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Why is someone called a volunteer?

One of the terms that survived hitting the cutting room floor in my 2008 ASUG/Sapphire short was “nexus”, a word I used to describe being between technical and business users.  I’d like to expand on that phrase in describing crowd dynamics with a group of over 200 volunteers who met over portions of 3 days in Dallas Texas this past weekend.

A long time ago, ASUG group leaders (perhaps 20 — I wasn’t a gruppen back then) met in face-to-face meetings to strategize, collaborate and network outside the conference planning and conference attending cycle.   Why? Because there is more to a successful Users Group than putting on huge physical events.   The group then expanded to include Special Interest Group chairs (maybe 100 people), and then grew to include Chapter chairs (another 100 or so), the folks who work on a regional level for a State, or part of a State, or even multiple States.

For the past year, I’ve served as a community facilitator for 8 special interest groups within ASUG.   Gretchen Lindquist (an SAP Mentor) was the Program side, Breck Whitten managed Influence, and I did “year round” work, meaning everything else. Or, anything I could get my hands on. Karin Tillotson (another SAP Mentor) and Sue Kehoan (yes, another SAP Mentor) are 2 others in our team that go above and beyond the standard role to provide additional content at annual conference.  At last year’s planning meeting, we decided to emphasize newsletters and webcasts. At this year’s meeting, I was happy to report that our team put out a monthly newsletter on time, every month. As for webcasts, we planned to host at least 24, or 2 per month. We did 21 webcasts by my count – I would have been happy with 12.

This year, Gretchen decided to concentrate on the Security SIG, leaving her role as my counterpart at the community level.  I found I was defaulting to chief cat herder.

We had turnover in volunteers this year.  Going from 8 SIGs to 9 SIGs, we previously had 3+16=19 positions, now we have 3+18=21 positions.  Four were unable to attend the weekend meeting, and we have 3 vacancies, so there were 11 of us? Wait, the new SIG wasn’t invited, so carry the 2, um, wait, I’m holding 2 positions, so count me twice. Those Darn Cats! &trademark;

The Nexus

At Monday’s keynote session, Paul Glen, author of Leading Geeks, spoke about the challenges of managing technical people.  He had a number of witty slides, witty sayings, and otherwise engaging themes.  I could definitely see myself, my teams at work, and especially, my BITI team.  There are 4 “Technical” communities within ASUG. Besides BITI, there’s BI, there’s Portals, and there’s EA.  BITI is everything else.  We’re at the center, we’re technical pioneers, and we’re usually the “go-to” people at our companies, and within ASUG.

Paul described doing time-lapse photography to see whose cubicles are most visited in companies.  I think the SDN or equivalent might be blog views (see my review of Tom Jung’s hit records). In essence, he compared those with structural power to those whose power is knowledge and wisdom.

As far as I know, I was the only person twittering during the meeting, not to mention during the keynote; I was surely the only person with an open event recording (hashtags are down, darn it), and I seemed to be one of the few popping up to shoot digital pictures (see below).  So, like SAP Developer Challenge Post Crowdsourced via Twitter using Tweets (I did the same for the ASUG/Sapphire), choice cuts:

Me: “what motivates people to be creative? Intrinsic rewards?” – paraphrasing Paul Glen.

Richard Fahey faheyr @jspath55 It’s totally intrinsic. In fact, research shows that extrinsic rewards lead to less creativity. 

Dick Hirsch rhirsch @jspath55 creativity is something primarily personal that must come from the heart. The mood has to be right

Me: ASUG “going as green as reasonable.” – quoting ASUG CEO

Mark Yolton MarkYolton @jspath55: speaking of green IT: see on monday 

Me: chatted with erstwhile SAP mentor John Madren on TechEd, Business Objects and organizational directions. Vols need perks to feel appreciated

Me: About 10 percent of volunteers (by show of hands) said their companies are running Business Objects.

Me: new ASUG volunteer sessions complete. Questions on measuring success and accountability. Suggestion: track con call and web forum posts.

Ignacio: @jspath55 what an ASUG volunteer do ? why somebody can be called an ASUG volunteer ?

Me:                                Finished the lunchtime chats and goodbyes to fellow volunteers. Time to hit the road and skies.

skeohan skeohan @jspath55 Bye. Wish I were there! 


Me: Talking about what content goes onto web site front page news. Love the idea of using a small town newspaper as a style guide.


