PASS Community Advisory Board

25 Mar PASS Community Advisory Board

Last week I talked about creating a ‘customer advisory board’ that would be dedicated to help providing feedback to and from the PASS Board of Directors. Since that blog post went out I have had a handful of conversations about the idea, including about a 15 minute talk with the Board during our meetings earlier this week. The consensus was that the idea had some merit, but not everyone was excited about it, and they had good reasons:

  1. PASS already has a group of volunteers, so why not just use them instead of creating some new, elite group?
  2. How are the discussions moderated to make certain that any NDA items are kept NDA?
  3. How are people selected for the group? Who decides?
  4. Why would anyone want to join? What incentive would there be for someone to participate?
  5. Who is allowed to start discussions?

Honestly, I really don’t have the answers to every roadblock tossed my way on this idea. All I know is that I feel we need to do something in order to increase and facilitate some open and honest discussions with the PASS Community. And right now I just don’t feel we have that vehicle. Well, not yet at least. And rather than let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’, I have decided to stop trying to make this perfect and to just dive in and get started.

I have decided to create a private group on LinkedIn that will be named the ‘PASS Community Advisory Board’, or PASSCAB. This is the vehicle that we will use to foster some communication between the Board and the Community. Unlike Thunderdome, we need a handful of rules, and we also need to decide who is allowed to join. So, here are my thoughts on the items we need to iron out.

NDA is always implied – Anything discussed in the group will be considered to be under NDA. No, I am not going to send out forms to make you sign where you promise to abide by an NDA. I am just going to rely on your honor and professionalism that you not discuss the threads with others, or write blog posts, or communicate the materials in any way. Much of the time we will probably write the words “this is NDA” when posting, just to remind people about things. If we find that you break the NDA then you are out of the club and shunned by everyone. And yes, there will also be times when we ask for you to talk about some things with others, but you should always ask first if it is OK to do so, just to be safe.

Anyone can start discussions – All Board members will be members of this group, and I expect that they will initiate some discussions, but I also want to allow for the group members to initiate discussions. We need the conversations to flow both ways.

You need to be invited to join – I am not trying to keep this group secretive, but it will be by invite only. I am going to have a badge created so your participation will be displayed on your LinkedIn profile, so people will know if you are a member. But who to invite? I have my own ideas, but I cannot have this limited to just my contacts. So, that is why I am going to ask for people to ‘nominate’ someone for membership in this group. If you know of someone in the community that you believe should be a member (including yourself), then either leave a comment here or drop me an email. For the time being I will approve the people that are nominated to join. I am not looking to limit membership to just bloggers, or just vendors, or any specific group. I want as diverse a group of community members as possible, spread throughout the globe, so that we can have the best possible feedback with regards to our ideas and direction. Oh, and you’ll need to be on LinkedIn, apparently, in order to take part in the discussions.

Why would anyone want to do this? Good question. I am not at liberty to hand out benefits other than a virtual pat on the back as well as the badge for people to display on their LinkedIn profile. And there is always the satisfaction of helping others, as well as having a place for your voice to be heard.

I really just want to get something started with regards to the PASSCAB and see if this can grow legs or not. If it does then perhaps we move to something with a bit more structure. If it dies, it dies, and PASS doesn’t lose out on spending time and resources trying to build something perfect.

I’ll get the group set up soon enough, and expect to start sending out invites shortly thereafter. If you want to be invited to the group, just let me know. And if there is someone you feel should be included, let me know that as well.

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  • K. Brian Kelley

    I nominate Andy Leonard, Jack Corbett, and Simon Sabin.

  • Jack Corbett

    I see I’ve already been nominated, so I won’t nominate myself. Certainly there are a number of people who would be qualified. In addition to those that Brian mentions Aaron Bertrand, Brian Kelley, Grant Fritchey, and Tim Mitchell would all be great.

    I definitely think the group should include international members like Simon and someone from Asia/South Pacific as well. Maybe Rodd Colledge from Australia.

    I’m willing to do it especially since I am considering running for the board, this would be a great way to get insight into how things work.

  • Grant Fritchey

    I want to second the nomination for Andy Leonard, Jack Corbett, Aaron Bertrand, Brian Kelley and Tim Mitchell. I know these guys and I think they’ll do what you need.

    I’d also like to add Steve Jones, Jessica Moss. Steve becuase… well, it’s Steve. Jessica, who I don’t know that well, because I’ve heard things about her that makes me think she’s a great candidate for something like this.

  • Jack Corbett

    I’ll second Jessica’s nomination as well. It would be good to have some women in technology in group. Pam Shaw would be a good candidate.

