Project management inside Dakar
a successful logistic project
The Paris-Dakar race is one of the most popular rallies in the world. After the soccer World Cup, it is the second biggest event, as measured by the number of television watchers. During the past four years, the organization of this rally, now called “Dakar,” has moved to South America, because there were too many risks to keep doing this race in the deserts of Africa..
Every year the organization has to deal with many logistical issues, to transport everyone and everything (breathing or not), over more than 600,000 kilometers, including television equipment, hospitals, security, people, food, housing, motorbike malls, organization replacements, and so forth.
To have a successful logistical project, project management best practices have been applied.
What is Dakar?1
The Dakar is a human adventure whose history has been built in the finest deserts on the planet. Both a race and a test of navigational skills, it involves not only the leading riders and drivers of the rally raid discipline, but also amateur competitors, who often take part to make their dreams come true or to rise to a challenge, behind the handlebars or steering wheels of their bike, quad, car, or truck. Fifty nationalities come together each year for this mixture of competition and solidarity whose television coverage is seen by one billion viewers in 190 countries.
The adventure began back in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan Desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still enthralled by this landscape and promising himself he would share his fascination with as many people as possible. He proceeded to come up with a route, starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers, and crossing Agadez, before eventually finishing at Dakar.
More than just a simple race to see who is the quickest, the Dakar demands off-piste navigational capacities and consistency. More significantly, on rally raids, endurance is paramount, with the slightest flaw proving critical. This mix of physical resistance and technical performance has, for almost the last thirty years, attracted champions from various horizons, all wishing to test their mettle and try and tame this out-of-the ordinary event.
Like the mountains and oceans, wide-open spaces inspire adventurers. Taking part in the Dakar is more or less a competitor's equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest, sailing around the world, or rowing around the earth. Reaching the finishing line represents an exceptional challenge.
Born in Africa, where it built its legend, the Dakar is naturally drawn toward the unknown. The discovery of different lands, one of the event's reasons for existence, has pushed the Dakar to take new directions, and in the past four years has been taking place in South America (Argentina, Chile, Peru), attracting 5 million spectators from 190 countries, across five continents.
The sponsor for this amazing international project is the Amaury Sport Organization (A.S.O.).
Who is the A.S.O.?2
The Amaury Sport Organization, known as A.S.O., is a company that own, designs, and organizes top international sporting events. Its internal expertise covers the entire range of activities required to organize and market sporting competitions and guarantee their coverage in the media.
For its annual 40 events, A.S.O. adopts a community-based approach to organization that also adheres to rigorous safety procedures. A.S.O. is a subsidiary of Editions Philippe Amaury (EPA), a press group that owns the L'Equipe newspaper and Le Parisien/Aujourd'hui in France.
Some of their annual events are: Tour de France (cycling), Tour of Qatar (cycling), Alstom Open de France (golf), Dakar (motor), Tour de France à la Voile (sailing), and Marathon de Paris (running).
A.S.O. produces 700 hours of programs, enabling 8,000 hours of sports to be broadcast every year to 5 billion viewers around the world, through 200 channels.
Project Management Framework
Since A.S.O. started organizing Dakar in South America, the logistical process for that event has been outsourced to an external company. Every year, the logistics are put out to tender and many transportation companies have tried to win that contract. The main change was that in Africa everything during the race was moved by air; in South America, the cargo needed to be move by ground, where the A.S.O. didn't have much experience.
The first year that the competition took place in South America, in 2009, Andesmar, a medium-size logistics company from Mendoza, Argentina, decided to apply for this international tender. However, there were some big problems within this company — the firm was going through a real mess: all the general managers had recently left the company, all projects were driven from a traditional functional organization, there was a huge lack of processes, workers weren't motivated, and they didn't have any project management tools or culture at all. So, how was this miracle of getting that international tender going to happen?
Andesmar knew that the only way to make an important organizational change inside the company was winning that tender by applying a project management framework. The strategy was as follows: the Dakar project would motivate team members; this would change the company culture, and project management processes would be welcome to any other project inside the company.
