At 3:58PM on Wednesday, December 31, 2008 we went live with our Arena database. We kicked off the project on November 10, meaning that we went from kickoff to being live with Arena in under two months. Things we learned:
(1) Give them your data as soon as possible. Data conversion was by far the longest part of the cutover. We spent a lot of time waiting for Arena software to give us our data back. If I could do it again, I would have given them our data the second I had made the decision to go with Arena. If they required some money up front to cover it in case we didn't actually sign the contract I would have paid it. This would have solved one of our number one frustrations with the process. I think this would have cut a month off of the project length.
(2) Expect to spend a lot of time bringing the system online. Our cutover was a success because we made Arena the absolute 100% number one priority of four staff members. Daniel, our primary IT guy, spent nearly 100% of his time from November 10 to now bringing Arena online. I made it my very highest priority, setting _everything_ else on the back burner, and expected the same of my office manager and my secretary. We had enough resources devoted to the project to make it work and hit our deadlines.
(3) The process will go a lot better if somebody on your staff knows SQL. This is by no means a requirement, there are many churches that are successful that do not have this, but we saved a lot of time because we could drop into the SQL editor and work on things without relying on Arena support. Likewise, when we did get SQL help from Arena support, we could take those scripts and modify them for later needs.
(4) Buy the book "Head First SQL" and read it. Even as the project manager I read this book, and I gave a copy to my office manager and highlighted sections that I wanted her to read. Having a basic understanding of how SQL databases work is really helpful when you are trying to know how best to work with the data and make things happen. To me I felt that this hands on knowledge helped me to interact with my IT guys and the Arena group
(5) There must be a project manager, and that manager must be able to lead. There were times when there was a difference of opinion on what to do and ways to setup and work with data. Ultimately someone has to weight the merits of all the arguments and set direction. There were several points in this project where I effectively had to say "well, i'm the boss, we do it this way." This is very rare for me, but allowed us to move on and those decisions help us to be able to use the product more effectively.
(6) The fewer people involved in the conversion and cutover, the better. We chose a core group of four people: Project Manager, IT Support, Office Manager, and Secretary. With that group we were able to work with the others involved to get information and make decisions related to their ministry, but we don't have a group of twenty people arguing about every choice made. Having key personnel responsible and then empowering them and staying out of their way is crucial to a successful cutover.
(7) Don't try to eat the entire loaf of bread in the first sitting. We went live with Membership, Groups, Tags, Peers, Contributions and Volunteer Tracking. That's it. There are lots of other things we are looking forward to, and we'll roll them out in the next few weeks, with check-in being the last component. This is a big product, with a ton of features, and trying to get everything running for go-live is like trying to stuff a massive loaf of bread in your mouth before hitting the main entree. It's simply not going to go well.
(8) It doesn't have to take a long time. We did this in under two months with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to contend with.
(9) The Arena team is great to work with. Clients are assigned a support rep who is your primary support contact. This is really cool, because each time you call you don't have to bring anyone up to speed. Your rep knows you, knows who you are and what you are capable of, and can help you very quickly.
I'm very relieved to have this up and running. Now we can focus on getting the remaining pieces into place and catching up on all the stuff we've been neglecting. :-)