The Ultimate Management Challenge
The 1996 Atlanta Centennial Summer Olympics reached a worldwide
television audience of 19.6 billion people in a record 214 countries.
Nagano's 1998 Olympic Winter Games were broadcast to 180 countries and
territories and Nagano's website received 646 million hits during the Games
- an Internet record. The world is, to state the obvious, quite interested
in and impressed with the spectacle, drama and color of the Olympic Games.
Impressive as these two-week events are, even more remarkable is the
extraordinary and largely unsung story of the effort required to bid for,
plan, organize, build and operate an Olympic Games program.
Getting Out of the Blocks: The Bid
The current requirements for undertaking an Olympics program entail more
than a decade of effort which starts with preparation and presentation of a
two-stage technical and financial bid. These bids, providing information on
a variety of subjects including weather, transportation, security and
finance, are first made by proponent cities at the national level of their
respective countries; thus, at the first stage competing cities from the
same country are pitted against each other to come up with a winning
proposal. In addition to those cities currently selected to host Winter and
Summer Games - Athens 2004, Turin 2006, and Beijing 2008 - there are
numerous locations around the world preparing bids for events in upcoming
years: Winter 2010 and Summer 2012. At the present time there are four U.S.
cities [San Francisco, Houston, New York and Washington] proposing to
the United States Olympic Committee to become the U.S. candidate for the
Summer Games of 2012 - a little more than ten long years from now. The USOC
estimates that the cost of the bid effort required to reach the
international level is to the order of $7 million. Financed primarily
through contributions by local boosters, a considerable amount of volunteer
effort is usually needed to supplement the "hard costs" involved in the Bid
At the second stage, as a country's designated candidate for an upcoming
event - Winter or Summer - for a future date, the proponent cities refine
their bids to highlight particular features of their proposals in the hopes
of winning the International Olympic Committee's award of the Games. Sydney,
for example, chose an environmental theme which, in addition to developing
an exciting concept for the development of a new complex of facilities, gave
Australia a competitive edge which carried the day; Athens' differentiated
their bid from the competitors by making a commitment to stage a Cultural
Olympiad which includes a program of events in years prior to the Games, as
well as during the Games themselves.
We've Won! - What Now?
Subsequent to a brief, yet intense period of euphoria and celebration
when a city actually wins the opportunity to host an Olympic Games, the
people charged with the Games' organization are inevitably subjected to a
period of some confusion and change. Many if not all of the people who were
involved in the Bid usually depart from the organization and a new cast of
players emerges to begin the organizing process. One of the first challenges
which the organizers become aware of is finance. Hosting a modern-day
Olympic Games program entails managing a budget which can range from more
than US$1 billion, for a Winter Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to
several billions for a Summer Olympics and Summer Paralympics program. If
new or upgraded facilities such as sports complexes, airports, highways and
housing are included, these budgets can easily be doubled or trebled. Given
historical trends on factors which affect both costs and revenues, as well
as international concerns for security, organizers of future events can
expect these figures to increase. In spite of financial challenges, with
increases in international tourism, the emergence of several "new" countries
through the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and the globalization of
commerce and business, the Olympics would appear to be a formidable
phenomenon which should continue into the foreseeable future.
Organizing for the Ultimate Management Challenge
The process of organizing the Olympics demands a thorough understanding
of the unique needs of this undertaking, an undertaking which is "The
Ultimate Management Challenge". Some of the factors which make this process
so challenging include:
Unlike the process of creating a major business wherein the ultimate
goal is to create an enterprise which will function for many years, the
organization of the Olympics must be designed to go out of business
In addition to the many tasks required to actually carry out the
Games, the process of creating the organization to plan and operate is, in
and of itself, a major undertaking involving:
recruiting and training needed human resources
developing appropriate work scopes and task breakdowns, schedules,
budgets and the related systems and tools to manage them.
coordinating and managing the many interfaces between the
organization, the International Olympic Committee and the
International (Sports) Federations and others.
The need to simultaneously build the organization and carry out the work
places the organizers in a highly demanding, constantly changing management
environment. Failure to maintain control and achieve progress at any given
time can place the Olympics enterprise at serious risk.
Because each Olympics is different, due to factors such as the physical
setting, changes in sport and competition requirements, financial
commitments, and the increasing expectations surrounding this world class
event, the organizational approach which an organizing committee adopts must
be conducive to the evolution of the Games development process:
Testing and refining
"Venuization" (territorial deployment)
The Games, and
Post-Games & Legacy Program
organizational approach is not planned correctly from the outset, the
organizers will suffer the fate of many previous Olympics, requiring
reorganization and restructuring which is both costly and time-consuming.
few exceptions, most notably Los Angeles, an Olympics program will
typically require and make use of a variety of major infrastructure and
urban facilities which are not built at the time of the award of the
Games. Thus, the Olympics organization must ensure that this potentially
large design and construction program is carried out in a timely and
coordinated manner so that the temporary works required for the Games can
be put into place and tested to ensure their functional and operational
soundness. If time runs out on this program, the Games will be put at
significant risk, not only because of the additional expenses which will
be incurred, but also because of the potential for operational
In addition to the
many specific facilities and services which must be developed and
operated, like the Olympic Village and the transportation services, there
is also a plethora of "soft" requirements which must be planned and
implemented. Many of these, from a budget point of view, are relatively
small, such as Protocol or Accreditation, yet, they are critical to the
realization of a successful Games operation.
The Olympic Games as a "Project"
The process of organizing and hosting the Olympic Games has the following
kinds of organizational and management requirements:
Definitive beginning and end.
Series of evolutionary steps, leading
from the broad and general, to the highly specific and detailed.
Need to measure and ensure progress on
a progressive, continuing basis.
Structure which can quickly shift from
planning to testing, then operations to close down.
Structure which can quickly and
efficiently grow from a staff of several hundred to many thousands of
Because of these requirements, the Olympics organizing process may be
characterized as a "project", consisting of several phases of development,
the Games-time operations and, ultimately, close down. In this regard, the
organizational approach to managing this unique project is quite different
from that needed by most businesses and large-scale enterprises. Thus, thus
the organization required to host an Olympics will be an expression and
manifestation of an approach to:
Breaking down the complexity of the Games into manageable units
according to the specialized nature of the activity required, identifying
all required functions (e.g. Transportation, Sports, Security, Protocol,
Accommodations, etc.) and activities.
Understanding the span of control which the Organizers can reasonably
employ at each stage of the evolution of the project to guide and direct
the accomplishment of the various required tasks.
Making the appropriate, timely and necessary transitions between
planning, executing and operating the facilities and services needed to
host the Games.
Designing and implementing a Program Management System (i.e.
Workbreakdown structure, milestone schedules, progress reporting
mechanisms, etc.) which can be used by the entire organization to manage
the day-to-day planning and development of the Gamesí facilities and
operations, while also serving senior managementís needs to identify
critical problems, resolve them, while always looking forward and
anticipating upcoming issues.
And finally, the key to the ultimate fiscal success of the Games: the
creation and implementation of a financial system designed to facilitate
acquisition of revenues, tracking and forecasting cashflows, understanding
and maximizing the utilization of Value in Kind (VIK) contributions and
other critical activities associated with the financial management of the