I’ve shared in previous posts that I am a fan of the NBA. While I enjoy watching the sport of basketball, I’ve also come to recognize that some of the best lessons we can learn about leadership, project management, and team often come from outside the profession.

Today a friend reminded me of one of the most exciting NBA games that I can recall. This game was game one of round two in the 1995 playoffs between Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.

While the game itself was not a do or die situation, the emotional significance of winning it provided the Pacers the needed energy go carry the series. The most memorable part of the game was the last 20 seconds. With 18.7 seconds left and with the Pacers down by 6 points everyone assumed that the Knicks had won, everyone that is except Reggie Miller. In the remaining seconds of the game Miller managed to dazzle everyone with what can be only be described as Superman heroics. He managed to score 8 points and win the game.

The simple lesson is “it ain’t over till it’s over.” Against significant odds and a huge amount of disbelieve, Millet managed to carry the day. So often on our projects we are faced with issues that seem impossible to resolve and barriers that appear too great. At these points we are faced with a decision, do we play to win or play simply to end the game.

While it might appear as an easy choice based on the context of the story I shared above but often the line between tenacity (sticktoitiveness) and stupid stubbornness is very narrow. On the one hand if we decide to call the project off and declare defeat we may be accused of being quitters and seen as not giving the project our full effort. On the other hand, continuing down the path on what can obviously be seen as a losing project can be viewed as throwing good money after bad money.

So how do we know if we should continue on our project quest in the face of trouble or to kill the project because it is a losing endeavor. Providing an answer to this question is not easy as the project circumstances, organization culture, and issues the team is facing have to be taken into consideration. Ultimately though it all boils down to one simple matter. We keep pushing forward until the price of moving forward becomes greater than the upside of finishing with success.