Project Management Institute

The big event


Best of Congress Papers

the big event

by Susan Ladika

Athletes aren't the only ones under pressure during major competitions. Project managers are in their own race to handle a mind-numbing mix of details under do-or-die deadlines.

This article is based on material in the white paper, “Event Management & the PMBOK® [Guide]: Let's explore this with the Melbourne Commonwealth Games,” presented by Brenda Treasure and Doug Treasure at the PMI Global Congress 2007—Asia Pacific in Hong Kong.

but when the project is a major event, it's simply not an option. Be it a conference, concert or athletic competition, the event must be completed by the announced date. And in the case of truly high-profile events, project managers must also often contend with multiple stakeholders, throngs of viewers and a pack of press people just waiting to pounce on any error. That's when employing project management skills can help organizers pull together all the details and minutia to keep the event on time and on track.

For the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, Brenda Treasure and Doug Treasure, PMP, co-directors of Brenda Hogan Executive Services Pty Ltd., in Melbourne, Australia, had 16 months to plan and four months to set up the technology at dozens of venues. And there was little margin for error, with 4,500 athletes, more than 2,000 officials and an audience in the millions counting on the project to perform.

Let the Games Begin

Every four years, members of the Commonwealth nations come together in an international sporting competition, a scaled-down Olympics of sorts. And like the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games rotate among different locations, with the Melbourne event held 15–26 March 2006.

Setup began on 1 January 2000, but the Treasures weren't brought into the process until November 2005. Ms. Treasure served as venue technology implementation manager, and Mr. Treasure as venue technology manager at the sports and aquatic center.

The Commonwealth Game planners did have one huge advantage: They weren't starting from scratch. The lessons learned from previous games are passed on to the next country in charge of the event, Mr. Treasure says.

It was a high-pressure, high-profile event, but the Treasures quickly discovered the same project management skills applied, including:

Planning: The process began with a technology-needs analysis of 40 program areas–and the Treasures discovered 37 had issues.

Communications: The dozens of stakeholders and project team members had to know what was going on.

The team was respons and voice cable outlets, 250 kilometers of optic work switches. That's

Scheduling: Timetables were managed by those who had direct responsibility for the tasks and reviewed by other staff to ensure there were no gaps.

Change Management With as many as 30 change requests coming in a single day, Ms. Treasure had to implement and manage a monitoring system.

Scope Management: Given the fixed timeframe, the couple knew it had to keep clearly defined objectives and goals.

The Treasures say the principles in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) helped them execute these processes. “We're used to using [the PMBOK® Guide], naturally,” Mr. Treasure says. “Without it, we still would have achieved our goals, but it would have been a lot harder to get where we did.”

For the Treasures, it was project management as usual. But it was a whole new experience for some of the 35 team members from Asia, North America and Europe—many of whom had no previous project management experience.

“Some of the people thought the [project management] steps were bureaucratic and couldn't understand why we were doing it,” Mr. Treasure recalls.

Team members didn't immediately see the point of creating issues and risk registers, communications plans and change management processes.

ible for a whole lot of technology: nearly 7,500 data more than 1,000 kilometers of voice and data cable, fiber, 30 kilometers of television cable and 215 net-a grand total of 300,000 technical devices.

The Treasures relied on communication to build a rapport with the team members, and by seeing the process evolve, most of them came to appreciate the role project management had to play.

Prime Time

The project goal was to ensure the technology was completely reliable and available during prime competition times. And it was a whole lot of technology: nearly 7,500 data and voice cable outlets, more than 1,000 kilometers of voice and data cable, 250 kilometers of optic fiber, 30 kilometers of television cable and 215 network switches. That's a grand total of 300,000 technical devices. The team was also responsible for videoboards, scoreboards, timing, scoring and results, and operating a central help desk during the games.

Adding to the challenge were stipulations that required the team to simultaneously install the technology at several sites and do so with limited access. And some of the venues, including the sports and aquatic center, were open to the public up until the games began.

That meant the Treasures had to draw up—and get the team to adhere to—strict schedules. There was no wiggle room to change or miss the deadline. “On the positive side, everyone had one goal on their minds,” Mr. Treasure says. “Typically in a corporate environment, you might be pulled in two or three different directions.”

To keep the project focused and on track, the CEO and board of the Commonwealth Games met with the staff every couple of weeks. The main goals were to provide an introduction to new team members, as well as update and motivate the entire staff.

Once the event kicked off, the sports and aquatic center operated 18 hours a day for 11 straight days. Visiting dignitaries included everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Australian Prime Minister John Howard to U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice. A media center with spots for up to 200 reporters also operated in the venue, so any misstep would be subject to scrutiny.

The line between event management and project management is starting to blur.

— Roger Phelps, STIHL, Virginia Beach, Va., USA

Fortunately, all that planning paid off, and the project team turned in a winning performance.

Making It Look Easy

Roger Phelps doesn't need any convincing about the merits of applying project management to run a big event. He relies on his own array of project management practices and the PMBOK® Guide to help run a competition of chopping and sawing events put on by power tools manufacturer STIHL.

Many people perceive the event as “just a bunch of big guys getting up and chopping wood,” says Mr. Phelps, promotional communication manager at the Virginia Beach, Va., USA-based company. But it's actually a finely orchestrated event at three U.S. venues, involving 32 competitors and 150 staff members.

What started out as a local competition more than 20 years ago now ranks as a viewing favorite in such far-flung places as Israel and Venezuela. In recent years, the company has also introduced a U.S. collegiate competition and international events. And as the event has grown, so have Mr. Phelps’ project management techniques.

“The line between event management and project management is starting to blur,” he says.

Mr. Phelps and his team deal with everything from TV coverage to on-site logistics—with each aspect carefully outlined in the overall project plan. Among his key concerns are effectively allocating resources, managing the scope, staying within budget, ensuring the quality and safety of the events, communicating with internal and external stakeholders, and, most important, tracking the ROI. “We can put on a great event, and if nobody comes and pays attention, we're just entertaining ourselves,” he says.

Scheduling is obviously crucial, especially when the competitions are broadcast on television and tasks such as cutaways to advertisements must be built into the timetable. Mr. Phelps uses a combination of Microsoft Project and Excel spreadsheets to plan everything—even seemingly small tasks such as when to deliver water to the competitors.

Like the Treasures, Mr. Phelps says putting on such an event is certainly possible without adhering to project management practices. However, he's less than enthusiastic about the results that would bring. “We could do it, but I doubt we could do it very well,” he says.

Implementing project management practices also lets the team capture lessons learned. A firm believer in the “hit by the bus concept,” Mr. Phelps says if anything happened to him, the project would still be able to go on without a hitch. “None of us is irreplaceable,” he says. “It's great to have people who know everything. But the problem is: What happens when they go away?”

By having everything mapped out based on the experiences at past competitions, he says, “anybody should be able to pick up that plan and implement it without missing a step.”

After all, the show must go on. PM

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla., USA. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal-Europe and HR Magazine.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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