Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A "Retreat from Saigon" project moment

Those of us born before 1965 or so probably remember the pictures of the chaotic evacuation of Americans and a few of their allies from Saigon in 1975 shortly before the liberation of South Vietnam. Those who had their tickets punched were able to board a helicopter bound for the safety of an off-shore aircraft carrier. Many others were left to their fate. The Retreat from Saigon became a metaphor for any hasty, disorganized end to an ill-advised adventure.

Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at University of London, resurrected memories of the Retreat with his observations on the construction of the new US embassy in Iraq.
"A fortress-style embassy, with a huge staff, will remain in Baghdad until helicopters come to airlift the last man and woman from the roof," he said, adding his own advice to the architects of the building: "Include a large roof."

I've thought about the Retreat from Saigon at times during projects when it becomes clear to everyone (except a couple of reality-challenged project backers) that the project is going down. Key people with the political connections to do so announce that they've been reassigned to a different, higher-priority project. Managers who talked for weeks about "our" project and "our" decisions start talking about "your" project and "your" decisions. Contractors are abruptly removed and thanked for their efforts, or disappear without explanation. Those are the folks who had a seat on their helicopter. I've usually been one of the unfortunates who have been left on the roof, waiting for the chopper that never arrives.

That's project life. If you've worked projects long enough you've probably had your own Retreat from Saigon moments.

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