Beating the odds

Tennis court


Training area



Pan american village


Jorge A. Lozano Dueñas is feeling the pressure. As project manager for the organizing committee of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, he has less than a year to organize the multi-sport event. He's already knee-deep in status reports and dog-eared blueprints, and the deadline is looming. That's not to mention the committee's slow start out of the gate—the result of the sponsors’ tardy selection of such logistics as transportation suppliers.

“Right now we're in the fast-track phase,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “And if we don't meet all the necessary milestones, we'll have even bigger problems on our hands, so we can't afford any more delays.”

From 14 to 30 October, plenty of eyes will be on the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco as more than a quarter of a million visitors descend to watch 5,000 athletes from 42 countries take part in 36 sporting events.

For Mexico, hosting the Pan Am Games, with competitors hailing from all around the Americas, has required the federal, state and local governments to work with the private sector on an investment of nearly MXN4 billion. The event encompasses 19 programs and 70 projects, many of which are being overseen simultaneously. A large part of the megaproject involves the construction or repurposing of 41 venues—12 of which are being built from scratch.

“Like any other large multi-sport athletic event, the Pan Am Games are about delivering games with multiple venues, in a variety of locations, on a very tight schedule,” says Ian Troop, CEO of the PanAm/ParaPanAm Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

If executed properly, the 2011 Games in Guadalajara will shine an international spotlight on Mexico, infuse the country with brand-new infrastructure, and serve as a compelling argument for greater foreign and domestic financial investment. Delivering the megaproject on time, on budget and without severe setbacks despite numerous obstacles could be just the ringing endorsement project management needs in the developing nation, says Alejandro Acevedo, PMP, a project management consultant and trainer for IIL México (International Institute for Learning), Mexico City, Mexico.


At the heart of the Pan Am Games program is the construction of Omnilife Stadium, a 49,850-seat arena that will hold the opening and closing ceremonies as well as soccer matches. Other construction projects include:

  • Scotiabank Aquatics Center, which will accommodate 5,000 spectators, two Olympic-sized swimming pools, a diving area and a pool for synchronized swimming
  • The MXN61.4 million, 3,43-seat Nissan Gymnastics Stadium
  • Telcel Tennis Complex, which can accommodate 6,639 spectators and includes 12 training courts in the surrounding vicinity
  • An athletes’ Pan American Village that consists of three building complexes and a 20-story tower

imageOur traceability matrix is one of our fundamental project management tools. All projects, tasks and endeavors are aligned upon this matrix to ensure that we're on the right path and accomplish our objectives.

— Jorge A. Lozano Dueñas

Erecting a multiple-use gymnasium



IT projects are also top priority for Mr. Lozano Dueñas. One such endeavor entails designing and testing a system that will automatically track and record the timing and scoring for each event. The technical team is also developing a custom web-based application that will allow the organizing committee to log into the system and report incidents that might impact an event's scheduling and organization.

To keep track of each project's progress, Mr. Lozano Dueñas and the rest of the organizing committee created an all-encompassing “traceability matrix” that ensures project requirements are being met on an ongoing basis.

“This is one of our fundamental project management tools,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “All projects, tasks and endeavors are aligned upon this matrix to ensure that we're on the right path and accomplish our objectives.”

Strategic goals, such as opening and closing ceremony logistics, timely transportation of athletes and a reliable TV broadcast signal, are all monitored using a rolling-wave planning technique. Essentially, this approach tackles each project as it becomes more closely aligned with predetermined key milestones.

But even that traceability matrix can't completely eliminate the enormous challenges facing the project team. Some obstacles, like Mexico's rainy season, were a cinch to rectify. “We might have some isolated rains in October, but we believe it won't affect the games. That's one of the reasons why we chose October,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas explains.

Other issues, however, have been more difficult to resolve. Political uproar arising from the committee's choice of venue locations forced organizers to relocate some facilities.

“At first we tried to build the Pan American Village in downtown Guadalajara,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “But in the end, one of the problems we faced was security. We needed a secure environment to build in the downtown core and people simply weren't comfortable that could be delivered.”


