PASS Update #36

(Cross-posted from Andy Warren's blog on

We had our monthly Board of Directors call on July 8th, and as is fairly common, the call went smoothly. Unusually though, I had two items on the agenda, the budget for the "spring event" and the SQL Server Standard.

The budget went through a number of revisions, starting with a super minimalist version in my original proposal and over the course of the process ballooned up to a no profit budget. I think it’s natural to go through that, looking for places where the corners were cut too sharply and fixing them, thinking of places where you want to do nice things. As we got close to final, I really felt like we had gone too far, and started looking for things to cross out of the budget. We went back and made some spending items conditional on hitting certain attendance numbers, took some things out, and ended up with a budget that should deliver a modest profit back to the organization if all goes well. Profit is important. It makes us manage to a budget, makes us make hard decisions, and hopefully gives us another small but interesting revenue stream that can in turn help support other activities. The event budget was approved and that really helps get things moving, and I’m glad to be done with that task!

The second part was the discussion of the Standard. This has been part of my portfolio since last year, relaunched in single-article PDF format to try to continue the great work my friend Steve Jones did in the years when we owned the print magazine. Grant Fritchey took on the role of editor, and so far we’ve produced 7 issues of great content. Yet, when I did a recent review of the project, the click-through rate was pretty low, and even with much better marketing it didn’t seem like that we could generate enough content to create the traffic flow to justify creating the content. Chicken and the egg scenario. I thought about it some, and early this week sent  a note to Rushabh Mehta recommending that we would probably be best served by closing down this project.

About the same time we found that we needed to revise our recently completed FY 2011 budget to account for about $50k less than expected revenue. For Rushabh and the rest of the Board (and me), it wasn’t a hard call to pull about $10k of that from the Standard budget. We voted yesterday to end the SQL Server Standard project, and to look at funding other writing projects on a case by case basis out of the special projects budget.

On content and workflow, I think we got a lot of things right:

Grant Fritchey, Brad McGehee, and the rest of the volunteers did a a great job on the project, so why did it fail? Without trying to make excuses, here are things I think were involved:

At the end, we have to call this a modest failure. We could have kept going; I think the right choice was to stop. Definitely not exciting to blog about ending one of my projects. I was reminded on the budget call that it’s OK to fail sometimes, and that’s logic I agree with – to make gains you have to take some risks. Still, not fun to fail.