I ran the Chicago 13.1 last weekend and while my time was not very fast, I did make it across the finish line; which was an accomplishment under the conditions we faced. Because of heat & humidity, the race organizers actually stopped the race. Only about 130 people (out of 4000 starters) "officially" completed the race before is was stopped. I crossed the finish line after the clocks had been turned off.
Preparing for and running this race was a lesson in adjusting goals and re-planning. The original plan was to run the race with my son. By March, we abandoned that plan because he got an injury and wasn't able to train. So I set a new goal of running under 1:45 and targeted my training toward that goal. On race morning however, with the temperature already climbing to a humid, sunny 80 degrees before the start, I knew if I went out on my target pace, I would pay for it later in the race, so I went slower right from the beginning. I ended up about 7 minutes off my target, and I was pretty tired at the end, but I made it.
So how often does this happen in projects? We start out with a goal, and as events unfold, that goal is no longer attainable. Can you recognize the need to re-plan, or do you keep marching toward your original target, not admitting that the situation has changed and your plan won't work?
I was consulting on a project last year where it became obvious that we would miss the target date. This information was presented to the executive steering committee, but they wouldn't allow the date to change. I think their logic was that if they let the date change, everyone would start slacking off. We missed the date, but still no one tried to come up with a realistic goal. It turned into a death-march where everyone was trying to deliver to an impossible goal. Fortunately for me, I had moved on to another project by then.
Did the executives achieve anything by keeping the pressure on? I doubt it. The morale was sinking with my team members as the project moved forward. In the race, the people that didn't adjust their goals were disappointed. People I talked to missed their target by 20 or more minutes and were really suffering at the end. When faced with reality, it's better to adjust a goal to be achievable. That doesn't necessarily mean easy, but if everyone knows the goal is impossible, the race is already lost.