The gymnastics complex, one of the first projects to complete


The Telmex Athletics Stadium seating can be reduced from 9,050 to a more manageable 3,000.


The games’ location has posed problems with stakeholders from the beginning. How would they be able to ensure the safety of the visitors and athletes?

The second largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara has been plagued by drug cartel assassinations of local government officials, grenade attacks on local police and battles involving AK-47 automatic rifles. Overall crime has gone up in Guadalajara, and the murder rate and number of kidnappings also increased significantly, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council.

“Crime is a very delicate subject,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “We're working with the state, city and federal governments so that we have all the security issues well managed to avoid any crime during the games.”

That's an excellent game plan—but it will come down to sheer numbers, according to Mr. Acevedo. “Project managers have to work with authorities in order to get enough people to take charge of security,” he says.

And that is dependent upon finances. Because the 2011 Pan American Games are primarily paid for with public funds, the organizing committee “cannot afford to go over budget,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “We tried to figure out the numbers a couple of years ago so that we can properly negotiate for money and government participation, as well as corporate sponsorship.”

The megaproject remains “more or less on budget,” he says, thanks to a clever plan Mr. Lozano Dueñas implemented: transferring money from one project to another while remaining within his budgetary restrictions.

The organizing committee also meets quarterly to review finances and identify bottlenecks to keep the project on budget.


While it's important to accommodate the needs of thousands of athletes and the high expectations of tourists, saddling Mexico with bloated infrastructure and exorbitant maintenance bills is a surefire recipe for financial disaster. With that in mind, the organizing committee was tasked with juggling the games’ infrastructural requirements with Mexico's future needs.

“We had to strike a balance between the money we put in the venues and the service levels the venues are going to offer,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “It's important for us to have a sports center that on one hand complies with the Pan American requirements but on the other hand can be used after the games.”

For example, the project team designed the Telmex Athletics Stadium so its seating can be reduced from 9,050 to a more manageable 3,000.

Similarly, the aquatics complex will be available to the public for swimming lessons and can also be used for domestic and international competitions. The gymnastics stadium, one of the first buildings built for the games, is already being used for a variety of activities, including a gymnastics school.

In the end, there's no better way to manage such a massive megaproject than to apply sound project management, Mr. Troop says. “That means having a clear critical path that defines what needs to be done when, respecting delivery times, making decisions when needed and ensuring decisions are made in an integrated manner.”

For all that, “the biggest challenge for project managers is trying to keep all the stakeholders’ expectations aligned with the actual project goals,” Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “As you know, sometimes stakeholders expect a little more than the project is designed to be. We try to manage that part through meetings and high-level negotiations.”

Key stakeholders include the Pan American Sports Organization, which came with its own set of requests that led to changes in the project scope. In one case, several structural columns had to be removed from the Pan American Velodrome to ensure judges have a clear view of competitors.

Consistent and effective communication among all parties can help avoid disagreements, Mr. Lozano Dueñas says. “Every month, we publish and distribute to all the Pan American Games’ associates a status report so they know our progress,” he says. “We not only show them the construction progress, which is the main issue, but that the international sports organizations have approved the competition area and the venue.”


If the 2011 Pan Am Games go off without a hitch, it could be a real boon to project management's reputation among Mexican corporations.

“Mexico needs to recognize project management as a profession and not only as a job title,” Mr. Acevedo says. “We need to change some paradigms that indicate that planning is useless and that changes should not be controlled.”

High turnover rates among employees and a lack of project management training are key contributors to the country's modest embrace of project management, he argues.

image Mexico needs to recognize project management as a profession and not only as a job title. We need to change some paradigms that indicate that planning is useless and that changes should not be controlled.

—Alejandro Acevedo, PMP

“Because only a very small percentage of the population has access to higher education, project management training activities are seen as an additional discipline that can only be studied through specialized courses,” Mr. Acevedo says.

Nevertheless, while “there aren't enough people in Mexico who are trained, project management is growing in the areas that are demanding it,” he says.

All of which presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Pan American Games Organizing Committee: to prove that project management can help overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as a tight budget, violent crime, competing priorities among stakeholders and a ticking clock. Game on. PM




Related Content