The Missing De-orbit Command: How do we decide to end stale projects?

Too often our projects outlive our willingness to keep them running: we lose interest, they outlive their usefulness, we need to refocus our attention. Whatever the reason, we need to find ways to end them or pass them off those who are willing to give the projects the love and attention required to keep them viable and do so in a way that is humane to those who are affected.

When satellites are sent into orbit, there are plans for aborting and eventually decomissioning them by either deorbiting them safely or sending them into high graveyard orbits to keep space clear for future missions. In that same vein, we need to set up processes to help us decide that our projects no longer satistfy our needs, that they need to either evolve or when we need to move on.

The unplanned end of a project is not failure. Failure is when our friendships and our lives fall apart because the project has outlived its value. Failure is when our employees and coworkers have to be laid off, without severence because the company is no longer sustainable and we refused to notice until it was too late. Failure is when our constituents are left without any way to get their data, or worse: when the tools we make are critical to their needs and they are stuck without any alternatives. We must include plans that allow us to move on. We need to ask “What would make us stop?” and set up a process to thoughtfully and honestly ask ourselves whether our work is fulfilling our needs and is producing the things we want to put out into the world. And we need to do so at the very beginning.

Moderated Discussions: Topic & Questions (required for discussions only)
  • How do we provide pathways for our users to meaningfully export and use their content and data?
  • How do we set rules for how we take care of employees and coworkers who have to be laid off?
  • What if we have a wildly profitable product but our supply chain is unsustainable or unethical? What if the only way to produce a financially viable product is to be evil?
  • What can we do with our work when the product is shut down?
About Bernard Yu

Content strategist and information architect by trade. Philosopher and political theorist by training. Social justice wizard and lover of style guides by {heart/vocation/necessity}. Maker of internetty things.

I use empathy, words, philosophy, and code for editorial systems design {for/in/at} social and environmental justice {advocacy/educational/publishing} not-for-profit organizations. And advocate for open-access publishing and interdisciplinary scholarship. I nerd out at the intersection of scholarship, design, and public policy.

One day, I may grow up to become a scholar.