PASS Update #23

January has been a slow month for me as far as PASS involvement, I show about 10 hours logged for the month, most of that on calls or email. I’m still thinking on the speaker bureau project and expect to send Rushabh some early options in the next couple weeks. Work on the online store is still in progress, right now PASS HQ is evaluating Cafe Press and Zazzle to see which might fill our needs best to sell PASS branded items.

We had our monthly Board of Directors call on Jan 14, and it was a low key call for the most part, no  motions up for vote, just discussions of various things in early phases. One of the topics brought up by Rushabh was wanting to hire four additional staff people for PASS HQ. Over the past couple years we’ve realized that for things that need to be done consistently it just doesn’t make sense to rely on volunteers. I don’t mean that to sound bad, just the reality is that volunteers are subject to reality spikes where life or work intervenes. When that happens volunteer work gets pushed down the stack, and there are things that just have to be done – the bi-weekly Connector newsletter for example.

Our philosophy right now is to use volunteers when we need SQL technical expertise, or when we are developing a new idea or process. Once it’s working and stable, we will transition it to HQ. I agree with this strategy, but it’s starting to put pressure on HQ to do all the work that is tasked to them – leading to Rushabh’s discussion of hiring more staff.

This turned into an interesting debate. I’m not opposed to hiring more staff in concept, but the request seemed very adhoc. My questions were; how are we going to pay for them, and are we sure that we are running at reasonable efficiency. Starting with money, just my guess on the cost would be about an additional $200k annually (possibly more). That’s about 10% of our current budget, and in this economy that feels aggressive. The other part is harder, are we reasonably efficient? That’s a hard question to ask without stepping on toes, but it’s important. Overall I’ve been pleased with the work that HQ does, but as you all know over time you can easily end up spending time on things that don’t matter, or that really don’t justify the ROI.

I don’t want to micro manage HQ, yet I feel that some efficiency gains are possible. One of the things that contribute to that is that I don’t have a firm grasp of how many hours my projects take on a weekly basis at HQ. I think I’d feel better if I could see the total hours how many are being allocated to Board support and how many are ‘overhead’ (things we’ve turned over to HQ). That might result in some Board members reassessing whether the cost was appropriate, and at least we would have looked.

Another board member stated that if Rushabh believed that we needed the staff we should approve it and not micro-manage, trusting that he has done the diligence. I strongly disagree with that, as I believe that my most important role on the Board is to make sure that we stay financially healthy, and that means asking for details when we talk about a large budget increase. I don’t want to audit how much they spend on paper clips. I won’t rubber stamp budget requests either.

At this point we’re waiting on more information before making a decision. We need firm salary numbers, information on where we are spending time (money), and we need to be pretty confident that we can support the budget increase (we don’t want to hire and then get forced into a layoff).

Ultimately I may well vote for the additional staff. What I hoped to show you here is that PASS is a business with a budget and staffing needs, and that early conversations about anything often look like sausage making – ugly!

Also, right now minutes have been posted through November 2009, available at (login required). I’d like to encourage you to read the minutes each month and ask questions, it’s a good way to stay informed about the overall direction of PASS.