A sporting challenge: managing Rio 2016

Planning the logistics for the world’s biggest event is a daunting task, but even the biggest project can be made more manageable with the right approach.

A lone male athlete jumps over a series of hurdles

“The Olympic Games is one of the biggest logistical operations in the world,” says Rafael Marinho, Senior Manager, Supply Chain & Operations at EY in Brazil.

“It's a huge task for any city,” says Alexandre Rangel, Partner at EY in Brazil. “And the team is doing this in Brazil and Rio, being neither a developed country nor a developed city. This meant that all the challenges presented by the Rio 2016 Olympics were increased by the complexity of the city and country.”

Faced with such a big challenge, it can be difficult to maintain perspective, and it would be easy to get lost in the details. “It's one of the most complex logistics projects the team has ever seen,” says Rangel. “From tennis balls to sophisticated technology.”

Unsurprisingly, for a project of such scale and with so much public interest, there were multiple stakeholders, both on the Rio Olympics’ side and externally — from the city authorities, the state and federal governments to various private third parties, sponsors, concessions, transportation firms and other contractors.

“Bringing all this together in a way that made sense, while meeting the budget and timeline needs, for which there was no flexibility, was extremely challenging,” says Rangel.

“There’s a huge operation behind it, there’s lots of money involved, and there are key decisions that have to be made in terms of procurement and logistics,” says Paulo Felippe, Senior Consultant at EY in Brazil. “But it does have an end date. It doesn’t matter how big it is, it is still a project.”

Applying project management to the Rio 2016 Olympics

As the EY team looked for ways to help the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee to make their project management plans more effective, the key, Marinho says, was to keep calm and approach even the biggest challenge as if it were any other project, via five key stages:

  1. Set up a team: In the case of the Rio Olympics, this was a central command center, with team members assigned specific roles and responsibilities, and with clear lines of communication and cooperation.  Getting the right people is the single-most important first step.
  2. Assess financing: With the required deliverables already known, working out how to help reduce the cost of delivery early in a project enables greater visibility of potential challenges and risks to enable the logistic planners to adapt accordingly.
  3. Determine KPIs: Securing agreement of and understanding the most important deliverables, not only provides focus, but also helps identify where there is flexibility if problems occur.
  4. Create crisis resolution frameworks: Almost every project, no matter the size, will run into issues. Developing a crisis response plan in advance helps lead to smoother and swifter resolution with reduced disruption to the overall project.
  5. Develop project wind down plans: All projects come to an end, and the best project managers develop clear plans to wind down effectively, with minimal cost. With the right planning, some of the running costs can even be offset by monetizing resources that are no longer needed after the project concludes.

Adapt, but don’t reinvent the wheel

Bringing in people who had helped on the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, as well as the previous Olympics in London in 2012 gave the EY team valuable insights to help in the planning. However, when it comes to the Olympics, “Every country, every city has a different personality. The infrastructure is different. People working there, their qualifications, the availability of labor is different,” says Felippe.

What’s more, “We had to change our plans many times, because the needs changed a lot,” Rangel says.

But despite this, as with any project, there will be similarities and learnings that can be applied from experience. Never undervalue experience — finding the right people, who can help a project remain flexible while still hitting deadlines, is vital to success.

As Rangel puts it, “As consultants, we're used to working in shifting environments and with incomplete data.” And a solid project management framework can help mitigate even the biggest risks and help the team deal with unexpected changes more effectively.

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