce spend here and increase spend there. If we’re just reducing the spend, blah. If we’re going to do something better with it, I’m very interested.

I’ll close with this – I’m frustrated that decisions are being made without hearing from those affected, or at least appear to be. How would asking for input hurt? At the least it might mean that the final message of change makes a better case for why the change is being made.

The End of the BAC–Why?

In a post titled The Future of the BA Community PASS announced that there would be no Business Analytics conference in 2017 and that the new strategy would be multi pronged, focused on local groups and events. I’ve never been a fan of the concept of the BAC so it was with mixed emotions I read the announcement that was presumably intentionally vague, along the lines of ‘left to pursue other opportunities’.  We’re pulling the plug after 4 tries, good – sometimes that’s necessary. But why did it fail? The May 2016 Board minutes are all happy about the BAC, there was no signal that the event was struggling in any way. What went into the decision? I’d like to hear more about that. Are we serious about local events and what does that mean? PASS has been working on that strategy since December 2014.

I believe its ok for PASS (and all organizations) to take measured risks. Not all will work, that’s the nature of risks. Taking risks means talking about the risks and considering what the doubters doubt, then deciding whether to keep going, amend the strategy in some way, or kill the idea. I never felt like PASS talked about the risks or listened in a meaningful way to the ones (like me) that had concerns about the scope of the risk and the lack of a grass roots strategy. I’ve never felt that PASS was transparent about the success of the event with real data, not just gross revenue. Clearly there have been course corrections along the way, perhaps to the point there is nothing left to try – or is there?  Without knowing the details, it’s hard to know. I’ve said before that I think there is plenty of room for smaller, focused events. Why can’t BAC be a 400 person event held at an Embassy Suites? What about the goal of building the BA community? What’s the vision for that? Do we expect to have BA Chapters – a question we’ve asked multiple times? Or, as is already happening, is just local chapters and events adding in various BI/BA content at their discretion and availability? Or was that just the post that closes out four years of zero sum effort?

I only mind a little that this failed. I mind a lot that we’ve spent 4+ years, added staff, spent money, and not done as could have been done for the PASS community that already exists. If you read the minutes over the past four years it has taken up a a lot of Board time and HQ resources. With BAC ending the Board can refocus (as is planned I’m sure) and we can also refocus HQ, which includes revisiting the staff assignments and perhaps making some adjustments there.

I think doing this was a tough decision that was made in the best interests of the organization. I’m not interested in criticizing the path that got us here, but I’d like very much to make sure we’ve learned the lessons from it.  We can’t just talk openly about our successes. We need to make sure the next generation of leaders learn about successes and failures and risks, and how we handle that within our community. I’d also like to see an open discussion about where we go next. How will we serve our existing members better? How will we support the small but growing communities that use R and PowerBI? How will this decision affect Board portfolios and the PASS budget? I hope we have that conversation.

600 Miles, Limits, Fears, and Possibilities for SQLSaturday

Last week PASS published some new guidance for SQLSaturday that sets a 600 mile rule (has since been updated, still keeps the radius) to keep events from being held too close together and another that reduces the funding from PASS for most events. I appreciate the stated goals, find myself a bit frustrated at the lack of impact analysis that should have accompanied the change, wonder if total funding is being reduced or just reallocated, and, as often I do, question why PASS seems to publish changes like this without prior public discussion.

As I read and have since re-read the post, the thing that stuck with me most is that we are indirectly setting a cap on the number of events we can have and we seem to be doing so based on the perception that the market can only support X amount per weekend or per year. Is that good thing? Have we reached the limit of what we can do?

We have always worried about limits. Way back when SQLSaturday was starting we heard from almost every prospective organizer one of what I call the four fears (concerns). Interestingly few organizers had more than one concern, but that one – it was important. A deal breaker. What we tried to do was to find a combination of coaching and strategy to address each one, to help them reach that point of “I think I can do this now”. Here’s that list:

  • Finding time/the amount of work.  Having the web site, tools, and some documentation all helped to do this. We tend to take them for granted now, but together they might account for 5% of the effort, but it was a critical 5%.
  • Finding a venue. We stressed free over paid, especially over the first one. We shared examples of venues found and encouraged out of the box thinking and using the local network. Stressing free was key – taking on a big financial commitment isn’t something a team should do on their first event.
  • Finding speakers. We didn’t understand at the beginning the eco-system that would evolve. We had a glimmer of it when Geoff Hiten and TIm Mitchell came to Jacksonville to see what was going on. We made it easy to contact the speakers we knew about, we broadcasted event launches, tried to attend a lot of them, and somehow that worked. Just having a list mattered. Remember back in 2007 & 2008 we weren’t nearly as connected to each other as we are now.
  • Finding sponsors/funding. In many ways this is a repeat of the finding speakers answer. We built a list, had a semi-standard way of dealing with sponsors, and tried to teach that you should spend based on receipts and not on grand plans. Still, it was a concern. Back when we had 10 events a year we thought this might not be sustainable. So we hedged. We added the optional lunch fee to cover the single biggest cost (assuming a free venue). Optional fit the mantra of guidelines and options over rules, and it gave our venue partners an out – they could say this is a free event.

