Lessons Learned

Olympic Sized Effort: Lessons learned from working on the 2016 games

By Adriano Mota, PMP

When I joined the organizing committee for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I quickly learned that my 10 years' experience managing technology -related projects would only help me so far.

All projects are unique, but planning the summer Olympics might be in a category by itself. Over two weeks in August 2016, 10 500 athletes will compete in 300 events at 33 venues around Rio. Roughly 7,5 million tickets will be sold, and 60 000 volunteers need to be organized. Technology deliverables include mobile, fixed, Internet and cable communications at the competition venues, media centers and athlete accommodations. In addition, the final delivery date is not negotiable, large sums of public and private-sector money must be aligned, and the technology required to successfully deliver the games keeps changing.

To help with these challenges, the internaČtional Olympic officials provided our team with a vast amount of data from past games, technical manuals detailing deliverables, a very high-level master schedule and a great knowledge-transfer program that allows us to observe all Olympic Games held between our selection and our final delivery.

This knowledge-transfer program covers the whole event scope, including transportation, accommodations, technology, logistics and the obvious items associated with the sports (arenas, medical services, media coverage, fans, etc.). International Olympic officials are careful not to mandate how we should do tasks but rather state the final outcome that is expected from us. This method respects the local organizing committee, the host country's culture, the budget and the execution strategy.

Another tactic we employed to help manage the vast and complex amount of work was to bring in people with Olympic planning experience. However, their experience is not always wholly applicable, and sometimes a hybrid method has to be worked out. For example, during past Olympics, staffing for venues that require someone to be on duty at all times was often arranged by setting up two teams to each work 12-hour shifts. However, this is not currently allowed under Brazilian labor law, and we will have to come up with alternate plans.

As the project moved ahead, we began to realize another challenge: how to allow for the team's dissolution just after the project delivery date while maintaining the team's focus.

Our project team is facing unemployment once the games are delivered-or even sooner. In addition to creating insecurity among team members, this also means that the organization loses the power to attract the best resources to the project as we get closer to the Olympics, since not many people will change their current jobs and risk unemployment a year or six months down the road.

To cope with these problems, we adhere to the organization's solid delivery plan and rely on a cohesive staff engaged with the plan and strong managers who drive the teams to deliver tasks while reassuring people that they will have a smooth transition to a games-time operations role.

On a personal level, each team member needs to have a little reality check: No job comes with any warranty that it will last forever. Furthermore, team members can remind themselves that working on the Olympics is a once- in-a -lifetime opportunity that may be worth whatever job-related uncertainty follows it. For me, the Olympics has brought the experience of discovering a whole new project environment, being fully engaged in it and creating a new personal baseline for my next project.

Adriano Mota, PMP, is the service directory manager for the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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