A Simple Modification

by Yisroel Goodman

That must have been where it started, Bill decided, when I planted the seed in Mark's thoughts. Still, deciding to make Landmark something bigger had not been a bad decision. It had given him and Mark some really good years.

Rather than sit back and wait for new business, Bill began to take a proactive approach, contacting their current clients and soliciting additional work or the names of business associates who might be interested in the services Landmark had to offer. He even swung a deal for an advertising blitz on WIND. Debbie arranged for Landmark's ads to fill open slots that didn't already have firm takers, at a fraction of the going rate. She recorded ads of ten, fifteen and twenty second lengths and used them to fill these slots which would otherwise have been used for promo time or station identification. Bill was happy to get the low rate and WIND was happy to get some income from what would otherwise have been a loss. Mark was soon spending as much time on Landmark business as on AMI projects. If he hadn't been such an expert, easily producing twice as much code as the average programmer, as solid and bug-free as could be expected, he would have really fallen behind on his AMI work. But merely outproducing other programmers was not good enough when the project director had promised the client even more. So when Owen began looking for a scapegoat, he chose the one who put in the least amount of overtime, even though he was the most productive on the team. When he began to harass Mark about his hours and Mark lost his temper and responded, it led to another shouting match and another session in Jean's office.

"Owen tells me that you left your office at eight PM Friday, when the other coders stayed until ten," Jean said.

"And did Owen mention that he left at five?" was Mark's response.

"Owen's hours are no concern of yours. He's not a programmer and his presence in the office at that time would not have made a difference to the project."

"On the contrary," Mark argued, "his absence was a big contribution. Without him to bother us, we got a lot accomplished. If you can keep him home for about a month, we might actually finish."

"Impertinence is not helping your situation," Jean snapped. "I want to know why you couldn't contribute to the project equally with your co-workers."

"I don't contribute equally? Who's the programmer with the most bugs in his code or the one with the most assignments incomplete? It isn't me."

"You're the one who's putting in the fewest hours."

"If it takes someone else twelve hours to accomplish what I can do in ten, that doesn't make him a bigger asset to the project or me an underachiever."

"But if he's willing to put in the twelve and you're not, he's a team player and you're not."

"How far behind schedule are we?" Mark asked.

"What does that have to do with this discussion?"

"It's the crux of this whole matter. If we're a few hours behind schedule, then Owen's absolutely right. Had I put in the extra two hours, we would now be on schedule. But since, as he announced this morning, we're at least two months behind, those extra two hours wouldn't have made a difference."

"An extra two hours yesterday and an extra two hours the day before would have made the difference," Jean pointed out.

"Not when we're trying to hit a moving target. As fast as we complete the specifications, Owen announces that there's been a change. The way I see it, if I had put in those two hours, he would be telling me today to throw out the work and do it differently. So I saved myself two wasted hours and I saved AMI two hours of comp time and I saved the client two billable hours of unproductive work."

"As I keep explaining to you, no work is unproductive," Owen cut in, "We may have to make simple modifications, but if the groundwork is already laid out, it saves time in the end."

"Simple modifications? You told the client that they would save a great deal of money because we already had a system designed that would do ninety percent of what they wanted and all it needed was simple modifications. They wanted it in Windows and we only had an old DOS version. They wanted it to be client-server and go against distributed databases on a network server and we only had it in dBase III on a PC. I begged you not to use the old system and to write a new one from scratch. But you kept repeating your little mantra about 'simple modifications'. So you had us take the old piece of junk and convert the screens to Windows and convert the code and convert the databases. Then we had to put in the multi-user code and convert the data retrieval to SQL. That took months. Then we held a demo for the client who, as I predicted, said it didn't even come close to meeting their needs and it looked like an old DOS application that had been patched together. So we had to rewrite it screen by screen. And we ran into all sorts of limitations because the old database structures just didn't give us all the access paths we needed. We could have given the client the exact system he wanted, designed fresh from the ground up to be what he needed and we could have been finished months ago. Instead, we're giving him an obvious patchwork, full of limitations and spaghetti code and we're taking months longer to do it. It's not my fault or Bill's fault or any of the other programmers' faults. It's entirely Owen's fault for selling the client and everyone else a load of bull."

