How to project manage the Rio Olympics

Picture the task: 10,500 athletes from 206 countries, 42 sports, 32 competition venues spread across four regions of the city, 39 test events, 2 technical rehearsals, 7.5 million tickets, 100,000 chairs, 11 million meals, 45,000 volunteers, 6,500 employees, and 85,000 outsourced staff and over 1 billion dollars to spend. All of these stats make this year’s eagerly anticipated Olympics a megaproject. But who brings this together in practice? What skills are required? How do they do it?  And what does success look like?

The Games will take place between 5-21 August (followed by the Paralympic Games 7-18 September) and for the first time in its 120 year history, South America will be hosting. Rio de Janeiro was chosen as the host city in 2009, and since then Rio and the Organising Committee have been working hard on bringing the Olympic Games to life. The responsibility of the Committee includes the competition timetable, accommodation and competition venues and medical and transportation services, amongst many others.

James Parnell, Project Management specialist, Networkers, reflects on the scale of the project: “As scope, budget and stakeholders go; it doesn’t really get any bigger than this! Add to this the dynamic bringing together of multiple working cultures from all around the world, this project is truly unique.

“This is a project with very clear milestones and there is no scope for error or delay – the show must go on! The world is watching, and the need for slick, robust and complete delivery is paramount.”

Technology is fundamental in the organisation and success of planning such an event so it is no surprise that it uses up 20% of this year’s sizeable budget. There is even a dedicated Technology Operations Centre for the 2016 Games, which opened in November last year. The Centre will be responsible for monitoring and controlling the IT systems which support the running of the Games and deliver real time competition results to the world’s media.

With IT project managers possessing the skills and tools that unify these IT systems and technologies it’s no surprise that they will be relied upon to manage the project. The IT project managers involved will possess an in-depth knowledge of project methodologies including PRINCE2, Agile and Waterfall as well as programme methodologies such as MSP.

To achieve the project objectives, the project managers will use software such as CA Clarity and MS-Project. The use of VTM (Venue Technology Manager) in the event planning process will allow the IT project managers to monitor the project critical path and the effects of any delays in any particular activity on the entire project. From this, they are able to identify those aspects of the project which are crucial for completion on time to prevent escalating delays and additional costs. This assessment will rely on using project management techniques such as WBS (Work Breakdown Structure), critical path method, and PERT (Project Evaluation and Review Technique).

Measuring the success of the project

As with any project, success is generally achieved by completing all of the goals and objectives outlined in the Project Management Plan within time and on or under budget. But of course, there will also be a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) identified at the start of the project based on the objectives around timings of events, transport links between venues and services available to participants and spectators. James Parnell summarises the definition of success for this project as “A safe Olympics, with complete stakeholder satisfaction. This means participants and their fans must see a slick operation throughout, whether they’re watching the Games live from Brazil or online in another part of the world.”

Despite the seven years spent organising the two week event, the Organising Committee’s achievements will likely be overlooked by the exciting and emotive headlines on new records and surprising results created by the athletes and amplified by the media. But perhaps behind the scenes, the unsung hero of the 2016 Olympic Games will be the humble IT Project Manager.

If you have what it takes to be the next Olympic-grade IT Project Manager or you simply have quality leadership skills and knowledge of the project management tools above, please get in touch or view our current project management vacancies.

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