How I Setup Propared in my Organization: by Don Fox

Thoughts for Administrators from someone that’s done it.

By Don Fox

Probably like you, I liked what I saw on the web, and I chatted with Ryan, Melissa, or one of the Propared staff. I played with a trial version, and I decided to take the plunge and put this amazing software platform to work for my organization.

About Me

I'm the Production Manager at a Producing and Presenting Theatre/Performing Arts Center on a University Campus. We also have a Resident Professional Theatre company and do live events of all kinds throughout the year.

A Note about Adopting Propared

The power of Propared lies in its customizability, which allows us to adapt Propared to any type of event we are presented with. The considerations and approaches that we used may be different for your organization, however, the conventions and methods will probably still make sense. In any case, it will be helpful to think about these things as you embark on setting up Propared to meet your specific needs.

Look at Your Own Workflow First

Very early in the process, as we began to play with Propared, we quickly realized that we did not have a structured nomenclature across our organization; what we called things differed from person to person and department to department. One of the surprising parts about Propared is that it forces you to look at your internal workflow first, to identify what it is you actually do, and to define a strategy for organizing and communicating it. This exercise has helped our organization immensely as well as allowed us to get full value out of Propared.

Build a Propared Workbook

To achieve this, we sat down and talked to each other. Through our discussions we created a companion document, which we call our ‘Propared Workbook’ - ours was in Excel, but you could use anything really. Propared also has a template you can start with on their support site.

This workbook has become the living guide for our team strategy and is referred to anytime a new project is created in order to maintain consistency in terminology and approach. This allows us to work cohesively together and ensures that we are working towards a unified goal.

The Workbook is also constantly updated as we learn new things about how we can best use Propared (which will happen continuously).

The Workbook describes our strategy and setup for Department and Category tags, Roles and Groups, Locations, and how new Projects are created. In the sections below we'll look at how we approached each of these elements and ultimately, how we implemented them in Propared.

Strategy for Roles and Groups

To address Roles and Groups, we began by looking at our org chart. We listed all the people who have full-time and regular part-time responsibilities and their position titles. After we had everyone in our organization listed we started adding the Groups that these people might be a part of (Financial, Marketing, Patron Experience, Shops, Box Office, etc…).

These Groups were the beginning of our communication strategy as well, since a Group can act as a distribution list in Propared.

We knew we also would have to include people that we hadn’t met yet…. Directors, designers, choreographers, etc. So, we made a list of all the Roles that would need to be filled on any given show, even if we didn't know who the actual person is yet.

Once we had these Roles, we added Groups for them as well (Creative, Design, Crew, Cast, etc.).

Strategy for Locations

To determine locations, we asked ourselves two questions:

  • What locations do things happen in, or do we tell people to go to?
  • What locations would we like to see Schedules for?

Propared breaks locations down into Places and Spaces. Places, for us, are locations with physical addresses, like the Performing Arts Center and our separate scene shop.

Spaces are the locations within the Performing Arts Center. This includes our performance venues as well as dressing rooms, rehearsal spaces, trap room, loading docks, lobby, and meeting spaces.

Strategy for Departments and Categories

Departments and Categories are used to organized Timeline Tasks, and they behave identically in Propared. Having both gave us two "dimensions" to work from. We decided on the following criteria:

  • Category = The kind of task or event it is (more on this to follow)
  • Department = Any Group who might have an interest in a certain task or event.

For example: If we have a Task: “Fabric Selections Finalized”

  • Category would be "Costume" (the kind of thing it is)
  • Departments would be "Costume", "Scenic", and "Lighting" (who would typically care about it)

Here are a few examples:

Cast Rehearsals:

Category: Rehearsal

Department: Cast, Stage Management, Artistic

First Rehearsal:

A “First Rehearsal” would get the same tags as a cast rehearsal, but also might get tagged with the departments Marketing, UCCSP, and Board of Director’s – as these people might care about a First Rehearsal / Reading when they would not typically care about a run of the mill rehearsal.

