Friday, August 23, 2013

If you dodge the bullets too many times, eventually you'll get hit

Wednesday night, we hit a snag on a major project at work. We were getting ready to send the files off to production -- so that the letters and brochures could actually be printed and assembled in envelopes and sent out to over a million consumers. A MILLION. (I have been doing this a long time, and the number of people my work touches still has the power to impress.)


The client changed the dates on us, requesting at the last minute that we have everything ready to go to press by 8:00 AM Thursday rather than first thing Monday. That meant our work had to be done Wednesday instead of Friday. As we were getting ready to go Wednesday night, our internal production department had a rather significant technical question about how the files had been created on the computer.

That is one of the only aspects of this project I am not involved in.

I can explain how the offers were chosen for each target audience. I came up with four of the five creative concepts that we're mailing, so I'm certainly familiar with the background on how the headlines and photos were chosen. I worked with the client's legal department on the fine print, so I can point out how one paragraph of tiny type is different from another.

But I DO NOT build the computer files! That is up to the art director.

Who is on vacation this week. Before she left, I specifically asked her if the art director chosen to fill in for her had everything he needed for this project. She assured me he was.

He wasn't. When the questions started flying in Wednesday -- at 4:30 PM -- he had no answers. All she had really given him was her computer password and access to her files. NO explanation for why she made any of the decisions she did.

By the time we discover this, it's after 5:00. Our boss has gone home. The client has gone home. We catch her in her car, driving to pick up her kids at daycare, and ask her what she wants us to do. GULP!

She was very gracious, saying that she realized we must be feeling the stress of losing two days of the schedule.

Except that wasn't it. We fucked up. Even if we had until Friday, we still wouldn't know what we were doing on our end because the responsible art director is still on vacation through Tuesday.

One of our internal staff officiously said he wouldn't send anything off until THE GAL HERSELF signs off on it. Rather than reveal to the client that no one is in charge, I just said "sure, of course, certainly."

After we hung up, I went, "OH, SHIT!" I don't know how to say this more plainly: I have no involvement with how the computer files are built. You might as well ask the security guard at the desk downstairs. And now here I am responsible for signing off on it.

The next morning I brought my boss up to date on all of it. He blamed the client for chopping two days off the schedule, not the art director for not explaining herself anywhere.

I didn't accept that. The art director has been working on a "process document" for what she does SINCE MAY. She not only didn't leave it for her replacement, she's never even finished it!

This has to change. It just does. For while we were operating under cover of the shortened timeline, there are critical errors in our internal process and if we continue to operate this way, we're going to get burned.

And I don't want to be responsible for giving my approval to anything I don't understand anymore. If I'm to do that again (next time the possibility will arise is December -- if I still have this job then), I need an explanation from the art director as to why she made every decision. And I need it IN WRITING.

My boss finally promised me that this won't happen again. He gave me his word that the art director will have her process document done "in two weeks."

It was hard for me to do this. I know that the company is looking "at efficiencies," which means trying to decide who and how many to lay off, so perhaps this wasn't the wisest moment to become a squeaky wheel.

But there's a fissure in our internal process and we have to fix it. The consequences we're looking at are scary.


2 comments:

  1. That sounds very stressful! I'm glad I don't work there because I'd probably have a panic attack every day!

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  2. Oh my, that sounds awful! I haven't had anything that gets distributed on THAT magnitude, but I can certainly sympathize with the feeling of being held responsible for something that's out of your ocntrol, or that didn't happen on your watch. Hope it works out OK, and that she gets that plan put together ASAP.

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