"So you believe the project is a lost cause?" Jean asked.

"No, I believe Owen is a lost cause. Anyone can make a mistake. It takes a real moron to make the same one over and over, particularly in the face of everyone else telling him he's wrong. Not even Vincent the Magnificent can meet Owen's schedule."

"I assume that's one of the magicians you idolize," Owen said. Everyone who came into contact with Mark could not help but be aware of his hobby.

"One of? He was probably the world's greatest magician. And he had a theory that everything in this world happens in cycles. The person who's boss today will be the underling tomorrow and he'll get treated the same way he treated others when he was on top. Just remember that."

"Can we get back to the project?" Jean asked impatiently.

"Of course. I'll make a deal with you, Jean. I'll put in all the extra hours you want on two conditions. First, I want Owen to be here in his office until the last programmer leaves. If he expects us to put in all this overtime to correct his mistakes, the least he can do is suffer with us. Second, I want him to call the client and say, 'Good news. Because the programmers put in two hours of overtime, we're only one month, twenty-nine days and twenty-two hours behind schedule instead of two months.' Let's see if the client agrees that this is good project management."

"It seems obvious to me that you have lost all faith in the feasibility of this project," Jean said after a long pause, "Perhaps it's time that you considered tendering your resignation."

"So that Owen can use it as his excuse for why the project's behind schedule?" Mark said. "I won't play into his game. If you want to blame me this time, just like you blamed all the other people you fired in the past, be up front about it. Fire me and be done with it."

"Then you leave me with no choice," Jean said, "You are hereby terminated. Security will escort you to your office, where you will pack your belongings and leave. A check will be sent to you for the balance of your salary and a weeks' severance pay for each year of service. Personnel will contact you concerning any balances in your retirement or other accounts."

There was a moment of silence as everyone, including Jean, mentally digested the ramifications of what had just occurred. Then Mark smiled.

"I thought facing the end of my career here would hurt," he said, "but it doesn't. It's actually a relief. I just discovered that a good friend of mine was right. I never had a career here. I was just kept around as long as I was useful and sacrificed when that became expedient. I really won't miss this place at all."

Mark called Bill that evening. "So when is it your turn?"

"When is it my turn to what?" Bill asked.

"To leave Arthur Mitchell."

"I never said that I would leave Arthur Mitchell."

"Bill, in your office you kept talking about how great we work as a team. You said that I would do the programming and you would handle the advertising and the management and shmooze the clients so that we get enough work to keep me busy full time."

"Mark, I'm a Senior Manager here. Unlike you, I have a career at AMI."

"So what are you saying? Now that you've talked me into taking this big step, you're going to leave me high and dry? I can't do it alone. I'm counting on you."

"And I'm not going to leave you in the lurch. Look, Mark, I'm a better manager than a programmer. AMI is a management consulting firm, where my skills are appreciated. Landmark is a technical consulting firm. It needs a full-time technician and a part-time manager. Haven't you yourself said many times, 'It takes one hour of productive management to plan forty hours of technical productivity?' I can do all the management Landmark needs without giving up my job at AMI."

"You really think so?"

"Absolutely. Landmark does not need a full-time manager. If we both worked forty-five hours a week for Landmark, then we'd both need full salaries. I don't know if there would be enough work to pay us both seventy five dollars an hour for that many hours, plus benefits. This way works out better. You get paid for the forty-five to fifty hours a week you put in. I get paid for the ten hours a week I put in. Since you're in it full-time, Landmark will pay towards your insurance, vacation and so on. Mine will be covered by AMI. After all expenses are covered, including our salaries for the hours we put in, your insurance and so on, we divide the balance as partners. We'll probably have to keep it in the firm for operating expenses, but it will belong to both of us equally. Sound good?"

"I guess so," Mark answered hesitantly.

"Don't worry about it. I've got my management end covered. Just keep on holding up your technical end and everything will be fine."