The first part of the miracle took place: Andesmar was selected by A.S.O. to move everyone and everything who breathes or not during the Dakar race. This transport logistic included television equipment, hospitals, security, people, food, housing, motorbike malls, organization replacements, and all of this, in the middle of the desert!
How was Andesmar going to reach a successful project and was it even possible?
The simple answer was: to implement project management processes to initiate, plan, execute, control, and close the Dakar project!
The first step for Andesmar was to create a project charter coming from the top level of the organization and giving maximum power to Marcelo Ginestar, the project manager. Marcelo has enough authority to create a strong matrix organization for this project, choose his team members, and negotiate the project restrictions directly with the client: scope, budget, schedule, quality, resources, and risks.
Second, the project manager and his team members have to identify the main stakeholders to understand the real scope, challenges, and metrics of success for this project. Marcelo took a plane to Paris for a face-to-face meeting with A.S.O. and he finally understood the key concept of the project: “In Dakar we are all boy scouts with very expensive toys. It's like going camping once a year.”
That message was very clear — there was no need to move any luxury stuff during the race, and the most important stakeholders in the whole project were the pilots! If they were happy, the project was going to be successful.
The project scope wasn't something normal for Andesmar; this was going to be the first time working with such a huge scope: one million fans watching on-site; 650 vehicles; 1,400 competitors; 2,500 people on camp; 2,000 journalists; 30,000 dinners; 30,000 security people; 13 camps; 180 team members; 68 trucks; 86,000 liters of fuel; 600,000 kilograms per day; and 612,000 kilometers in just 15 days of the race.
This was going to be another extraordinary lesson for the company: 330 days of planning and just 20 days to execute the project.
Moreover, the adrenaline was high level as well, because Dakar doesn't wait! The kick-off date for the race is not negotiable.
For confidentiality reasons, we were not allowed to publish the costs of this project; however, just to give you an idea: the Dakar is one of the biggest events for A.S.O., involving a business of 1,300 television hours. On the other hand, Andesmar was using 60% of its workforce and tracks into this project, affecting 140 vehicles (buses, mini-buses, 4x4 trucks, etc.) and 200 people.
Every time the client needs to cut-off the budget, the project manager shows the project restrictions explaining how that decision will impact the rest of the variables: scope, schedule, resources, quality, and risk.
The main metric for the quality planning was a just in time concept. The cargo can't reach the camp before or after schedule. And the most important jewel of the cargo is the television equipment, because all the business depends on that. If A.S.O. can't transmit the Dakar every day on television, there is no business at all.
The quality metric for 2009 was to arrive at the camp with the cargo within +/- 1 hour of the time schedule. There were 13 different camps, many of them in the middle of the desert.
Moreover, another important metric of quality is that the cargo company must have a 24-hour technical assistance service.
The Dakar project was taken as an award for the best workers of Andesmar. Becoming part of this project represented a recognition of the selected people, not just for the financial bonus related to the project's success, but for the great atmosphere among the project team members and Dakar pilots.
There were many training courses offered to the chauffeurs and mechanics, which were required just to explain the Dakar culture. The company knew that if the team enjoys its work, the project will be successful.
There isn't one common language inside Dakar. For example, the sponsor only spoke French, some pilots only spoke Russian, and the chauffeurs only spoke Spanish, and so on.
There are more than 20 different languages inside the project and the main communication skill used to survive 20 days homeless in the desert is non-verbal.
The communication plan was a key for success. There were daily face-to-face meetings to track the project, and a lot of support, using GPS systems, mail, and mobile phones.
Most of the risk planning was about having many alternative routes to cover the event. This is no simple task in South America, where the routes are not in good condition.
Each phase of the project (13 camps) was planned as a single project itself to make a detailed risk response plan. There were many contingency plans for the identified risks.
Some of those risks were logical for A.S.O., such as changes in weather conditions; but others were illogical, and only a local company like Andesmar was able to identify the following before the execution phase: piquetes (workers cutting the routes for whatever reason), lack of oil because of political disputes, and so forth.