Technical Rehearsal:

Category: Technical Rehearsal

Departments: Scenic, Lighting, Sound, Costumes, etc

Scenic Load In:

Category: Load In

Departments: Scenic

A Lighting Hang or Scenic Load In might be tagged for Marketing as this is the kind of work call that makes for great behind the scenes photo ops. I'd probably send a message over to Marketing letting them know why I tagged them.

Deadline for a Contract:

Category: Deadlines

Departments: Administration

When to Add Additional Tags

We document all of these tags in different sections of our Propared Workbook, only adding tags when we answer two questions:

1. Do we have a similar tag already that we should use? If the answer is “yes” then use the tag you already have. If the answer is “No” – move to the next question….

2. Is it likely that we will want to create a schedule or checklist of multiple tasks that have this tag or a schedule or calendar of tasks across multiple projects that have this tag? If the answer is “No” then you probably don’t need this tag at all… if the answer is “Yes” then you probably DO want to create this tag.

Any time we added a new tag we would go back through the entire project and add the new tag to tasks in the timeline as appropriate. While this is very powerful, keep in mind that it can easily get out of hand, so be thoughtful before adding tags that you may never use.

Implementing Roles and Groups in Propared

After fleshing out our strategy for Roles and Groups (see above) we entered this information into Propared.

For full-time and part-time staff members, we created contact records for them in the Contacts screen and added their Default Roles and Default Groups. This ensured that each time they're added to a Project Team they'll retain these Roles and Groups (knowing that we could always update them on a show-by-show basis).

For positions where we did not know who the specific person would be, check out the Show Templates section below.

Building Show Templates

Like most organizations, many of our shows are repeatable or have identical elements to them like our deadlines, rehearsal schedule, or show roles. Propared has some great Project Cloning features to address this reality. To take advantage, we built several 'Show Template Projects' based on the different types of events that we produce and present throughout the year.

A Show Template is just a normal Propared Project that we have decided to use as a Template.

Some examples are produced theatrical productions, our presenting series, 1-day event rentals, and concerts.

For each template, we were able to add a surprising amount of repeatable information:

  • For positions where we did not know who the specific person would be, we created Team Members with Roles and Groups but no contact name associated with them.
  • In the Timeline, we added Deadlines as All-Day events and tagged them to the proper Departments, Categories, and Team Members/Roles. These deadlines help us when cloning projects because the deadlines that are based on a specific show date help us understand when we need to start different parts of the process.
  • We added all the Meetings that we could think of. Since we didn't know exactly what time they'd be yet, we gave them dates but no times and marked them as "Tentative".
  • We also included Rehearsal and Performance schedules. Even if they're not identical from show to show, we found it easier to have some Tasks in there already to Clone and Shift around rather than starting from scratch each time.

We realized that the more work we put into Templates, the more time we saved in the long run. So put some time and thought into your templates. This doesn’t mean that you can’t jump right in and create Tasks for the show you are doing NOW – you can, and it will be of benefit. But if you are planning on managing a complex production cycle for multiple overlapping productions, you should devote some time to getting the templates as developed and accurate as you can for the benefit of saving time in the future.

Creating Schedules that Communicate what is important

So you’ve got some shows set up and you’ve spent some time entering your timeline of tasks and their associated tags…. Now its time for some output! In any organization there are people who will want to keep track of what is going on in their area of concern across all of the projects, and those who are only concerned with a single project. (A show designer is not going to care about the deadlines of another show, but the Production Manager will care about the deadlines of all of the shows).

This is the other area where Propared shines brightest. By generating different Schedules based on Filter Settings, you can easily get people what they need and keep all your schedules and calendars up to date automatically.

You might start out wanting to create a Production Book with a Schedule for every tag you’ve made, but don’t go crazy just yet… start with a few that you know people in your organization will use such as a Full Production Schedule, Performance Calendar, etc.

For show-specific people like guest designers, we create very specific Schedules (in a Production Book) with only information relevant to them and their show.

For our full-time and part-time staff members, we create broader schedules that span many facets of the organization. They're still able to get to things important to them because Propared's calendars allow them to filter information themselves.

