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The Olympics are coming, the Olympics are coming!!

Every four years my summer calendar is ringed 5 times with the two weeks of energy and delight that arise out of the ritual Summer Olympics.  There are so many moments of exhilaration and joy, pain, fear and heartache. Just like an SAP project. 

So let’s take a peek at the Olympics as we might a Business Process Management (BPM) project, and see if there aren’t some similarities and lessons we might learn.

Project Approval & Sponsor: 

Way back in July of 2005 London beat out continental rival Paris for the rights to host the games, a first since 1948 for Britain.  The competition was tough, and Paris was the favorite.  However, the London bid chairman, Lord Coe, made a distinguished appeal near the end of the race and the tide turned towards the Brits.  It was welcomed with a sense of pride for Britain, but no doubt concerns over financing and leadership would surely emerge.  SAP BPM projects are quite similar – we jump through hoops to get the project approved, often reliant on personal appeals when ROI models won’t do.  We engage sponsors and cheerleaders along the way to help us spread the message and referee disputes as they arise between the various constituencies.  These approval steps and the significance of the sponsor cannot be underscored enough for a successful project, as they were for the London Olympic Games.

Project Kickoff: 

Once we get rolling, our BPM projects inevitably have a kickoff meeting where everyone sings the equivalent of Kumbaya via Powerpoint and MS Project. Everyone inspired and focused, we march off to correct the ills of the “As Is”.  The London Games had the official turning of a golden shovel of top soil over 5 years ago, and now will have a much more gregarious kickoff with the Opening Ceremony and party.  Perhaps we could learn a little something about how we choose to inspire our teams to go out and do great things…maybe pizza and beer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but true empowerment and successful team dynamics is the real answer. 

Project Management:

We’ve all heard the clever play on words before: Plan the Work and Work the Plan.  That’s Project Management 101.  But the Olympics are a significant infrastructure build with many, many dependencies. There are considerations around raising money, building venues, establishing security, and addressing transportation and accommodation needs. And the due date, well, it’s not really flexible, is it?  The order of magnitude for project managementand leadership in this endeavor is not even comparable to that required for a BPM project, but the principles are the same: communication, integration, planning and execution deliver results.  We must not forget that in our daily PM routines.

Process Design: 

In BPM the optimized business process is the end result, while an optimized implementation process can be the means to that successful end.  When I think of the London games, the implementation process seems far more complex and may be the focus of the process design phase.  But the delivery of the actual games, with all of the moving parts behind the scenes is what the estimated audience of 4 Billion (yes, that’s with a B) will see and experience.  This is one of the most powerful TV tourism opportunities available today, so the process must be flawless.  The TV cameras can hide some of the inevitable hiccups, but not without an efficient process design would these games come off without significant issues.  While happily we don’t have 4 Billion people critiquing our work, it is most important to ensure the business process design is as well thought out and flawless as possible, and not try to mask issues with technology or sizzle.

Change Leadership:
Imagine the weary Londoner, already asked to sacrifice money and patience in the buildup to the games, now being asked to further lessen the impact to visitors by staying home. “Save the strained transportation system for the visitors to experience our great city.”  That takes a special kind of communication talent to relay that message.  We are likewise faced with daunting communication and change management issues in our projects – perhaps one of the most sensitive being that we are asking users and team members to give their all for our project, only to communicate that when the time has come, they may not get to share in the results.  Head count reduction, as it is so ingloriously referenced, is one of the harshest realities of process optimization and automation and typically is not communicated until the project is complete. Let’s commit to more fully exploring options for these displaced resources and never forgetting to treat them with the dignity they deserve. 

The Teams and the Talent:

Participating in an Olympics event is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of these athletes.  Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries will assemble alongside their teammates in London for the opening ceremony.  Some are a team of one.  We may not have superstars on our teams like multiple-medal winner Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt or American swimmer Michael Phelps.  (We also don’t have many team members who are consuming 12,000 calories per day thankfully.)  These athletes have trained, sacrificed and often put this goal before all others in their lives for a moment in the sun (or rain, given it is London).  We sometimes seem to have similar expectations of our BPM team members – stay current on your training, practice in the sandbox, sacrifice lunch time or exercise or some other work/life balance element, and keep the project timeline and budget foremost in your activities. Motivation for our team mates is an important consideration, and gelling like the US Women’s soccer team is something we should strive towards to optimize our project outcomes.  Maybe give each member of your team this week a gold medal for something they have done to contribute to the project. Recognition goes a long way towards motivation.

So, yes, the Olympics will come and go from our television sets and the UK venues faster than a typical BPM project.  But as BPM project managers and staffers – we can really learn a lot from the sheer effort that has gone into making this short Olympic window so highly successful. Let’s use these same principles to deliver exceptional value in our projects as well.  And when you get a chance, go see if you can set a new PR (personal record) for swimming, cycling or launching the shot put.

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      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English


        The Teams and Talent also include the people working at the Olympics, both before and during the actual event itself.  I don't know how London 2012 are resourcing their 'general help', but I have to say one of the best "holidays" I ever had was working as one of the Sydney 2000 volunteers. Holidays is in inverted commas because while it's one of my great memories, it was also involved long tiring, adrenaline fueled days 🙂   We were the ushers, 'door people' (I don't care who you are, if your pass isn't the right colour you're not allowed past me), escorts (in 14 days, I saw about 60 seconds of athletics when I took a wheelchair bound lady to her seat in the Olympic Stadium), and general help...  However, this was no surprise; the expectation that had been set by the short training program was to expect anything, be willing to do anything, and to have fun doing something different.

      To return to your analogy, every project needs people who will work outside the box, outside their usual area of expertise, not just to fill the gaps that other people notice, but to spot gaps on their own and sign up to 'just make it work'.

      thanks for the reminder !!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for your perspective Martin.  Hard to mention everyone in such a huge undertaking, but you are right, it's quite often the volunteers holding everything together in a very selfless way. Sounds like you had a great time in Sydney.  Enjoy the Games!