PASS Update #24

Time to update you again on all things PASS. First, I haven’t made a lot of progress on the speaker bureau. Rushabh supports the plan to build what we need and I’ve sent an outline to the Board for comment (one received so far), and I’m waiting on results of the survey that went out to Chapters to make sure we’re getting input from our community leaders. Then we have to figure out who will do the actual work – internal, external, volunteers, all of the above. Have to admit I’m tempted to do just build v1 myself, if only to feel like I’ve accomplished something!

Thought about that some more after the first draft, and it points out to me visibly why we (PASS) often make such slow progress. I get busy at a work and lose a few days, email Rushabh (or whoever) and the same thing there. Add a request for something to HQ and maybe it adds a day or two. Then a con call to make sure we have shared understanding. And then trying to get some sort of general buy in from external stakeholders (and/or those interested) and you’ve got a recipe for slow. Same thing happens to most businesses. How do you make sure time and money is spent wisely, but still go fast? I don’t have a magic answer to that, but I think one way is to compress the decision cycle, which means putting the idea people in the same room for with the decision people to nail down a plan, and time boxing the next steps. Not without its own risks, but given a choice of failing quick or slow, I’ll go for quick.

How do we do that? Say another board member poses a plan that will cost $50k. Do I accept that we had the right people involved and say that worst case is we waste $50k? Or make them go back through more diligence?

Not fully though through, but I like the idea of grants. Allocate money, put the project up in board strokes, and take the chance that someone can make it happen. As I said, definitely needs more thought.

If you recall from last time I mentioned a proposal to hire more staff. This went up for a vote and it passed, a budget exception of about $120,000, or to put it different terms, we have to pull in another 175 Summit attendees to pay for it. I voted against it, for a few reasons:

  • We pared our budget to the bone to get through the year, taking away almost every bit of discretionary spending. I think we could have considered putting some of that money back before hiring staff.
  • I don’t feel like we’ve done a good enough analysis on how we spend our time. As I’ve written previously, efficiency is complex. The question I don’t think we answered was whether we (the Board) feel like we’re spending an appropriate amount of time in certain areas. I asked this back in January, and essentially got no answer because we don’t have the data.

Voting against it was not easy. We need full time staff to get things done, and I want our staff to work reasonable hours. We need to add support for things like SQLSaturday. Part of the increase is for a second IT person. We’ve never been good at technology, and if we can use the second person to implement our own Summit speaker management system, it should be self funding. That makes sense to go that far, but I’m far from convinced that we should have someone on permanent staff as a developer, mainly because we don’t have someone with IT management skills to manage them. In the end I voted no because it felt like a rushed decision.

For those of you that are considering running for the Board, this is a good example – consider how you want to participate and how well you take losing an argument!

Changing topics, we also voted on what to do about moving the Summit to the East Coast. The results of the survey we went out last month were interesting, and showed a mix of responses – obviously everyone would prefer it close to them, but there was a definite interest in moving the event around. I’ve asked for the data to be posted on sqlpass.org, so far we haven’t managed that, hopefully soon. I also requested that we release the full detail records scrubbed of identifying data, but it was determined that doing so was too complicated! I don’t know that we would have arrived at a different decision, but given that we are data people, I thought it would be nice to get some smart people looking at it, and maybe see if there were interesting follow up questions to be asked.

Going in to the call I really expected to move the Summit back to the East Coast every 2nd or 3rd year. Part of it was what model did we want to be? One model was Oracle World, held every year in San Franscisco. My preferred model is the Super Bowl, where we move from city to city each year, but with a bias towards Seattle to acknowledge our close ties with Microsoft. For those of you who have been with PASS for a while, we used to move around quite a bit. Chicago, Denver, Orlando, and Dallas, and I really liked that model.

Note: I’ve revised this post to remove the results of the vote. By convention PASS announces the location of the next Summit during the current year Summit.

Changing topics once more, I’ve been working on the transfer of SQLSaturday to PASS. It’s gone slower than I hoped on the technology side, but right now we should be done by March 15th. Blythe is really taking ownership of the community side, including heading to Charlotte for the upcoming SQLSaturday there so she can watch, and we’ll be putting a lot of time into transferring knowledge. She’s been joining me on the ‘get acquainted’ calls we do with those interested in hosting an event and that’s been an effective way to transfer knowledge too.