    It looks the problem is going to be choosing who should be involved, not finding good people.

    • Thomas LaRock

      the problem won’t be in finding good people, but in finding good people that want to participate.

      i don’t have a hard number cap for participants, so we can have as many as we need, which means i don’t have to choose between letting one person in at the expense of another.

  • Peso

    Where does Europe fit in?

    • Thomas LaRock

      right next to anyone else that wants to be involved on the PASSCAB. I know of a few people in Europe that I am expecting to invite, if you have someone you want to nominate, just let me know.

  • Pat Wright

    I would suggest Past Board members. I’m not trying to nominate myself just realizing there are a bunch of people out there that have a good working of PASS and it’s structures along with much time and experience in working with the Board.


    • Thomas LaRock

      nice, trying to get yourself into our club, huh?

  • Mike Walsh

    From PASS’ about us website ( :

    “The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) is an independent, not-for-profit association, dedicated to supporting, educating, and promoting the Microsoft SQL Server community. From local user groups and special interest groups (Virtual Chapters) to webcasts and the annual PASS Community Summit – the largest gathering of SQL Server professionals in the world – PASS is dedicated to helping its members Connect, Share, and Learn by:

    * Facilitating member networking and exchange of information through our websites, Chapters, annual Summits, regional and local events, and virtual communities
    …. PASS Mission
    Empower the global Microsoft SQL Server and Business Intelligence community to connect, share, learn and be inspired through networking, knowledge sharing, peer-based learning, and the ability to influence the direction of Microsoft SQL Server data platform.”

    Electronic communication is a bad way to communicate, especially with differing view points but I’ll try all the same…

    I’ll say that whatever board member threw out the comment about the Elite group and why not just use the existing volunteers was spot on.

    Why create a private group on an off forum (though most are likely already there) that people have to be nominated or self nominated to be a part of?

    In my mind – The entire point of an advisory board is to get feedback from a market or feedback from a better representation of a community.

    That makes wonderful sense for a product. SQL Sentry, Quest, Redgate are all ISVs in their own walls potentially isolated from the folks who use their applications but didn’t develop their applications… Real world users. That input is very valuable. It allows them to understand where they can improve, tweak or better deliver what their market wants. That is awesome. Helps them make more sales and helps the overall users of their product have a more well formed product.

    PASS is a community based organization with a volunteer board of directors made up from that very community they are based around. That community even votes (wish more voted but another story for another time)for who the board of directors are.

    Sounds to me like we already have an advisory board – The Board of Directors I voted for. When voting, I took that into consideration and voted for folks who I knew I could tweet, e-mail or talk to at an event with an idea. I knew that those people are open, in tune people who care about the community and if they saw merit, perhaps they would take input up to a meeting or consider it.

    Most of the frustrations and heartache (Now maybe I am not as loud a voice as many out there so perhaps I miss some of the frustrations that others get hung up on) seem to be on public areas and most of the board seems to know what those areas are.

    Why not just do more survey monkey surveys. Do more ustream conversations, provide an online “suggestion box” and let the board fill that role of Advisory board?

    I don’t know how much NDA stuff you really need to get in with if you are looking for input on how PASS can better accomplish it’s stated goals and mission statement. It sounds like soliciting feedback and giving NDA friendly public (to everyone, perhaps in a blog post like this on the PASS site from the Board.. perhaps in a community connector email, etc.) feedback on changes and input received would work out well.

    No anger or sarcasm was meant to be implied in the note and I don’t think any was conveyed. I just think that the board of directors is that advisory board and I don’t want to see us add additional levels of groups and clubs on top of it. In my mind, that kind of takes the “community” aspect out of the picture.

    Just take that as $0.02 from someone who loves PASS and is “semi-active” with PASS (new chapter leader, “volunteer-at-large” when I have time to work on projects, big fan and summit attendee)

    • Thomas LaRock


      Thank you, as always, for your feedback. It is most appreciated.

      The reason I am using LinkedIn is a simple one: i want to start something small and quick and see if it grows some legs. If it does, then we’ll look to make it more formal and make it a part of But right now I am not going to have PASS HQ spend any time trying to build this for me when I can simply use a group on LinkedIn (where PASS already has a presence, actually).

      The reason for the ‘nominations’ as it were was also simple: i know i don’t know everyone. Therefore, i need people to recommend others, or themselves, to me so I can include them in the group.