Railroads, Churches and Wars

Paul Glen contended that the first Global Management Structures were the railroads in the U.S. during the mid-1800s.  Management like a railroad empire baron? Yes, I think the analogy fits the way that organizational charts are built and operate today, as Paul says, on paper anyway.  He postulated that these structures were created because there were no large-scale business predecessors, so the templates they used were the military, and the Catholic church.  CEOs like Generals or the Pope?  I can see it, but let’s not draw too many conclusions from that.

What’s important in visualizing this hierarchy is the technical people (he called us “geeks”) don’t follow that model.  I won’t dive into the model he described for technical relationships (after all, he wants to sell his book).  However, one of my takeaways was that you cannot motivate other people.  Only you control your own actions, and it’s good to remember that when trying to have others move in a certain direction, whether it’s adopting a new software user interface model, or showing up to work on time. 

Newbies, er, N00Bs

New volunteers are not n00bs in the sense of complete novices; they are simply n00bs in their new roles. In the list I have, I noticed some are n00bs SIG volunteers, but mentors to newbie Chapter volunteers (or was it the other way around).  Anyway, this year’s program has paired up experienced volunteers with beginners, and there’s a good cross-pollination being attempted with different SIG matchups.  Since this is a 1:1 relationship, I see this as much a coach role as mentor.

I met the mentor of a volunteer I recruited, and we had a good chat about “thinking outside the box”.  His business card lists his job as “Manager, Inventory Optimization” so I suspect we’ll have much more to discuss.

The Product

Marilyn Pratt asked me what the result of the meeting was.  Dennis Howlett asked me what the main topic was.  A Board member asked me where we want to be a year from now.

I’ve come up with one strategic goal to start with: “less email from ASUG

How can I start?  Well, people I respect have recommended collaboration tools such as wiki for eliminting the non-value added transfer of content among users. As ASUG doesn’t have wikis running on their site yet, I’ll use the SDN one:

We (meaning BITI) used a wiki to prepare for the meeting, but some sites block this so it’s sub-optimal.  On our conferenc call Wednesday I experimented with sharing the above URL, not by reading it, but by describing where it was.  Shortly afterwards, I got an email notification that one of my team mates had updated the wiki.  Awesome!


The Outside World

While the volunteer meeting was ongoing, George Yu of SAP wrote of his My First Two Days at Wen Chuan Earthquake, China during the recent earthquakes, as he is living and working in China for the time being. I commented on his blog, then wrote my own perspective on his story.

As I was working on this blog recap, George wrote back to me,   “How are you doing with BITI group? As busy as before?”  George was always a master of the understatement.

(late-breaking news: George told me he can’t read my personal blog because is censored in China. George, I will keep you informed via other channels!) 

The Future

Webcasts I want to facilitate

  • SAP Collaboration Workspaces – July 2008
  • University Alliance Program – managing hundreds of SAP instances – October 2008
  • SCM 7.x ramp-up progress report – November 2008

Jim, put this on a wiki, I’m an Engineer, not a Social Calendar Maven! 

It’s Easy Being Green

(Jim Hensen we miss ya)

Someone said that we wanted to ban disposable plastic drinking water bottles at the ASUG and Sapphire conference.  Why didn’t this happen?  Answer: green. As in Money.  I’ll pick that up in another thread. 

I normally would not have so many photos in a blog, but this one is a bit different.  Marilyn and I discussed other ways to share images.  I’m interested in hearing how this blog loads and is viewable by those with slower feeds.  I put the big files near the end so you could keep reading while the graphics render.




Jim’s SAP Mentor bag, water bottle in DFW Airport


Jim Spath, Nixon Xavier, Manju Venkataseshan


Kristen Dennis, Joz Zabaglo, Karin Tillotson, Rob Jackson


The Happy Dinner Table


Board Member Signs Autograph For Fan


The Serious Dinner Table



The Happy Planner Table


The Serious Planner Table


The Other Serious Planner Table


The Happy Dinner Table (Sunday)


Sahile Oliver and Gina


The 11 standing ASUG BITI volunteers (counting the ones sitting down). 4 were invited but unable to attend. 1 newly formed SIG not invited this year.

We Make The Pieces Fit

Left to right:

Sitting: Bob, Karin, Gretchen

Standing: Manju, Kristen, Rob, Jim, Greg, Nixon, Breck, Srini

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