(Personal) Kanban Myths: The Myth of The Important Task

Continuing in my efforts to chronicle myths of kanban utilization, I thought I would tackle the second biggest misconception I see surrounding kanban boards.  As I discussed in my previous post, many people mistake kanban to be a process for task management, when in reality, it’s a visualization of some other process.  The key takeaway is that you should spend some time making your board match your process; a kanban board should emulate your workflow, not the other way around.

So you’ve invested the time, and you now have a complex board that accurately reflects how you do work.  You’re humming along, getting things done.  Life is good, right?

Almost.  If you’re just using a kanban board to visualize a process, there’s a temptation to accept the following:

Myth 2: Kanban is a visualization tool primarily focused on (important) task management.

This is partially true; in industrial kanban, workers may use a kanban board to keep track of individual issues as they move throughout the workflow.  Managers, however, should primarily use the tool to look for opportunities to continuously improve their processes.  Once your kanban board matches your process, it becomes easy to understand where bottlenecks occur (both resource allocation and/or unnecessary processes).   Tuning workflow is a critical part of kanban utilization.

For personal kanban, however, managing resource allocation becomes a bit of challenge; how do you manage yourself?  You’re already too busy working through your pile of stuff.  Unless you can recruit other friends or family members (the Tom Sawyer approach), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to adjust resource allocation.  You can, however, begin to look for opportunities to tune processes.  How?

This is where the conversation has to drift away from kanban a bit; as a tool, a board allows you to visualize workflow and primarily focus on improvement, but in and of itself the measure of improvement isn’t part of the board.  In other words, you can see how things work, but there’s no built in visualization for determining if something has room to improve.  You have to decide what that method of improvement will be.  To improve your processes, you must define the metrics for improvements.  Those metrics are known more commonly as goals.

Goals are a critical component of a successful kanban implementation.  For example, if you have a personal goal of “I want to lose 50 pounds in the next year”, that goal should influence your decision on which tasks to pursue (and what the priority of those tasks are).  In other words, if your kanban board shows that you’re getting a lot done, but no tasks are associated with the goal of losing weight, you’ve got some room to improve your processes.

So, in summary:

  1. Spend some time making your board match your processes (at least 30 days).
  2. Define your goals (metrics for improvements)
  3. Take some time to tweak your processes to align them with your goals.

Minor incremental adjustments are more likely to be adopted than sudden and swift changes (see my management notes about change curve).  Kanban is a long-term tool, but can be highly effective at improving workflow.

 

March 10, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

(Personal) Kanban Myths: The Myth of The Process

Recently, my friend Joe Webb has posted some great resources on Personal Kanban on his Facebook timeline.  Joe’s an influential guy in the tech community (particularly the #SQLFamily), so I’ve been excited about the flurry of emails and comments regarding the adoption of Kanban techniques.  I’ve been using Kanban boards for a while now at work, and it’s interesting to see the differences between Personal Kanban and “industrial” Kanban.   The significant distinction between the two appears to be the impetus to “get things done” in Personal Kanban by using a very simple abstraction; in other words, start with a simple board of “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” and attack your task list.

I think this is a great way to get started with Kanban, but I also think that it’s easy to forget about some critical components of Lean thinking.  After observing a couple of email chains from friends (and comments on Joe’s Facebook thread), I thought I’d blog about some common misconceptions of Kanban, starting with:

Myth 1: Kanban is a process to manage my task list.

This is probably the biggest trap that most people fall into when they decide to get started.  The simplicity of Kanban is so appealing; just throw up a board and start moving cards left to right.  Getting things done; Kanban helps you do that, right?

Sort of.  Kanban is not a process; it’s a visualization of your process.  The distinction may appear to be subtle, but it’s important.  A simple board showing three columns (i.e., “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done) assumes that your method of handling tasks is equally simple.  Your process should drive your board, not the other way around.  While the act of defining tasks will yield some immediate benefits, oversimplifying the visualization has some costs.