      Could we just do more surveys? Sure, but we don’t want to inundate people with surveys. Could we use existing volunteers? Sure, i expect i will have existing volunteers as members. But i don’t believe that relying on volunteers is as good as it sounds. How many people would you estimate serve as a volunteer for PASS? Now, take that number and divide by the roughly 50,000 members that PASS has. I would caution that only using the volunteers may be having us using an elite group that we are saying we don’t want. If I go with LinkedIn I have a good (or better) chance of touching those members of PASS that are not active volunteers.

      I don’t know how much NDA stuff we will have either, but i would be remiss if i didn’t mention the topic. It could be something fairly benign as future Summit locations, or something a little more serious like “hey, we are about to launch this thing and we want you to look at it before anyone else”. Either way, it is likely to be something that we may not necessarily want public at the exact moment in time.

      As much as we on the Board would like to be the only advisory board, we are looking for ways to make certain we can communicate with the members, others we operate in a vacuum. And that is all I am trying to do here: increase our ability to communicate. I believe this is one step in the right direction. I have other ideas as well…and i’m hoping i can find a group of people that might want to hear more.

  • Andy Warren

    I share the concerns Mike posted, but I know that we need to expose the Board to a wide array of opinions. For me it’s been talking to people at events. I’m willing to give this a try though.

    The challenge is that without a diverse group we hear what we want to hear, and with a diverse group we end up with a result that may not really help us. Still, that’s true of surveys and all else, so I’m still willing to try.

    The biggest challenge with soliciting feedback – regardless of technique – is that we have to set the expectation that we want to hear your voice, but we’re tasked with using our own judgement to make the final decision.

    • Thomas LaRock

      thanks Andy. that essentially all i am looking to do here, just give something a try and see how it goes.

  • K. Brian Kelley

    Andy, I too share some of the concerns that Mike does. It’s very easy to get tunnelvision. But on the other hand, I think having a group or two to carry out discussions, especially ones where more people can participate at their leisure is good. For instance, speaking one-on-one is good, but you miss opportunities like when a group of folks are gathered together and can ping off each other. The LinkedIn approach seems like a relatively painless way to get close to that.

  • Tobiasz J. Koprowski

    Hi Thomas,

    It’s interesting discusion, especially from my point of view, from Poland. Generally PASSCAB (and others *CAB e.g. GITCACAB) is good idea. I think that Communities need persons like Advisors. As You know it’s impossible to ask about everything Your boss (in this meaning PASS BOD) but why You wouldn’t have possibilities to ask someone near boss?

    In my opinion PASS it’s very large organization and isn’t very easy to promoting locally. I know some counties like UK, Australia, US have many representatives in this organization, and PASS is more and more popular, but in some others like Poland or East Europe we still working very, very hard to share ideas, knowledge, enthusiasm for our communities. PASSCAB would be helpful for communities.

    And did You, or Members of the Board, know what actually happen in any countries (like Poland) where PASS have Official Chapters? I’m sure – NOT. Of course if it is important for BOD :)

  • Brian Moran

    @MikeWalsh, more surveys are good, but if we do then people will just yell at us BoD losers for writing biased questions. :)

    I like Tom’s idea. I say we give it a try.

  • Mike Walsh

    Lots of good points on the pro side.

    I am not terribly opposed to the idea, don’t get that wrong. I was just thinking out loud with an alternate view point.

    I welcome more voices into the shaping of PASS so what harm can it do? Plus the fact that the board cares enough to try something like this and talk about it is a very positive thing to hear. That tells me that they care and are invested in feedback. Kudos, Tom for the idea.

    I’ll nominate myself to check it out 😉

    One thing I would love to see a survey on though? I am really curious what people think PASS is and means? Sometimes I wonder if a better mission statement/goals would help some of the squabbles and debates. I would be interested to see what folks think PASS is all about.

  • Jack Corbett


    I agree that PASS has not marketed its mission statement and goals well. If you check out the By-Laws there is a pretty clear purpose statement. I’m not sure PASS is holding to that, but it is there.–%20June%202009.pdf

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  • Steve Jones

    I’d third (or fourth?) Jessica Moss’ nomination. I’d add in a few other people.

    Brian Knight or Patrick Leblanc
    Buck Woody (MS alt view)
    James Rowland Jones
    Michael Coles
    Jeff Moden
    Kathi Kellenburger

    I think this makes sense since the BoD is a closed system. They don’t get to step back and view things because they’re caught up in day to day things.

    As far as existing volunteers go, I would hate to overload them. As geeks we tend to try and get all the things done until we can’t and then we drop a lot. I’d hate to have someone stop working on other projects because they like this one more or they think this is enough for their volunteerism.

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