Bill proved right with his analysis. Landmark operated on ten percent management and ninety percent technical expertise. Bill would find the clients, make the pitch and close the contract, all in his spare time. Mark would fulfill it. With the workload of AMI no longer in the picture, it was Mark who now had all the free time and Bill who was taking on dual workloads. Bill's project, already two months behind schedule at the time of Mark's departure, was falling further behind due to the absence of their top programmer. Owen wasted even more time with useless meetings to discuss the situation and Bill also had to set time aside to interview prospective replacements. The candidates he met were all unsuitable. They were either fresh recruits straight out college or the rejects from other firms.

"I can't catch up on this project," Bill complained to Owen, "It was hard enough before our best programmer was fired."

"I know he's a friend of yours, so I won't debate your assessment of his abilities," Owen said, "But you've had ample time to find a suitable replacement."

"Ample time, maybe, but not ample money," Bill retorted, "Why are we posting this job at a salary less than anyone else is offering for the same position? And when I say anyone else, I mean even other departments at AMI."

"Because we're already over budget on this project and we have no money to spare," Owen explained.

"We were paying Mark fifty thousand a year," Bill pointed out, "and that was a bargain for someone with nine years of experience. Why are we advertising this job at thirty? That's barely entry level and this position requires extensive experience."

"We're trying to recoup our losses."

"But we're losing a hell of a lot more than twenty thousand dollars doing this!" Bill shouted, "I'm wasting time interviewing unsuitable applicants and this eight-million-dollar project is collapsing. If we lose this project, we could lose Orange Bank as a client. Mark was right. You haven't learned a thing from all your previous fiascos. You're still being penny wise and dollar foolish!"

"Better keep your opinions to yourself, Landey," Owen all but snarled at him. "You may think that your ten years in the firm guarantees you a permanent position, but it doesn't. I won't tolerate insubordination."

After meetings like these, Bill envied Mark. At least Mark no longer had to put up with Owen's stupidity or his tantrums. Sometimes Bill wished that like Mark, he could chuck his current job and go work for himself at Landmark. But he recognized the reality of his situation. Unlike Mark, his expertise while at AMI had moved from programming to management and Landmark had no need for a full-time manager. Unlike Mark, Bill had a family to think about. Family insurance policies provided to small companies left out much of the coverage available to employees of a large company like Arthur Mitchell. And unlike Mark, Bill was on the career track at AMI, a manager with ten years of good reviews to his name. All it would take would be for someone in the hierarchy to leave the firm or transfer to another department to create an opening that would lead to another promotion. Eventually, he could even make partner. That was not something to dismiss lightly. So Bill was determined to stick it out, despite Owen's griping. Sooner or later he would catch up on this project or move on to another one and begin collecting accolades again.

Perhaps his downfall began the night things all came to a head between him and Debbie, him and the client manager of the project, him and Owen and Jean. His fury rose as he recalled that night.

Bill was forced to take a giant step backward in his career and become a coder. As a manager he had been insulated from the lines of program instructions that actually composed the systems his group had been creating. But now, faced with the loss of his best programmer, underpaid and incompetent replacements and a project falling more behind schedule each day, he began delving into the source code itself. He was hampered by the fact that he was not as good as Mark and unlike the programmers, he was not given uninterrupted time to code. Just as he was making sense of a particularly tricky routine, Owen would interrupt with a request for yet another meeting or one of his staff would come by with something to discuss.

He found that his most productive time was after regular working hours. So he began to spend late nights and weekends in his office coding. He missed a planned dinner with some of his neighbors. Debbie didn't want to go alone, so Mark escorted her. He missed Suzie's school play, but Debbie went with Mark. When Suzie begged him to come to her school one day, like all the other fathers had, to talk about his work, he couldn't find the time. Instead, Mark went and put on a magic show. The hurt was evident in Suzie's eyes. He promised Suzie that he would make it up to her with a family trip during summer vacation, but like Owen, he learned how to make promises he couldn't keep and unlike Owen, he had no one else to blame. The arguments with Debbie became more frequent and more furious. He knew that his marriage was in serious trouble. Today he had promised Debbie that would absolutely leave early no matter what, there could be no excuse. He had the evening all planned. He would leave at four and arrive home at five thirty. Fifteen minutes to get ready and they would drive to their favorite restaurant in midtown. If they made good time, they would be seated by seven. That gave them over an hour for dinner. Using all of her influence at WIND, Debbie had procured tickets to a highly acclaimed Broadway show beginning at eight thirty. If he wanted to save his marriage, this evening had to be perfect. At four he was putting his papers into his briefcase when Owen came in.