As a concrete example, let’s assume that one of your tasks is to call and make an appointment with your doctor.  You move the card to the Doing pile, call your doctor, and then get informed that they’ll have to call you back.  Can you move the card to Done?  You haven’t made the appointment.  Do you leave the card in Doing?  Are you doing anything with it besides waiting?  Do you move it back to To Do?  You’ve already started working.   If your board is driving your process, the temptation is to leave the board alone and struggle with task movement.  If your process is driving your board, you change the board.  Add a column for waiting tasks, move the card, and then revisit that pile as needed.

Don’t get me wrong; starting with a simple board is a GREAT way to get started with the fundamentals of visualizing workflow, especially if you don’t know what your process is yet.  However, as you discover more about the way you work, don’t try to change the process (at first); make sure that you spend some time developing your board so that it matches the way you do work.  Improvement will come later.

March 4, 2015 · stuart · 3 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

Pleased to be a Friend of Redgate Again!

Just got my email this morning stating that I’ve been accepted again as a Friend of Redgate for 2015; very honored to be a part of this program again, and excited to continue contributing to the community in this way.

January 23, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, SQLServerPedia Syndication

New blog post on SQL Authority!

Very honored to be today’s guest blogger at Pinal Dave’s blog Journey to SQL Authority; check out my post here:

http://blog.sqlauthority.com/2015/01/22/sql-server-the-dba-goes-to-mars-maintenance-architecture-research-and-support-notes-from-the-field-063/

January 22, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
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2014 Year In Review

Finally finding some time to sit down and write this post; of course I’m squeezing it in after work, and before my wife and son come home, so there’s no telling how far I’ll get. This post is probably best treated as a stream of consciousness effort, rather than my usual agonizing over every word. 2014 was a mixed bag of a year; lots of good stuff, and lots of not-so-good stuff; I’ll try to start with the good:

2014 Professional Highs

As I’ve mentioned before, I was promoted to management in my day job a few years ago; in October of 2014, my kingdom expanded. Instead of managing a team of SQL Server DBA’s, my department was consolidated with another small group, and I now manage the IT infrastructure for our Product Group. It’s not a huge jump, but it is an opportunity for me to get involved with more than just SQL Server and databases; I’m now managing a team of sysadmins as well, so I’m getting a crash course on virtualization, server administration, and networking. It’s been fun, but a bit challenging.

I haven’t neglected my SQL Server roots, however; I presented to over a dozen user groups & SQL Saturdays last year (which is a lot for full-time desk jockey). I ultimately delivered two killer presentations at Summit in November, which boosted my confidence tremendously after 2013’s less-than-stellar performance. Blogging was steady for me (23 posts on my blog), but I did have a chance to write a piece on Pinal Dave’s blog (Journey to SQL Authority); that was a great opportunity, and one I hope to explore more. In addition to blogging and community activity, I also finally passed the second test in the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 series (Administration; 70-462). I’m studying for the last test (Data Warehouse; 70-463), and then I need to start getting some virtualization certs under my belt.

Finally, a big professional step forward for me was that I became a Linchpin (part-time); I’ve had a great deal of respect for this team of SQL Server professionals over the years, and I was very blessed to be able to step in and help on a few projects this year. I’m hoping for more. It’s a great way to test the waters, even if I’m not ready to dive into full-time consulting yet.

2014 Professional Lows

I got nominated for Microsoft MVP (twice); I didn’t get it (twice).

 

2014 Personal Highs

Big year for travel for my wife and I; we went to Jamaica and Vancouver, as well as Nashville, Chattanooga, St. Louis, Charlotte, Seattle, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and Ponte Vedra. We saw two killer shows: George Strait and Fleetwood Mac; I also got to see one of my favorite bands, The Old 97’s. Our son turned a year old, and it’s been a lot of fun watching him grown and discover new things. 2014 was a year of joy in a lot of ways….

2014 Personal Lows

2014 was also a year of sorrow for me; if you follow me on Facebook, you know how proud I am of my son. What became less well-known is that I have two teenage daughters from my previous marriage; they turned 17 and 15 this year. In September of 2013, my daughters decided that they didn’t want to spend as much time with me and their stepmother. Over the last year, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my daughters aren’t planning on changing that any time soon, and they have no desire to have a relationship with their brother. That’s a pain that I’ll never get over; I love all of my children, and all I can do is pray that someday things will change. The only reason I feel compelled to mention it publically is that I don’t want them to become invisible; I have three children, even if I don’t get to see two of them very often. I also feel like I’ve reached a turning point; I was VERY depressed last year because of this situation, and I’m ready to move forward in 2015.

