In the annals of man-made disasters, China’s “Great Leap Forward” campaign is one of the greatest in the 20th century. Chairman Mao’s push for a rapid transformation and modernization of his country nearly devastated it instead.

It isn’t always a big goal that causes problems, it’s an unwillingness to drill down into the details that often leads to disaster. In Mao’s case, historians say his goal was too ambitious and over the top, and what made it impossible was that no one challenged his brutally short timeline. It’s a grim warning to any project management team that failure is guaranteed whenever you ignore details and don’t establish a reasonable cadence for tasks.

Communication is vital. When an entire team comes together and focuses laser-sharp attention on project details, a fuller, more accurate picture of what’s achievable becomes possible. With consensus and cooperation guiding the team, lofty goals can be scaled into sensible iterations that lead to success.

Setting impossible goals not only disappoints stakeholders but also demoralizes the team. That doesn’t mean that the bar must be set low on all tasks; just be realistic about what’s possible. If your team happens to exceed expectations, that’s terrific! But don’t set them up for failure before the task even starts.

Key Takeaways

  • Be practical about time, team capabilities, and stakeholder expectations.
  • Teach success to your team by defining goals that are realistic.
  • Be reasonable even when it comes to setting stretch goals.