"Talk to you in my office for a minute?" Owen asked, in his manner of phrasing an order as a question.

"A very quick minute," Bill replied, "I've got to get out of here."

"Leaving a bit early, aren't you?"

Bill bristled at the implication, but hid his annoyance. "It's our anniversary," he explained, walking down the hall with his boss, "Debbie's got a big night planned."

"Congratulations," Owen responded automatically, putting no feeling into the words. "How's the project coming along?"

"I feel we're finally making real progress," Bill said, "as long as there are no last minute emergency scope changes, we're all set for the demo."

"Great. Then you can give me that preview tomorrow?"

"I know I agreed to it, but I'd really prefer to spend the time testing the system."

"I'm sure you would. But it is ready for a quick demo tomorrow?"

"I believe so," Bill answered hesitantly.

"Great, great. Because I promised Michael that he stop by in the morning for a sneak preview."

Michael Lotti was the project director at Orange Bank, Owen's counterpart at the client company. An old buddy of Jean's, he had recommended to his superiors that Arthur Mitchell design the system. Mike was a short, rotund man with a bald head resembling a perfect globe and black-framed glasses of a type that had gone out of style before Bill was born. Rumor had it that Mike and Jean were more than just friends. Rumor also had it that Mike and Owen were more than just friends. These rumors existed because, despite the numerous delays and obvious indications that this project was out of control, Mike had not yet recommended to his firm that it be removed from Owen's group. In many ways Mike was just like Owen, as if the two had been cloned in the same factory. The only difference between them was that Michael had no team underlings on his end to take the heat when something went wrong. His people only tested the software that Owen's group supplied. It was Mike's responsibility alone to liaise with Owen and make sure that the project was progressing. Without someone else to blame, he would face the consequences for a failed project himself. And without the worry of having any of his people quit, he could do a lot more shouting and name-calling when things didn't work smoothly. Now with no preparation, Owen was breaking the news to Bill that Mike was coming to preview the system in the morning.

"Why did you promise him a demo tomorrow? We had one scheduled for next week!"

"I had to do it," Owen explained, "Mike said that he was getting pressure from his superiors to take the project away from us. I thought that showing him what we had would convince him otherwise."

"That's the reason for next week's demo."

"I thought that if we gave him a sneak preview a week early, it would make a better impression, that we're ahead of schedule."

"After falling three months behind, we're going to give the impression that we're ahead of schedule? And we're going to do this by demoing a system that has bugs we planned on removing this week, but can't because we're out of time? That's got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard! Why didn't you clear this with me first?"

"Because as your manager, I have to make the heavy decisions that might save this project," Owen announced pompously, "If I leave it to you to decide when we're ready, we just won't be."

"But you had a date! Next week!"

"You told me the system was ready to preview tomorrow morning."

"For you to preview! Not for a client demo!"

"What's the problem? Get a list of the outstanding bugs and fix those in the main modules. Just do the simple modifications. We'll demo those and avoid those modules that aren't ready yet. It won't be a problem. See you tomorrow."

Owen left, once again saddling Bill with the task of fulfilling an impossible promise. Bill's blood boiled in fury but he pushed his anger aside and tried to think calmly about the best way to face this new situation. He walked into the large office that served as the computer room. Though the introduction of the personal computer into the corporate world had all but eliminated the need for computer rooms, where teams of programmers sat closely together around a mainframe producing code, Owen believed that if a group of people were herded closely together and constantly monitored, they would work harder and waste less time. Bill had argued that the lack of privacy in a room where every conversation could be heard, would disturb the concentration that a programmer needed to produce bug-free code. He was overruled. Mark had often told Bill that he could have accomplished far more had he been working in a private office without interruption. Now in the computer room, often referred to as the war room, Bill could see the proof of his contention. Paul sat in a corner pouring over a source code printout in an attempt to track down an elusive logic error, while also doing his best to block out the telephone conversation Sarah at the next desk was having with someone at the client firm. Sarah had one finger in her free ear to reduce the sound of the discussion Wing and Natalya were holding concerning the most efficient use of indexes for a particular retrieval. All talking ceased as the team members became aware that Bill was in the room.