 

Summary

2014 was more good than bad, but I’m looking forward to 2015. I’ve always believed that you should play the hand you’re dealt, and make the most of it. Life is good, and it’s only getting better.

 

 

 

January 8, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web

Testing Word as a blogging tool

For Christmas, I got a neat little tablet hybrid (Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 w/Windows), and I’m trying to use it as a laptop replacement; I’ll try to give an honest review of it by the end of the month, but for now, I’ve been trying to replace Windows Live Writer with some other tool (since support for Writer may be ending). Someone suggested that I give Word a try, so I’m giving it a fair shake with this blog post. Not much to add (other than I have a few ideas brewing); this is just a work in progress to see if Microsoft Word can handle things like:

  • Image upload
  • Formatting issues
  • Tags and categories

I’m hoping to get a year in review post up soon (while it’s still relevant); stay tuned.

January 4, 2015 · stuart · No Comments
Posted in: Gadgets

Where does my index live? YouTube edition–#SQLServer

I was recently contacted by Webucator, an online training services provider, and asked if they could turn a recent post of mine (#SQLServer – Where does my index live?) into a video.  They are promoting their SQL Server classes by doing a free series called SQL Server Solutions from the Web using (with permission) different blog posts from around the web.   Wish I’d thought of this sooner; enjoy!

December 9, 2014 · stuart · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: SQL, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#SQLPASS – Fluffy Bunnies

File:Fluffy white bunny rabbit.jpgI didn’t really have a good name for this post, so I thought I’d just try to pick something as non-offensive as possible.  Everybody likes bunnies, right?  Anyway, the last series of posts that I’ve made regarding the Professional Association for SQL Server has raised a number of questions that I thought I’d strive to answer; since I’m still mulling over my next post, I figured this was as good a time as any. 

What’s your motivation in writing this series?

Believe it or not, I’m trying to help.  For several years, it seems like there’s been one controversy after the other within the Professional Association of SQL Server, and those controversies dissipate and re-emerge.  My goal is to document what I perceive to be the root causes for some of these issues so that we can work toward a solution.

 

Why are you bashing PASS?

I’m trying very hard to NOT “bash” the Professional Association for SQL Server; I’ve been a member for several years now, and I’ve seen controversies get personal.  I really don’t feel like I’m doing that; I still believe that the Board of Directors are a great bunch of people that are making decisions based on their circumstance at the time.  I’m trying to wrap a schema around those circumstances, so I can understand those decisions. 

I’m trying to articulate my own perspective on what I think is wrong, so that I can be better prepared to have an honest discussion about those perceptions.  Relationships aren’t about ignoring issues; the first step in addressing an issue is to identify the issue.

You mentioned “transparency” as an issue with the BoD before; what do you mean by that?

That’s more complicated to answer than I thought it would be.  At first, I thought it was more information; as an active community member, I felt like I needed to be more involved in the decision-making process.  However, I can’t really name a specific reform that I would make for the BoD to be more transparent.  I don’t want to read meeting minutes, and most of the form letter emails I get from the Association go straight to the trash; I’m too busy for them to be transparent.

On further consideration, what I’ve been calling transparency is more about leadership and up-front communication than it is about revealing information.   As an example, I help run one of the largest SQL Server chapters in the world; if I had realized that the Professional Association for SQL Server was planning a major re-branding exercise, I feel like I could have contributed some “notes from the field” on what that would mean, and how to best prepare our membership for it.  Instead of appearing defensive about a controversy, the Board would appear to be very proactive.

It’s that feeling of being left out of the conversation that bothers me, I think.  I realize that there’s some details that can’t be shared, but I feel like the onus is on the BoD to find better ways to communicate with members (and to me, chapters are an underused resources).  The information flow is very unidirectional; Summit keynotes and email blasts are not an effective way to discuss an issue.   Maybe those conversations are happening with other people, but if so, few people have stepped forward discussing them.