It's helpful to meet with the people who will be counting on the information coming out of Propared and ask them what kind of information would be most helpful to them and then create calendars that meet their needs. Once schedules are created, I'll then send out a list of all the URLs so that people can book-mark the ones they find most helpful.

Here are a few types of schedules that we found most helpful. Some of these may be combined in larger calendars while some are more helpful in the List Layout:

Organization-Level

- All Productions and All Tasks Calendar (for a Production Manager, maybe)

- All Productions Pre-Season Checklists (for Artistic Directors, perhaps)

- Costume & Scenic Build Schedule (All Shows)

- Custodial Calendars

- Educational Outreach Events

- Contract Deadlines

- Marketing Deadlines

- Travel & Accommodation Deadlines

  • “Photo Op” Calendar for our Social Media guru so that he knows when we’re doing something that might make for a good social media posting.

Show-Specific

- Full Show Schedules

- Rehearsal & Performance Schedule

- Important Lighting/Scenic/Costume/Prop dates (helpful for designers)

Using Status to your Advantage

One helpful convention we found involves a creative use of Status - the options being "None", "Tentative", and "Confirmed". Our Production Book Schedules typically do not include any events marked "None", but may include Tentative, and WILL include confirmed. If, as Production Manager, I want to see everything in a show that is NOT confirmed, I might create a filter of events that are still tentative, so that I can address those things and get them moved to a Confirmed state.

In our Templates, we include everything we think MIGHT be a part of each of these kinds of production cycles and then (after cloning the template into a new show) use the "none" Status to delineate anything that's not part of that show.

To achieve this, we start by selecting every task in the timeline and change their Status to "Tentative". Then we go in and, for any Tasks that do not apply to this show, set them to "None". For instance, we have a tag called “Tent Show” that only pertains to our Summer Shakespeare in the Park production. We filter for the category “Tent Show” and then set all of those tasks to "None".

As Deadlines, Rehearsals, Meetings, Performances and other tasks are fully scheduled we switch their Status to Confirmed. If we see a task Status still set to Tentative as we work through the cycle we address it as still needing to be scheduled or completed.

Scheduling Meetings

We use the Work Call feature of Propared to schedule our meetings. We think of Meetings as a kind of Work Call and then use the Booking function to send out a Doodle Poll link directly from Propared. After getting the results of the Doodle Poll, we confirm the Meeting/Work Call with a confirmation email also directly from Propared, this time with the meeting date and time confirmed and the Webex teleconferencing link (live) in the dialogue of the email. We include the teleconferencing link in the event Notes field. Once the meeting is fully scheduled we change its status to "Confirmed".

Wrap up

Propared is a tool, but it is also a language. The more you work with it the more comfortable you will become. As an Administrator you should schedule regular meetings, especially at first, with anyone else who will be working in the program so that you can help them get comfortable.

One thing we do to make it less intimidating at first is to encourage project managers to find a task that is similar to the one they want to create and clone that (along with all of its associated tags) and then modify it as needed. This will help keep the timeline of tasks and their tags consistent. If the event is something that should go into the template, encourage them to let you know so you can ensure that the change is made for future cloned projects.

It is critical that everyone feel empowered and authorized to correct and refine dates, times, and notes for all of the tasks and events in the system. I also invite all of the guest designers and directors to let me know if they see anything in a Schedule that is incorrect.

We have found that giving this agency to our team actually helped us identify issues sooner and make resolutions quicker.

It is also very helpful to make reviewing the complete production calendar a key part of a weekly production meeting. We usually look at the current week and subsequent two weeks – we confirm dates and times of tasks that are tentative, we schedule meetings that are still unscheduled, we mark tasks with the "none" status that do not apply, and in general just make sure the information is correct. Putting this regular energy into maintaining the integrity of the data is very important, but it's much easier with your department heads involved and empowered to make changes.

Resist the urge to use Propared as the means of publishing a calendar created elsewhere. Work to create a culture of use that starts with the Propared database as the SOURCE of all information. After all, if it's correct in the timeline, then the schedules and calendars that everyone is looking will be correct. What a benefit and comfort!

Propared can help you take your production efforts to the next level…. How it does is largely up to you, so give it some serious thought and then make it your own!


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