"As soon as you're ready, bring your current task list to the conference room." he announced. "We're going to have an emergency meeting to decide which bugs have to be corrected before tomorrow's demo."

Four jaws dropped in unison. Paul was the first to recover. "Did you say tomorrow's demo?"

"You heard right," Bill answered, "Five minutes ago, on his way home to watch television or whatever important task he rushes home to each night, our feckless leader mentioned to me that he'd promised Michael Lotti a demo tomorrow morning."

"Is he out of his mind?" Paul shouted.

"We all know the answer to that one," Bill said, "Unfortunately, neither Arthur Mitchell or the good doctors at the Mental Clinic have discovered it yet. So we're stuck doing cleanup."

Another team meeting took place, where priorities were reassessed and tasks reassigned. Bill undertook to correct some of the more pressing problems himself. Then he spent some time with each programmer individually discussing their assignments. This concluded, he hurried to his office to begin the work. He picked up the phone and called home first.

"Hello, Landey residence," a familiar female voice he could not place answered.

"This is Bill Landey. Who's this?"

"This is Gloria Connor, Mr. Landey. I'm babysitting."

"Babysitting?" Suddenly he remembered his anniversary! Debbie would be furious! "I thought Mark was babysitting."

"Mark is driving your wife to Manhattan. She left a message that if you called, you should go directly there and not bother coming home first, to save time."

"Thank you. If she calls, tell her I'm on my way."

He then noticed the blinking light on the phone indicated that a call had come in while he was out of the office. He pressed the button to retrieve the message.

"Bill, I hope you already left," Debbie's voice said, "If not, this is your reminder. Call me and let me know that you're leaving."

"4 P.M. Tuesday." the automated voice tacked on the time to the end of the message.

"Bill, where are you? I hope you're on your way home."

"4:30 P.M. Tuesday."

"Bill, I hope you left at four and will be home within the half-hour."

"5:00 P.M. Tuesday."

"Bill, Mark is taking me to the restaurant. If you haven't left yet, you can meet us there."

"5:30 P.M. Tuesday."

"Bill, we're at the restaurant. Mark insists on waiting until you get here. I hope you're on your way."

"6:40 P.M. Tuesday."

"Bill, this is getting really annoying. The restaurant won't hold the table if we don't order. Mark and I are having dinner and we hope you'll join us momentarily."

"7:00 P.M. Tuesday."

"Bill, now I'm really angry. I can't believe you did this tonight. Mark and I are headed to the theater. If you leave right now, you can still make it."

"8:10 P.M. Tuesday."

In shock, Bill glanced at the clock. It was 8:25. Where had all the time gone? Only moments ago it had been four o'clock and he had been preparing to leave when Owen stopped by with his demand for a quick meeting. If he left right now and grabbed a cab straight to the theater, he would only be a few minutes late. His phone rang. In an automatic gesture, he picked up the receiver without thinking.

"Bill Landey," he said.

"Bill, I can't believe it! What the hell are you still doing in the office?"

"Debbie, listen, I was all set to leave at four. I packed my briefcase and everything. Then Owen hit me with a thunderbolt..."

"I don't want to hear about it!" she interrupted with a furious shout, "It's always something!"

"If I leave right now and grab a cab, I'll be there in a few minutes.."

"Don't bother!" she screamed.

"But, honey, it's our anniversary."

"And you didn't bother to show up! Don't bother coming to the theater. In fact, don't bother coming home! Why don't you just sleep in the office, since you seem to love it so much!"

She hung up before he could say anything further. With a rock in the pit of his stomach, he debated what to do. A knock at the door announced the presence of Paul Brown, who entered clutching a source code printout,

"Bill, I'm not sure I fully understand the specs for this change.."

"Not now, Paul," Bill cut him off, "I can't think straight right now."

