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How can Rio 2016 follow the success of London 2012?

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Four years ago, 900 million people watched the spectacular opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. 200,000 staff and volunteers welcomed 8 million ticket holders to the world class venue. It was a magnificent success. And it happened because project managers delivered.

As Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Organising Committee, put it: “We hired exceptional people and got them to work together in a team, and then tried to extend that across the network of organisations. And then day-in, day-out for seven years we executed relentlessly against that vision.”

Over 75% of the multibillion pound bill for hosting the Olympics was assigned to infrastructure and connectivity across multiple projects which had to be delivered to the highest quality and on time. Even as they began to create the 2012 Olympics, the organisers built in a closure phase, called “dissolution”, in which the structure and personnel of the project would be gradually taken apart after the games. 

The think tank Institute for Government concluded

“The Olympics was a massively complicated set of projects which had to be coordinated and sequenced to come together seamlessly on time in a concentrated period of activity with an unmoveable deadline. That required both exceptional project management and delivery within individual organisations but also outstanding programme management to integrate what all the individual bodies were doing. 

“Other major projects may require similar major construction or elements of the operational delivery. In terms of actual build the Olympics was a relatively small project by international standards but the scale – from Torch Relay to Paralympics closing ceremony – placed unprecedented demands on public services and private contractors. 

“Although the UK is unlikely to attempt anything on that scale in the foreseeable future there are some implications for future projects: 

  1. invest upfront in getting the scope correct and nailed down – and then apply ruthless change and time discipline 
  2. do not skimp on project management capability – and effective internal assurance processes 
  3. act as an intelligent client – use ‘smart contracting’ to create collaborative delivery and establish the project ethos e.g. around safety or sustainability from the start 
  4. recognise where government can rely on existing structures and where it needs to act to force coordination or reinforce capacity.”  

Four years on and the Rio Olympics are now poised to commence. 

For Rio, infrastructure and transport are a far greater challenge, with new data networks needed and a raft of transport routes needing to be created. 

The project management community has shown its excellence and ability at delivering outstanding Olympic projects and many lessons have been learnt and have been disseminated through the 2012 Learning Legacy programme. 

We very much hope Rio will see the outstanding success enjoyed by London.   


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