Arena communications plan

Subtitle: "Another lesson in how difficult it is to communicate effectively"

Regular readers of this blog know that Church of the Resurrection went live on the Arena church management system earlier this week.  Travis (the project manager) and I knew that frequent and effective communication would be critical for the success of such a large project impacting all staff.  We developed and executed what I think is a model plan not only for selecting and implementing a church management system, but also for keeping the staff informed throughout the process.  The below outline shows the many ways, times, and occasions on which we communicated to large numbers of staff regarding the project and the status.

  • 8/23/07 – Project kick-off meeting.  Key staff from every department present.  All executive management present and supportive.
  • 8/24 – 9/21/07 – Requirements gathering meetings held with each department.
  • 9/6/07 – Project overview presentation at quarterly all staff lunch meeting.
  • 11/15/07 – Selection of Arena announced in Staff Chapel and subsequent all staff e-mail.
  • 1/10/08 – Implementation kick-off meeting.  All staff invited.  Arena demonstrated.  Go live date of 5/6/08 announced.
  • 1/29 – 2/14/08 – Arena functionality and design review meetings held with each department.
  • 2/7/08 – Arena demo presentation at quarterly all staff lunch meeting.  Go live date of 5/6/08 announced.
  • 3/13/08 – Arena training plan announced at monthly senior staff meeting. 50 training classes to be held over a 5-week period immediately prior to go-live.
  • 3/21/08 – All staff e-mail stating that all Shelby users need to take Arena training, with a link to review class schedules and sign up.
  • 3/17 – 4/28/08 – Once per week all staff announcement promoting Arena with reminders about training classes and go live date.
  • 4/10/08 – Staff Chapel and all staff e-mail announcement reminding people to sign up for training.
  • 5/1/08 – Staff Chapel and all staff e-mail announcement about the scheduled Shelby outage, Arena go-live, and go-live party on 5/6/08.
  • 5/6/08 – All staff e-mail announcement that Arena is live.  First sentence of second paragraph: "Starting now, you will use Shelby only for Financials, Check-in, and Contributions (Check-in and Contributions will be moved to Arena later this year)."

Looks like a solid plan, huh?  Help desk ticket received this afternoon:

I am not able to access ShelbyEZ. I don’t know if I have forgotten my login name and password or what? I think it use to automatically connect..? Could you please let me know what my information is to access it? Thanks.

In response I sent the following e-mail to this person’s supervisor:

Apparently after 9+ months of heavy communication about the Next Generation Church Management System and Arena, [this manager-level staff person] still isn’t aware that we aren’t using Shelby any more. 

What lessons do you draw from this?

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Chris Randolph joins the BBQ tour


Chris Randolph, lead support tech for Arena joined us yesterday and today for the immediate post go-live support period.  In accordance with our Shelby-Resurrection tradition, we had to take him for barbecue.  (We also had to memorialize it with the traditional bad cell phone picture taken by a well-meaning waitress with an unsteady hand!)  This time it was the original Jack Stack in Martin City.  Those of you who came to the Fall 2007 Church IT RoundTable will remember Jack Stack from our Wednesday night banquet.  Good stuff, even for Memphis boy Chris.

This Arena thing has been cool.  Every time we meet with one of their team, we eat meat.  When we think about Arena, we start salivating.  Pavlov’s dog had nothing on us.

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Arena go-live party


Jason Gant, Director of Student Ministries (youth pastor) picks his toppings


Brent Messick, Managing Executive Director of Operations (my boss)


Debi Nixon, Executive Director of Adult Discipleship is EXCITED!


Specially trained "Arena Facilitators" each received a fuzzy monkey to make it easy for their fellow staff to identify them


Andrew Conard, Congregational Care Pastor (aka "Nerd Pastor") gives Arena the thumbs up


 Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor, gets his first chance to use Arena

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Arena go-live

Today is the day we go live on Arena.  We’ve been planning and preparing for this day since August 2007, which is 9+ months.  To track our progress, check out:

Arena go-live war room

Time line starting now:

  • Shelby V5 goes down
  • Backup V5 database
  • Change permissions in V5 to limit what users can do in V5 so they will be required to use Arena
  • Install 2-way triggers
  • Start Arena agents
  • Test
  • Shelby V5 comes back up
  • Arena is live
  • Ice cream party to celebrate Arena go-live
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Next stop on the Shelby-Resurrection BBQ Tour

Ben Lane from Shelby is here for our Arena go-live tomorrow.  Continuing our long-standing tradition, we had KC barbecue for lunch.  Despite the crude and blurry cell phone pictures, I think you can get an idea of the experience.  Yum!

President's Platter from Gates


L to R: Linda Ronsick (data quality), Ian Beyer (cyberentomology), Matt Bradshaw (bit shepherd), Ben Lane (disc golf connoisseur and Arena trainer), Leo Johns (consultant, pro keyboard player, amateur disc golfer), Travis Morgan (MBA and disc golfer), Doug Blackwood (uber volunteer), Jeremy Grabrian (a man confident enough to wear shorts), Brian Slezak (curmudgeon)

Ian and Matt are carrying boxes of leftovers. Yes, we had so much food that even with 10 people eating we couldn’t finish it.  God provided abundantly for us.

Go live is tomorrow.  I hope we’re ready!

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ChMS evaluation criteria

We are evaluating candidate ChMS systems on the following criteria:

1. The company. We expect to run the selected system for the next 5-10 years. Accordingly, we are looking for a great ChMS supplier that will meet Resurrection’s needs now and in the future. Has the company attracted and can it retain a great management team? Does it have a great reputation for product quality, timely delivery, and responsive customer support? Is it financially strong? Does it have a compelling product vision? Does it have healthy relationships with other companies and organizations in the ChMS market?

2. The technical platform. We are looking to minimize long-term platform risk by selecting a platform in the mainstream of technology that will adapt over the life of the system to as yet unknown future requirements. Further, we expect to integrate other applications and systems with the ChMS in configurations that may be unique to Resurrection. Accordingly, we are concerned about the technical aspects of integration like APIs and data exchange formats that will allow us to develop our own innovations. We prefer a product at the center of a vigorous marketplace of 3rd-party products, professional services, and so on.

3. Product functionality. We are looking for a rich, full-featured church management system that at minimum has an equivalent way to do everything we do now in Shelby V5 Church. Second, we need to achieve executive management’s project goals – to greatly improve our ability to track interactions with congregants particularly in adult discipleship and congregational care (CRM-type functionality) and to provide better reporting/graphing for decision support and tracking progress on annual church-wide objectives (management dashboard). And finally we’re looking as much as possible to address user desires uncovered during requirements gathering.

4. Product usability. We are looking for a system that is intuitive, elegant, consistent, discoverable, and requires minimum training for web-savvy users. Page layout and choice of controls should follow Microsoft user interface guidelines and other best practices in web user interface usability.

5. Project risk. We are looking to minimize the short-term risks associated with executing the project. Being averse to cost and schedule risks, we need to stay within the available budget and have a successful cutover by June 30, 2008 at the absolute latest. Additionally, we need to convert existing data to the new system with a high degree of confidence in data preservation. Finally, we need to feel very comfortable about the training and cutover plan to minimize user disruption and ensure widespread user adoption.

6. Cost. Our estimate of total cost of ownership over the first 3 years is the final consideration. We will not automatically select the least costly option. Rather, cost is one of the six factors affecting our decision. Naturally, if the cost is beyond our budgetary ability, then it would be decisive.

I’ll post again soon about our finalists.