"What's the problem, Boss?" Paul asked, then noticing the look on Bill's face, he said, "You don't look so good. You'd better go home right now. We can take it from here."

Bill ran out and caught a cab straight to the theater. When he arrived, the play had already started and there was no one waiting out front. He ran to the ticket window.

"I'm Bill Landey. Did my wife leave a ticket for me?"

"Sorry, sir. There are no tickets waiting."

"Are there any tickets that weren't used?"

"If there are, I don't know about it."

"Any unsold tickets?"

The clerk laughed. "Are you kidding? This show was sold out weeks ago."

Concluding that Debbie must have gone home, Bill decided to take a cab all the way, rather than try for the commuter train which ran only once an hour during off-peak periods. The cabbie was ecstatic over the large fare and began to talk ebulliently until he realized that Bill had weighty problems on his mind and wasn't interested. The remainder of the ride passed in silence. Once home, Bill paid the driver, mentally prepared himself for the argument that was sure to ensue and entered his house.

"Oh, Mr. Landey, you're home," the babysitter greeted him, "Aren't you early?"

"My wife isn't here?"

"Your wife? Isn't she with you?"

"We missed each other," he explained lamely.

"I'm sorry," she said. "As long as you're home, I might as well leave. Unless, of course, you're going out again?"

"No, I'm in for the night."

"Then I'll see you later."

"How much do we owe you?"

"Forget about it, I see you have other concerns now."

"No, really.."

"Good night," she said hurriedly, practically running out the door.

Bill tiptoed to his daughter's bedroom and peeked inside. Suzie lay on her side, her right arm wrapped around her favorite stuffed panda. Her copper hair, a perfect blend of his blonde and Debbie's red, spread out across her like a second quilt. He stared at her, an almost perfect miniature of the flame-haired doll he had married, almost as if he had not had any part of her creation. But there was his cleft chin instead of Debbie's pointed one and his deep blue eyes, not Debbie's green ones. He bent down to kiss her soft cheek and felt the sweetness of her toothpaste-scented breath. His heart swelled with love. She was so angelic and so innocent. With a pang he thought of the times he had let her down and realized that if he did not do something soon he would lose her. From his daughter's room, he walked to the living room and in the dark, began planning his apology and what he could promise Debbie to make amends. But each time he tried, he came up with nothing and before long he found himself thinking of the demo which would be held the next morning.

It was not until one thirty in the morning that Debbie came home. Bill heard the key turning in the lock and then whispers as the door opened. From his vantage point in the darkened living room, Bill watched her enter the apartment. To his surprise, she was smiling. She turned back toward the hallway.

"Good night, Mark," she whispered, "and thanks for everything."

"Good night, Debbie," he heard Mark call back, "I really think you ought to talk to Bill. I'm sure he can explain.."

"I'm sure he can," Debbie said, "but I'm not interested in hearing it. I'm too tired and too upset to discuss it now."

"Then sleep on it," Mark advised, "You'll think more clearly in the morning."

She closed the door behind her and took a few steps into the apartment. "Gloria?" she called out hesitantly, turning on the living room light. "What are you doing here?" she asked in annoyance when she saw Bill.

"I went to the theater," Bill explained, "when you weren't there, I figured you went home so I took a cab all the way. I'm sorry.."

"You're always sorry," she interrupted, "and so am I. I'm sorry that I believed you. Again. I should have realized that Arthur Mitchell takes first place in your life above all else. Even if it was our anniversary."

"Debbie, I tried to leave at four, I really did."

"Bill, I'm just too tired and too angry to discuss it now. I'm going to bed. You can sleep on the couch. Or you can go back to Arthur Mitchell and sleep on your desk. I don't care."

Bill tried to fall asleep on the couch, but despite its plushness, he could find no comfortable position. The emotional turmoil caused by his fight with Debbie and worry about the morning's demo, kept him awake. At four thirty in the morning he realized that it was hopeless. He wrote a note for Debbie and left for the office. Arriving at six, he found his programmers still there, some napping at their computers, others staring bleary-eyed at their source code in an attempt to identify the remaining errors.

"How's it going?" he asked Paul.

"About as good as we can expect," was Paul's non-committal reply.