Kudos to PASS for budgeting to pay for a coach/evangelist and sponsoring each event. I think we take those a little bit for granted as we run our 2nd, 3rd…10th!…events, but it’s invaluable to know that there is someone you call when you don’t know how to do something, or even what to do, and having some guaranteed money is a nice thing to have, at least the first time out.

We’ve worked on mitigating those fears, but they are still there, though perhaps not in the same proportion. If you’re not in the US you might well still struggle to find speakers. Finding a venue is the ultimate local challenge – we can’t just give you the answer. The work, well, it’s still there – it takes sweat to make it all happen. Sponsors & money are still a worry for some. There is always something to worry about and to manage. In language we speak, there’s always a bottleneck.

But getting back to the topic of limits, I think that as we’ve grown we’ve added a fear to the list: competition. If you’re running an event and there are other events on the same day, whether they are 100 miles away or 1000 miles away, you’re competing for speakers and sponsors. It’s a valid concern. As we increase the number of events, regardless of the distance or what day they happen, we’re competing for dollars and speakers. I can understand it would be frustrating to get fewer speakers or fewer sponsor bucks than the previous year due to ‘competition’. Frustration aside though, let me ask – how much real impact would it have on our ability to deliver free training to our local members?

We average 50 speakers for SQLSaturday Orlando. If we dropped to 25 we could have each speaker (I suspect happily) do two sessions each. If it dropped to 12 we would probably run fewer tracks and put them in our biggest rooms. If we received zero dollars from out of  town sponsors  we could still provide coffee and donuts, lunch, and a speaker shirt for those that wanted one. If we received zero dollars from any sponsor we would probably not provide coffee/donuts, we’d pull together our pocket change to pay for lunch for speakers and that would be that. We’re committed to making it happen. What would the impact on our attendees? I think they would miss the sponsors, miss the donuts and the coffee, and otherwise enjoy getting what we promise and deliver – a great day of free training.

That said, it’s not unfair to look for a way to mitigate the concerns. The 600 mile rule is one way. An alternative I prefer is a 100 mile guideline, where if two cities within 100 miles of each other want to host on the same weekend they have to agree. If they don’t, we’ll let PASS broker a compromise or make the final call. We’ve done pretty well with favoring guidelines over rules, I hope we continue that.

Free training. That’s why we’re in this, to train our peers and grow our craft. It’s nice to have money to spend on near-essentials and nice-to-haves, it’s nice to have 20, 30, even 50 speakers, and it’s great to aspire to increase attendance – but none of that should be more than important than accomplishing that fundamental goal. I hate to see fear or imposed limits reduce our ability to train anyone that wants to learn about what we do. That’s not criticism. I stand in awe of what we’ve accomplished together.

Thinking about growth and the impact of growth is a good conversation, one I’ve tried to start here, because it’s not just PASS and not just us, each influences the other. PASS tries hard to respond to concerns and I think they try equally hard to respond to challenges. What if we start thinking about what it take to reach the top 100 cities in the US each year? Or to reach 2x as many people in 2017? Or to reach 20 new countries? Not numbers for the sake of numbers, but to reach people that need and want training and the chance to build connections that will last a career, if not a lifetime. I’m optimistic about the possibilities.

Karla Set the Standard

Last week Karla Landrum announced that she will be leaving her position as Community Evangelist later this year after five years. That means change for PASS and for us and for Karla, but just the nature and scale of that pending change illustrates how much Karla has done in the those five years.

Karla was the first evangelist that worked for PASS that had roots in the community. She had built and run a Chapter, built and run SQLSaturday Pensacola, and built a very good network within the SQL community before her first official day at PASS. It’s not hard to imagine that it’s easier and more effective to evangelize if you’ve walked the walk and enjoyed the journey. No one can listen to Karla talk about SQLSaturday without realizing it’s her true passion – the essence of evangelizing.

How do you measure the impact of an evangelist? New events? Total events per year? New countries reached? By any measure Karla succeeded beyond what anyone ever thought was possible. SQLSaturday in Turkey! 500+ events! Plus her work on Chapters, Regional Mentors, the Summit Community Zone, and and a lot more.

Karla has done a lot of things well, but I think what she did that mattered most was building trust with event leaders. Prospective event leads have a lot of concerns and it’s a big deal to know that the person telling you that you can do it is the same person you will be calling when you have questions or need help. For experienced event leads it meant that if you had a concern or frustration it was heard and you got a response. There was no handoff – Karla supported what she evangelized.

