Christmas Cards; A Cautionary Tale

Merry Christmas

My company gave up sending paper Christmas cards years ago, and since then has sent various online versions. You know the sort of thing, it arrives as a link in your email and when you click on it you open a website with spinning Christmas trees, a seasonal message and the company’s name.

Last year one of our interns working in another team set up a website for us to do this in a very simple way. It worked well, and when he left in summer none of us thought about asking about the Christmas card tool.

Roll on November and I ask my new intern to look into making some cards for this year and loading them up onto the site. She makes the cards, they’re all approved. Then we go to uploading them to the site.

What is the password?

I contact the old intern via facebook to ask for the password info, which he emails me with a warning that he’ll be on a long flight to Singapore and won’t be in contact for a while. We upload the new cards.

They work, but you can’t preview them.

No-one knows why. We figure out a work-around (link to an html page of a sent card), but also ask the old intern if he knows what is the problem. He does, and we fix it. We do one last round of testing and send a message to the department.

The next day nothing works.

We’ve tested everything and know it should work. It worked yesterday. We check on the external connection, not through the company network. It doesn’t work there either. So perhaps it’s a problem with the hosting company, no, other parts of their site are working fine. We’re about to email them to ask for help when the new intern in an inspired moment checks the account information.

We haven’t paid the bill.

We didn’t pay the bill because we never got a notification, and we never got a notification because the hosting account is connected to the old intern’s email address, which hasn’t been in use for about 4 months. We pay the bill. Everything works.

But now it’s very late in the Christmas season. And although our problems stem from how it was set up last year we look pretty bad in the eyes of our clients.

Lessons learnt;

Standardisation is a good thing, using our standard content management system would have avoided all of this, although the functionality of the cards may have been limited.

Documentation is a good thing, if the old intern had prepared a one page document on how to manage the Christmas cards tool, including the password information it would have saved us a lot of time – both actual work time and total project time as we were waiting for his response on occasion.

Generic email addresses are a good thing, if the account had been set up using the department’s email address we’d have found out we needed to pay an invoice back in October.

We’ll do better next year!

image snowy holly /Liz West/ CC BY 2.0

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