"Then catch a nap," Bill suggested, "It won't help if the programmers nod off during the demo."

He entered his own office and sat at his desk. Sleep deprivation caused his mind to sputter like an engine on its last ounce of fuel. He was unable to complete a coherent thought. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the desk, cradled in the crook of his arm. The next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake.

"I guess the demo's going to run perfectly, if you can afford to take a nap," Owen said smugly, "and you're not the only one I caught."

First, Bill had to concentrate on remembering where he was and what he was working on. Next, he had to restrain himself from smashing a fist into that fat, grinning face or unleashing a barrage of deserved insults.

"Whatever the results of today's demo," Bill said, "I know that everyone on my team sacrificed and gave their one hundred and ten percent to the effort. Thanks to your last minute warning, none of the programmers went home, I left late, missed connecting with my wife and ruined our anniversary plans. I slept on the couch or rather, I tossed on the couch and finally came in at five in the morning to make sure we were ready for today. So taking a nap is the least that any of us can afford to do."

"We'll see about that once we get the demo rolling."

Bill and the programmers ran through the system quickly one more time. They tested all the main functions and avoided the complicated ones that had recently been added or changed and were not yet ready.

"You guys and gals did an incredible job," he said, "Looks like you really came through."

"We're kind of getting used to this," Paul said, "and that scares me. We can't go on at this pace too much longer or we'll hit burnout."

"Don't worry," Bill told them, "After today's demo, I'm going to have it out with Owen. If he doesn't understand that he can't do this after today, I'll go to Jean. If she doesn't get it, I'll go to the V.P. Somewhere in the chain of command there has to be somebody who understands that you can't depend on miracles to keep your projects going."

"Okay, Mike Lotti's here," Wing called out, "Let's get ready."

Minutes later, Owen ushered Mike into the computer room. Bill introduced him to the team, since though they knew him by sight, he had never formally met them. Wasting no time, Owen guided him to the two chairs in front of Paul's computer, which had been set up for the demo. The demo progressed smoothly, for a few minutes. Then Mike began interrupting Bill's explanation with questions concerning the aesthetics of the screen.

"Why is that balance field in red when it's not negative?" he asked.

"Originally we were told that all non-zero balances in the amount due field would be in red," Bill explained, "recently we were told that only negative balances should be in red and positive balances, indicating credit, should be in black. We haven't gotten around to changing it yet."

"I thought that you were planning on having the main screens perfect for the demo."

"We are," Bill responded, "and the demo is next week. This morning is supposed to be a preview. My understanding of it is that the main screens should function bug-free and the aesthetics will be handled over the next week."

"I was expecting a real demo, with all the main screens completed."

"You must understand that as we develop the system, we're given a list of bugs and changes. We assign them priorities and divide them among the team according to a combination or priority and which person is working on a particular module. A bug, where the system crashes or displays the wrong information, has a higher priority than an aesthetic change."

"I understand about priorities, I handle large projects myself," Mike said in annoyance, "But I was expecting a full demo, not an incomplete 'preview' as you call it."

"Perhaps, Bill," Jean cut in with her acerbic tone, "You can explain why you decided to turn this demo into a preview."

"Perhaps Owen can explain how Mike was expecting a demo, when up until last night, all we had planned for today was a preview for Owen alone." Bill's fatigue was making him edgy.

"I was informed of this demo two days ago," Mike said.

"Well, I was informed of it at four P.M. last night, as I was about to leave to celebrate my anniversary. I actually ended up staying here until eight rearranging priorities and I was back in at five in the morning. My programmers never went home. I missed my anniversary and my wife wants me to move out. So you'll have to forgive me if I'm not all torn up about a red number that should be black."

Jean and Owen were taken aback. Bill had just broken a cardinal rule by talking about internal management problems in front of a client.

"Well," Mike said after a long pause, "It appears to me that there's a certain lack of communications among management here. Let's just continue with this demo, excuse me, preview and see how it goes."

They went through the next few screens without interruption, as Bill explained briefly how each was to be used and what data validation routines lurked in the background to prevent user errors. Then they came to the currency conversion screen. Bill showed them how the program allowed the entry of an unlimited number of currencies and conversion rates against the American dollar.