I find no cause for sadness as I think about her decision. Karla has made a difference in ways large and small, noticed and not noticed, and in the end making a difference is what matters most. I respect and admire her decision that it was time to make a change. Not an easy decision I’m sure, but one that is right for her and for us.

Karla, thank you for doing so much so well – you set the standard.

P.S. We still have time left, can’t we get Wyoming?

 

GIT Learning Resources

I’ve spent most of my career using VSS and TFS, mainly because that’s what was being used. Better any source control than none. Now I’m working with a tam that uses Git, so I’m learning enough to check-in changes and merge and clean and the other basics. I’ve gathered a few resources, you’ll probably use more than one and which ones depend on how you learn best.

 

 

Retrieving the SQL Server License Key

Strangely enough its been a long time since I installed SQL in production. It’s almost always done by someone on the server team and that’s fine with me, clicking the wizard (or running the install script) isn’t the interesting part. Today though, I needed to add a named instance (also rare) and didn’t have the license key. Silly to be blocked for such a small thing. A quick search led me to this bit of Powershell that retrieved the key after a couple of edits. This script looks like it might avoid the edits, but I didn’t try it (it was second on the search results).

I wonder about the merit of requiring the key to be entered when there is already an existing instance on the server. Probably not worth the effort for such an edge case. Going further though, is there still value in having a license key? I’m not arguing the licensing aspect, just how we do it. I’ve never seen anyone check the license keys. You do an inventory and a true-up and that’s it.

PASS Nominating Committee Update

Today PASS released a bunch of stuff for the upcoming election including the attributes of an “ideal candidate”. We put in quite a bit of time on that description, in part because people often ask “am I ready” and in part because it is the next step in doing a better job of qualifying candidates (and someday, in providing training to help those candidates prepare).

I hope you’ll understand that this “ideal” is a dream and a goal, but not a requirement. We’re never going to have perfect candidates, nor do I think we necessarily described the attributes that a perfect candidate might have, or even think a candidate that is less than our ideal may not serve exceedingly well. We just tried to write something that would help someone prepare to serve successfully and by success I mean both serving the members well and being able to look back on it as positive experience.

We simplified the application, not to reduce the time required (though it probably does take a little less), but to ask questions that mattered, either to the NomCom or the voters. Some are to guarantee a pre-requisite is met, but many are there to be “question generators” during the oral interviews and public interactions during the campaign. The application is one good way to compare candidates side by side. Is it perfect? Nope, but I think better than it was. Think about it as we vet candidates this year, what else can we reasonably ask them to provide that helps you make your decision?

We also left in, at least for this year, the somewhat ambiguous language around what Chapters can do to stump for (or not) candidates. That ambiguity is in my mind a mistake from the last time I served on the NomCom. I advocated for the change but not for the communication and discussion needed to make it work without confusion. We were reluctant to do too much change this year (and so repeat that mistake), but it’s an area that still needs much thought. It’s not simple, at least to me.

 

I think we’ve done good work, thoughtful work, but once again we’re doing that work behind a wall. The Board will review and approve our changes, but that’s far from having a public discussion before those changes are submitted. I have been and remain uncomfortable with the NomCom reviewing and revising rules, potentially each year. That’s not to attack anyone involved or question their ethics, I just don’t think its good governance to not have public discussion of changes. More than that, I fear, for lack of a better word, that future NomCom’s will not appreciate the subtleties or goals of some of the rules and will do wholesale rewrites. We need a system that allows change, that responds to issues, but doesn’t allow big changes without significant member input.

If you’re reading this I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read through the link at the top, then think about who you know that is ready, or close to ready, to run for the Board, and contact them. A bit of encouragement can go a long way.

 

Names From the Past

Can you guess what all of these people have in common?

  • Shawn Weisfeld
  • Joe Healy
  • Barry Ralston
  • Trey Johnson
  • Jon Winer
  • Wes Dumey
  • Donnie Reynolds
  • Kevin Jacobs
  • Joseph Memmo
  • Brian Knight
  • Michael Antonovich
  • Declan Link
  • Patrick Thompson
  • Jeff Garbus
  • Jim Blizzard
  • Ken Tucker
  • Jessica Moss
  • Bayer White
  • Joe Celko
  • Judy Pipia
  • Jean-Claud Armand
  • Michael Wells
  • Brandon Kelly
  • Pam Shawn
  • Chris Rock
  • David Eichner
  • Jose Fuentes
  • Kendal Van Dyke
  • Scott Farriss

Probably a few things, but for this post the correct answer is “they all submitted sessions for SQLSaturday #1”. Many (most) are still around, still technical, still participating in various ways. Hoping we can get a few (or more) to return to Orlando this fall for our 10th SQLSaturday.