It’s also an issue of taking action when an issue is raised; for example, the recent passwordsecurity controversy was documented by Brent Ozar.  He states that he and several other security-oriented members had several private conversation with board members, and yet no comprehensive action was taken until it became a public issue.  The perception is that the only way to get the BoD to act is to publically shame them.   That’s not healthy in the long run.

What’s your vision for the Association?

That’s the subject of my next post, so I’m going to hold off on that one.  I do think that the unidirectional flow of communication is not just an issue with the organization, but that it’s a tone set by our relationship with Microsoft.  As I pointed out in my last post, if the Association knew more about the needs and desires of the membership, that knowledge becomes a very valuable resource.   Instead of being a fan club for a product, we could become strong partners in the development of features for that product.

How do you feel about the name change?

Frankly, I feel a little sad about the change in direction, but I understand it.  I predict that SQL Server as on premise-platform is going to become a niche product, regardless of the number of installations.  It just makes sense for Microsoft to broaden their data platform offerings.  I do think that we (the Association) need to do a better job of preparing membership for this new frontier, and it’s going to take efforts to transform administration skills into analytic skills. Without providing that guidance, it seems like we’re abandoning the people who helped build this organization.

Where is this series headed?  What’s the final destination?

To be honest, I don’t know.  When I first started writing these posts, I was sure that I could describe exactly what was wrong, and suggest a few fixes.  The more I write, the easier it is to articulate my observations; I’m surprised to find that my observations are not what I thought they would be.  Thanks for joining me for the ride; hopefully, it leads to some interesting conversations at Summit.

October 23, 2014 · stuart · 8 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQL Server, SQLServerPedia Syndication

#SQLPASS–Data Professionals?

So, in my last post, I described the financial pressures of community building; two companies benefit from building a community organization.  I’ve tried to stay away from assumptions, but I am assuming that their influence must factor into the Board of Directors’ decision making process (Microsoft has a seat on the board; C&C is dependent on the decisions that the BoD makes).  The metrics that matter most to Microsoft are the breadth of people interested in their product line, not the depth of knowledge attained by those people.

Influence isn’t a bad thing per se, but in my mind, it does explain why good people continue to make bad decisions, regardless of who gets elected to the board.   What do I mean by a bad decision?  In general, the Professional Association for SQL Server BoD remains a non-committal and opaque organization.  Board members have personally promised me that “they would look into something”, and yet the follow-thru never materialized; the opacity of the decision making process is documented by other other bloggers in posts like the following:

http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/steve_jones/2010/06/30/pass_2C00_-don_1920_t-waste-my-time/

https://ozar.me/2014/09/bigger-passvotes-problem-password-shared/

http://sqlblog.com/blogs/andy_leonard/archive/2014/06/27/pass-and-summit-2014-session-selections.aspx

SIDEBAR: I will say that the Board continues to work on the transparency problem; Jen Stirrup and Tom LaRock have both stepped forward to explain decisions made.  However, such explanations are usually given after a controversy has occurred.

For a specific example, I want to focus on the branding decision (the decision to remove SQL Server from marketing material for the Professional Association of SQL Server and to be know simply as PASS); the decision to move the organization away from its lingua franca of SQL Server to a new common language of “all things (Microsoft) data” is not in and of itself a bad thing.  Recent marketing trends from Microsoft indicate that the traditional role of the DBA is continuing to evolve; as individuals, we need to evolve as well.

However, as database professionals (or data professionals), we should be inclined to make decisions based on data.  As Jen Stirrup herself says:

I think it’s important to have a data-based, fact based look at the business analytics sphere generally. What does the industry say about where the industry is going? What does the data say? We can then look at how PASS fits in with this direction.

Jen’s post goes on to state some great statistics about the nature of the industry as a whole, but then uses some less concrete measures (growth of the BA/BI Virtual Chapters) to identify support within the organization.  I generally agree with her conclusions, but I’m concerned about several unanswered questions, most of them stemming from two numbers:

  • Association marketing materials claim we have reached over 100,000 professionals, and
  • 11,305 members were eligible to vote (a poor measure of involvement, but does indicate recent interaction).

