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June 05, 2001: Not-so-clean cut

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Allegra and I are competing for the mousepad. When I move my hand away, she oh-so-slowly stretches out so that she is completely on it, pushing the mouse off in the process. I, in turn, gently shove her across my desk just the few inches necessary to reach the mouse and be able to use it, and she stays there, pretending indifference until my hand is removed, and then the whole dance begins again.

I'm not complaining though. At least she's on the desk, which means I can type easily enough, instead of her usual perch - my lap. When she is on my lap, if I do not keep my legs perfectly level, she will dig in with claws, trying to hold on. Don't even suggest simply pushing her off. She doesn't take no for an answer, and will continue to jump back on with that soft little trill of hers until I admit defeat.

It's odd to be home this early in the day - a sort of unexpected vacation. I'm home, however, because at 8am this morning, the axe fell and the project on which so many of us have spent over a year of our lives was suddenly and immediately cancelled. The newest management team finally got a harder slap of reality than they were expecting, and as the crowd of us stood around the phone in silence, they made their decision. Most of the lower levels of management didn't even know this was going to happen, but despite the suddenness of the decision, it came as very little surprise. This project has spiraled through too many cycles of the same problems - inability by higher management to make decisions, effectively manage scope, or even grasp the true depth of the task we were given. So in a way, this has sort of an amusing twist. They finally made a decision they'll have to stick with. There's no backtracking on this one; no hasty last-minute discussions to ultimately reverse it. It's done. It's over.

I am a consultant, and thus shielded from the true impact of this decision. Those of us in my shoes will simply be placed on other projects by our own managers - this is the nature of the job. You win some; you lose some, and you simply go on to the next one without looking back. It may sound callous, but it's better this way. Consultants cannot afford to get too emotionally involved (whether we do or not is entirely up to each one of us). I feel for the actual employees though - the ones who stuck it out through the mandatory pay cut and the long hours and missed vacations, only to stand around a conference phone and be told that most (not even all, just most) of them should hopefully be absorbed into other projects and positions around the company, but that even the managers who were speaking didn't know exactly how this would take place.

I'll go back tomorrow to see what is left to do. There are rumors that some of us consultants may be asked to stay a bit longer to help shut things down. I do not doubt that there will be some sort of effort to wrap up the code in tidy packages and store it away in neatly labeled boxes on a shelf somewhere, where it will gather dust and never, ever be used. Even those who will request this will understand the true futility of the effort, but 'business' demands that this kind of thing be done. It is its way, and always will be.

And after that, the window of opportunity opens wonderfully wide. I am forced to rearrange plans a few months earlier, and am actually beginning to gather a bit of excitement over the concept of finally being done with this - being able to relax at my own office and take advantage of all the free training that the Big Fish offers to those consultants unlucky enough to be on the bench. Because of the timing, I have already made it clear I will not take any new project that might require me to travel between now and the wedding (less than seven weeks away!), but the reality is that I will not take any new project at all. As I spoke with my manager, I was already announcing my availability on a few job sites. Nothing may come of it, but there is now no better time to try.

I will not bemoan what is lost. I hoped for the project to succeed, even when it seemed that nothing could possibly save it. My only regret is that this had to happen at the time when it seemed that we were finally going to actually do it right. And it is always hard to leave things unfinished, despite what relief there may be that it is ended, one way or the other.

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