The biggest hurdle we’ve hit so far is handling money – or how to do it that is. In the past we collected money on behalf of events at no charge, and then sent them the money when requested. Good stuff, except sending the money required a social security number or tax id, making it a taxable event. We advised event leaders to hold back some of the money to cover the tax burden. Not a great system, but at least we had the ability to take credit card payments and hold cash securely until needed.

PASS is a not for profit, we do an annual audit, and one of the things that didn’t get adequate attention during the diligence was the money side of things. I didn’t see it as risk because our CPA was fine with our process, but it’s taking some time to iron out on the PASS side. Not cause for panic, but it’s definitely been painful to get it figured out. I expect that to be resolved shortly, and hoping we end up with a better solution than we had before.

While I didn’t expect that particular problem, I always expected pain at some point, that’s the nature of any acquisition (even when you get it for free!). I feel like so far we’re doing an ok job of moving things forward and I still remain confident that we can move SQLSaturday forward in a way completely inline with it’s grass roots philosophy.

Next time I’ll take about the upcoming election!

0 thoughts on “PASS Update #24”

  1. Dang Andy, you write these things and the whole world knows whats going on! I love it!!

    Id agree with you on almost every point. Its with trepidation that I see PASS BOD is proposing 2 events, while at the same time worried about more HQ staff $$/efficiency and a Microsoft presence at our current event. How much extra HQ staff will it take to pull off another event on even a partial scale of the summitt? What is the Microsoft presence going to be at an east coast event? Have they agreed to send even a single speaker to such an event? Will that take away from their involvement in PASS @ Seattle?

    Knowing my background with the program committee I’m keenly interested in how this east coast event will be managed, and if the logistics were thought of in the discussion at the BOD level?

    Now this part im shocked about, and frankly a little embarrassed.
    Why isn’t the data released? Knowing how vocal the community was about the location, I hope the BOD realizes that the data they based their decision on would be nice to see. I’m totally OK with the BOD releasing the data and saying, “We know best, we want the event in Seattle for these reasons X,Y & Z even if the survey doesn’t support it” After all PASS is a business and should be managed as such because the crowd may not always know whats best.

    Thanks again for all you do.

  2. In Seattle AGAIN for 2012? Jeez… I really get the clear signal that buddying up to Microsoft is the absolute top priority for some of the board members (not you, evidently).

    And to hide the voting results under the rug? That’s really shady. I’m pretty disappointed with that.

  3. First off, I’m glad I read your post before the edit. I’m not sure if it was because I have it in Google Reader and Gears cached it or if the feed is gonna catch up and I lose that information. I won’t comment on that decision so I won’t give it away. I’ll be commenting on the not publishing the results in a blog post since this comment is long enough.

    Certainly seems tough to be part of a board and, in my limited experience through being on a church board, it can be hard to get decisions made and/or the decisions always go the way of the person with the strongest personality. Although the PASS board has many strong personalities so I don’t know how that works.

    I agree that it would have been nice to put back some of the extras before hiring a new person, but I can definitely see that a new staff person might be necessary with the addition of SQLSaturday, especially if PASS wants it to grow.

    The money side of SQLSaturday is interesting and I’m sure that getting the process down will be helpful. I’d like to see that functionality extended to Chapters. That way chapters don’t have to worry about dealing with cash either, other than retrieving it from the account to cover expenses.

  4. Roy, I’d be in favor of that in idea at least, not sure we could scale the event there. How about setting up a SQLSaturday and give us a reason to visit to assess the prospects?

  5. Jack, as always appreciate your comments and look forward to seeing your blog post. As far as personalities, we do have a lot of strong personalities, but I don’t know that in itself causes problems or solutions. We all look at things in different ways, and speaking for me, I definitely realize that I’m not always effective at getting people to listen to my views, or in some cases not effective at listening to views of others!

    That’s human of course, but still an area that needs work for me.

    I’m on a really slow connection at the airport, will try to comment a bit more when I finally get to Charlotte.

  6. I like this post a lot. I”ll definitely be back. Hope that I can read a lot more insightful posts then. Will be sharing your knowledge with all of my friends!

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