"When entering a transaction," he explained, "you enter the amount in dollars. Then using this table, the program can show you the value of the transaction in any of the currencies recorded."

"Amounts are entered in American dollars only?" Mike asked.

"For this phase, that is correct."

"What happened to the possibility of entering it in other currencies in the first place?"

"As we discussed at our last meeting, universal currency entry would be implemented in the next phase," Bill explained. "Your own people agreed that it was not a pressing requirement at this time."

"But I was specifically promised that it would be in next week's release," Mike stated, "I came here today so that I could see a demo and report to my management that it was operational."

"Who promised you this?" Bill demanded. "Wait. No need to answer. Owen, you're slipping. You forgot to tell me about it last night, so that you could pretend I knew all along and it's my fault it isn't there."

"I did tell you about it," Owen said.

"When was that?"

"Sometime earlier in the week."

"Let me get this straight," Bill said, struggling to sound calm despite his fury, "When we discussed this at the meeting with Orange Bank, we all concluded that this was a major change which would involve several weeks' work to implement. Yet you claim that sometime earlier in the week, you told me that it would have to be ready for this demo and I had less than a week to implement it. Did we have any discussion about it? Did you see it on any of our subsequent project schedules? The only thing more insane than your believing it could be done in less than a week would be for me to agree to do it in that time frame. You want to know why this project is always off schedule?" he asked, addressing Jean, "Just listen to what passes for project management around here."

"Bill, you're ultimately the project manager," Jean said, "and you're responsible for omissions and missed schedules."

"Since when is reading Owen's mind one of my job requirements? I can't be responsible for promises he made in private that he didn't even have the decency to tell me or promises he tells me about when it's too late to even attempt to fulfill them."

"Bill, save it for a meeting as soon as this demo is over."

"As far as I'm concerned," Mike said, "it is over. There's not much point in my hanging around any further."

"Mike, do you have time to stop in my office and discuss this?" Jean pleaded.

"I'll save us both some time," Mike responded. "I just want to say that what I saw was certainly a step in the right direction. Yes, I am disappointed that certain promises weren't fulfilled. This seems to be a constant recurring theme on this project. But I'm beginning to understand why. You people have a severe communications problem. I suggest that you fix it. It's not my job to talk to Owen about something and then double-check with Bill to make sure he knows about it. I can't tell my bosses that Owen says the program will do something but Bill's not sure. I'm under a lot of pressure to make sure this project is completed and the suggestion has been made that if Arthur Mitchell can't handle it, maybe it's time to look elsewhere. So please, get your act together before it comes to that."

There was a minute of silence after Mike left the office. Then Jean turned to Bill.

"In with my office," she snapped, "now!"

"No!" Bill shouted back, "I'm too tired and too angry to sit through another of your tirades. And I'm sick of these private meetings where things are said and then denied later. This is my team. From now on, anything involving this project will be said in front of all of them, if only to avoid having the story changed later."

"Then I'll tell you in front of your team, that your career here is hanging by a thread. You may have just cost us our biggest client, certainly the biggest project in my area."

"Rephrase that. Owen may have cost you the project. He's the one making wild promises and then not even telling us what the client expects."

"He was not the one who threw a tantrum in front of the client."

"You mean it's okay to screw up a project as long as you do it privately and offer up someone else's head when you explain it to the client? As long as you have some underling to dump the blame on, you can just keep doing it over and over again? If we lose this project, I guarantee you that it won't be because of my tantrum. It will be because Owen's incompetence put us months behind schedule and because Owen promised them a schedule that's simply undeliverable."

"Bill, let's take it to my office."

"No, I've had enough for today. I'm taking it home. That is, if I'm still welcome there."

"How can you leave? You have work to do!"

"I also have a marriage and what's left of my sanity to save. Staying here would just be unproductive."

"Bill, I'm warning you," Jean said with quiet but unmistakable venom in her voice, "You leave now, don't bother coming back."

"I can't figure out if that's a punishment or reward. But it makes no difference. I'm going home."

"Your severance check will be mailed to you," Jean called out.