I look at those two numbers and wonder why that gap is there; just for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that 90% of “members” have not updated their profile.  Why?  What could the Association have done to reach those members?  Who are those members?   What are their interests?  What’s a better metric for gauging active membership?

Of course, once I start asking questions, I begin to ask more questions: How many members don’t fit into Microsoft’s vision of cloud-based computing?   How many members use multiple technologies from the Microsoft data analysis stack? What skills should they be taught?  What skills do they have?  What features do they want?  The short answer: we don’t know.

As far as I know, there has been no large scale data collection effort by the Board of Directors to help guide their decisions; in the absence of data, good managers make a decision based on experience, but then strive to collect data to help with future decisions.  Continuing to rely on experience and marketing materials without investing in understanding member concern, desires, and input is simply put, a bad decision.

Shifting an organization that shared a common love for a particular technology to an organization that is more generally interested in data is a huge undertaking; overlooking the role that the community should have in determining the path of that transition is an oversight.   I don’t think the Professional Association for SQL Server is going to revert back to a technology-specific focus; that would be inconsistent with the changing nature of our profession.  However, the Board needs to continue to understand who the membership is, and how the organization can help a huge number of SQL Server professionals transition to “data professionals”.   Building a bigger umbrella may help the organization grow; investing in existing community members will help the organization succeed.

October 21, 2014 · stuart · 7 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQLServerPedia Syndication, The Social Web

#SQLPASS–Who’s Making It Rain?

 

As promised in my previous post (#SQLPASS–Good people, bad behavior…), I’d like to start diving in to some of the controversies that have cropped up in the last year and critically analyze what I consider to be “bad decisions”.  This first one is complex, so let me try to sum up the players involved first (with yet another post to follow about the actual decision).  Please note that I am NOT a fan of conspiracy theories (no evil masterminds plotting to rule SQL Server community), so I’m trying to avoid inferring too much about motive, and instead focusing on observable events.

A lot of the hubbub over the last couple of weeks about the Professional Association for SQL Server wasn’t just about the election or the password controversy, but about the decision to become simply PASS in all marketing materials (gonna need a new hashtag for twitter). So much controversy, in fact, that Tom LaRock, current Board President, wrote an excellent blog post about building a bigger umbrella for Mike.  I applaud Tom for doing this; it’s a vision, and that’s a great thing to have.  However, I wanted to take this metaphor, and turn it on its side; if we need umbrellas, then who’s making it rain?  Let’s take a look at the pieces of the puzzle.

 

Community as Commodity

To figure out the rainmakers, we need to define what the value of the Professional Association for SQL Server is.  If you’re reading this post, I bet you can look in a mirror and figure it out.  It’s you.  Your passion, your excitement, your interest in connecting and learning about SQL Server is the commodity provided by the organization.  We (the community) have reached a certain maturity in our growth as a commodity; we recruit new members through our enthusiasm, and we contribute a lot of free material to the knowledge base for SQL Server.  At this point, it’s far easier to grow our ranks than it would be to start over.   

However, the question I would ask is: what do YOU get out of membership?  For most of us, it’s low-to-no cost training (most of which is provided by other community members).   The association provides a conduit to connect us.   The value to you increases when you grow. Exposure to new ideas, new topics, a deeper understanding of the technology you use; all of these are fuel for growth.  In short, as individuals, community members profit most from DEPTH of knowledge.

The more active you are in the community, the more likely you’ll be able to forage out valuable insight; how many of you are active in the Professional Association of SQL Server?   According to this tweet from the official twitter account, 11,305 people have active profiles with the organization.  While that’s not a great metric for monitoring knowledge seekers, it does provide some baseline of measure for people who care enough to change their profiles when prompted. 

 

Microsoft Needs A New Storm

The Professional Association for SQL Server was founded to build a community of database professionals with an interest in learning more about Microsoft SQL Server; the founding members of the organization were Microsoft and Computer Associates, who obviously saw the commodity in building a community of people excited about SQL Server.  The more knowledge about SQL Server in the wild, the more likely that software licenses and training will increase.  Giving away training and knowledge for a lost cost yields great dividends in the end.

