Update 11/7/08: Blogger and author, Nick McCormick, interviewed me for a podcast on this subject. If you care about this topic, then listen to the podcast for more information and insight.
During this period of downturn, the unadulterated waste caused by failed IT will drive layoffs as organizations cancel poorly performing projects. Although these marginal projects might have escaped the axe during better times, today they're perfect budget-cut targets.
If you're an IT worker, follow these steps now to avoid becoming a layoff statistic:
Assess your project's business value. If the project adds substantial value to the company, you may be safe. Projects established with solid ROI, and rooted in reasonable assumptions about business requirements, are the best. Unfortunately, many projects are expensive, wasteful boondoggles that shouldn't ever be funded. If you're employed on one of these, then escape immediately!
Examine the project's execution success. Even the best-laid plans go awry, and IT projects are no exception; in other words, even a great business case can't compensate for lousy project delivery. If gridlock, sideways motion, and long delays characterize your project, then you've got to decide whether these problem are a temporary setback or a permanent state of affairs. If the latter, then get out now.
Evaluate yourself. Having looked at the project, look even more closely in the mirror. Does the team recognize your accomplishments and think you're doing a great job? When it comes to personal performance in tough economic times, being merely good is just not sufficient. Yeah, I know it sucks to work all those hours and then put in more study time at home, but getting canned in a recession is worse. Trust me, I've been there: I was laid off as a young IT guy in the aftermath of Black Monday in 1987. It wasn't fun.
Stay put or run like Hell. Based on honest analysis, decide your personal path forward. If your project is strategic and the team is executing reasonably well, then you may be okay. On the other hand, if signs point to toward project disaster, then perhaps you'd better get out. Use whatever time might be available to plan your next moves.
If you look for a moment at what frightens you most--those thoughts that, when they cross your mind, make your stomach flip-flop and your heart race--congratulations. You've just identified the source of all the information you need to prevent nasty surprises.
Fear is a sign that what you don't want to look at is trying to contact you. Instead of pushing this valued messenger aside because it's just too nerve wracking to do otherwise, apply your reasoning mind to determine what is fantasy (and therefore not worthy of concern) and what is not (and thus merits your attention).
The entire subject of layoffs is painful to consider. Nonetheless, honest personal examination is the only way to avoid being blindsided by the unexpected.