Andesmar had to plan a back-up not only for its vehicles, but also for its staff members. A contingency reserve and management reserve were created.
Everybody knew that if something goes wrong with the cargo, Dakar will die.
The procurement planning was one of the most difficult.
A.S.O. was accustomed to working with fixed-cost contracts in Europe, and Andesmar wanted a cost reimbursement contract, because the project scope was not very clear and this was the first time that both parts were doing this kind of event in South America.
Finally, for the riskiest phases of the event, a time and materials contract was signed; and for the less risky phases, a fixed-cost contract was appropriate.
Another important thing that was difficult to negotiate was the need of an inflation clause in the contract. If the competition was going to be done in such a short period of time, why is the inflation clause so important? In Argentina, we never knew when a high rise in salaries or gasoline was going to take place; therefore, an inflation clause into the contracts was necessary to mitigate that risk and have a better probability for a successful project with a win-win contract.
The advance payments clause was also very important in order to have working capital to finance Andesmar's logistic project. If Andesmar went to a private Argentinean bank to finance that project, the financial cost would be very high compared with the interest rate that A.S.O. could get from an international bank.
The planning phase took 94% of the schedule and the execution phase just 6%. Only twenty intensive days moving cargo within different deserts in South America was the execution phase of this project.
During this phase, the team development start taking place, and there was no time for the forming-storming-norming-performing cycle that Tuckman mentions in his theories. In 20 days, there was just room for “performing” every day within the team of 200 people. The communication style of the project manager was the key for success on this point.
The chauffeurs and mechanics were the visible faces of the team, and its non-verbal communication skills with pilots, sponsors, media, and cooks were essential for a successful execution of the project.
There were many situations when plan B or C of the risk response plan was chosen for the action. For example:
- Bring oil from other countries
- Use the back-up trucks to reach the camp on time
- Use the back-up team members when someone get sick
- Use alternative routes when the original one was blocked
- Pay extra costs for emergencies using the contingency reserve
Monitoring and Controlling
Every project phase was monitored and controlled continuously. For example:
- Initiation: the preliminary budgets and negotiations were tracked.
- Planning: a checklist was used to track progress and control changes.
- Execution: GPS systems were used to track the cargo
- Closing: procurement changes were updated in the lessons learned
Andesmar learned many lessons after finishing the Dakar project:
- The real meaning of time management when a just in time delivery means live or die
- Mobilization of mechanics inside the race was possible, even though they only spoke Spanish
- How to negotiate with international suppliers and different cultures
- It is not necessary to add so many extra contingency reserves
- The cultural integration and a motivated team are the keys to success
The 2009 Dakar race in Argentina was a successful project, finished under budget, on schedule, and with the quality approved on the metrics. But, most importantly, it is sustainable, because the same team will be proud to work together again on a similar project.
Andesmar not only reached the project goals, but the organizational strategic objective as well. After the Dakar project, a new culture and respect for a project framework inside the company started taking place.
During 2010, Andesmar again won the tender for the race, and they offered to A.S.O. to improve the quality metric to deliver the cargo within +/- 15 minutes in each phase. A new negotiation for more budgets took place, but finally both sides made an agreement to that amazing just in time metric of +/- 15 minutes. Another successful Dakar project took place, but this year, it was in Argentina and Chile.
The lesson learned from the Dakar project was taking into account a continuous improvement when Andesmar went for this international tender for the A.S.O. Now it is much easier, because the older members of the team are teaching the newcomers about the Dakar culture, the most difficult part for any other company, and the main competitive advantage and asset of Andesmar on this logistic project.
In 2011 and 2012, Andesmar again won the tender, and two more successful projects took place in Argentina and Chile.
Now they are going for more. In 2013, the Dakar race will cover Argentina, Chile, and Peru, and Andesmar will be in charge of moving everything that breathes, or doesn't, during the race.
The Dakar logistic project improved Andesmar's LEADERSHIP, TEAM BUILDING, MOTIVATION, SELF CONFIDENCE, TRAINING, BRANDING, and PROJECT MANAGEMENT…
But the most important thing learned was to believe that the limit depends only on us.