This is not a bad thing at all; it’s exciting to have a vendor that gives away free stuff like training.  However, it appears that Microsoft is making a slight shift away from a focus on SQL Server.  What makes me think this?

  • It’s getting cloudy (boy, I could stretch this rain metaphor): software as a service (including SQL as a service) is a lot more profitable in the long run than software licensing.  By focusing more on cloud services (Azure), Microsoft is positioning itself as a low-to-no administration provider.  
  • Electricity (Power BIQuery): Microsoft is focusing pretty heavily on the presentation layer of traditional business intelligence, and touting how simple it is to access and analyze data from anywhere in Excel “databases”.  Who needs SQL Server when your data is drag-and-drop
  • The rebranding of SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse: Data warehouse sounds like a database; Analytics Platform System sounds sexier, implying that your data structures are irrelevant.  Focus on what you want to do, not how to do it.

The challenge that Microsoft faces is that is has access to a commodity of SQL Server enthusiasts who don’t exactly fit the model of software-as-a-service; those of us that are comfortable with SQL Server on premise haven’t exactly made the leap to the cloud.  Also, many DBA’s dabble in Excel; they’re not Analytics practitioners.  In short, Microsoft has Joe DBA, but is looking for Mike Rosoft (see what I did there?), the Business Analyst.  Mike uses Microsoft tools to do things with data, not necessarily databases.  The problem?  Mike doesn’t have a home.   In order to maximize profits, Microsoft needs to invest in the growth of a larger and more diverse commodity.  In short, Microsoft wants a BROADER audience, but they want them to be excited and passionate about their technology.

Rain Dancing With C&C

The Professional Association for SQL Server has been managed by Christianson & Company since 2007.  While the Professional Association for SQL Server Board of Directors is made up of community volunteers, C&C is a growing corporation with the traditional goal of any good for-profit company: to make money.  How does C&C make money? They grow and sell a commodity.  If the Professional Association for SQL Server grows as an organization, C&C’s management of a larger commodity increases in value.   As far as I can tell, the Professional Association for SQL Server is C&C’s only client that is managed in this way.

The community gets free/low-cost training; C&C helps manage that training while diverting the cost to other players (i.e., Microsoft and other sponsors).  If Microsoft is looking for a broader commodity, C&C will be most successful if they can serve that BROADER audience.   The Professional Association for SQL Server’s website claims to serve a membership of 100,000+; that number includes every email address that has ever been used to register for any form of training from the association, including SQLSaturday’s, 24HOP, and Summit.  Bigger numbers means increased value when trying to build a bigger umbrella.

Yet, this 100,000+ membership is rarely reflected in anything other than marketing material.  Only 11,305 of them are eligible to vote; less (1,570) actually voted in the last election.  5,000 members are estimated to attend Summit 2014.  Perhaps the biggest measure of activity is the number of attendees at SQLSaturdays (18,362).  Any way you slice it, it seems to me that the number of people that are actively seeking DEEPER interactions are far fewer than the BROAD spectrum presented as members.  Furthermore, it would seem that reaching more than 100,000 members is challenging; if only 11,000 members are active in the community, and they’re the ones recruiting new members, how do you keep growing?  You reach out to a different audience.

 

Summary

I feel like it’s important to understand the commercial aspect of community building.  In short:

  • Microsoft needs to reach a broader audience by shifting focus from databases to simply data;
  • Christianson & Company will be able to grow as a company if they can help the Professional Association for SQL Server grow as a commodity;
  • The community has reached critical mass; it’s far easier to add to our community than it would be to build a new one.
  • The association has reached several members of the community (100,000+); far fewer of them are active  (11,305).

Where am I going with this?  That’s coming up in my next post.  While I don’t deny the altruism in the decision by the Board of Directors to reach out to a broader audience, I also think we (the commodity) should understand the financial benefits of building a bigger umbrella.

October 20, 2014 · stuart · 12 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, PASS, SQLServerPedia Syndication