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Project Management Lessons from the Olympics Games

I have always been fascinated about how developed countries excel in the Olympics. In the recently concluded summer games in London, 6 countries from G8 were in the top ten of the medal standings. Do countries’ economies have anything to do with how their athletes fair in games? Absolutely! How?

Allow me to use some project management concepts to explain.

Portfolio Management – Strategy in Sports and Funding

Obviously, developed countries have more resources, i.e. money, to invest in sports development and therefore, more and better sports programs translate to more chances of success. The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out close to $250 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing. That is a huge investment in a national sports program (and this excludes funding coming from corporate sponsorship for more popular teams). The portfolio managers — or I should say Olympic committee leaders — determine goals, value indicators and programs that can help fulfill its overall sports goal. The sports’ governing body is responsible for allocating the investment into programs that has the potential for more success. They monitor aggregate performance, track spending and measure value of results.

These are the types of decisions that sports leaders have to make as part of portfolio management.

  • How much is allocated for sports programs we already excel in so as to maintain success?
  • How much is allocated for developing sports with the best potential for future success?
  • How much is allocated for improving equipment and facilities?
  • How much is allocated for the athletes’ rewards program and development program in general?

Program Management – Managing Sports Programs

A program, according to PMI, is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way so as to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Let’s use the USA basketball program as an example. The objective of the program is to return USA to dominance in basketball. Previously, the USA team failed to win the 2002 FIBA World Championship and finished with bronze at the Athens Olympics. Jerry Colangelo was appointed as the director of the USA basketball program in 2005. He redefined the entire basketball program with the intention of coping with the increasing competition from other countries like Russia, Spain and Argentina. This current USA basketball program was projected to take 6-8 years with the objective of qualifying for the Olympics and winning Beijing and London. The USA basketball program has an even large scope and that is, to promote basketball globally.

The program manager, in this example,  Jerry Colangelo is responsible for developing the overall program plan and creating high level plans for a detailed execution at the component level. The component level items are the projects.

Project management – Preparation and Games Participation

Now let’s break down the USA basketball program into projects.

  1. Assemble the team and train (no longer ad-hoc collection of NBA stars)
  2. Participate in qualifying tournaments (players projected to participate in main events for continuity)
  3. Participate in the basketball tournament (with the objective of winning the gold medal)

As you can see, we dissected the basketball program into three main projects. A project, according to PMI, is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It has a defined beginning and end and therefore a defined scope and resources. Colangelo appointed Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as the USA basketball coach. Essentially making him the project leader of the components of the basketball program we listed above.

This example illustrates how portfolio management helps manage a collection of programs and projects to achieve a strategic objective. The main goal of portfolio management is to maximize the value of the portfolio by the careful management of its components—the constituent programs and projects. Countries with resources to invest in sports programs and with the leadership to guide the program through have the advantage over others.

Making Safety Personal

 I drive to work five times a week…. I want to come home safe and sound everyday.”

I just participated in a Leadership Safety Program and as expected, I came out a little more passionate about safety. In each section of the two-day program, we were asked to write down action plans. The template asked us to identify: Actions, Challenges or Barriers, Solution to Challenges or Barriers, and Resources.

The very first one I wrote is the simplest one, but the hardest one to do.

  • Action: No phone calls, no emails, no text, no social media while driving.
  • Challenges/Barriers: Deep-rooted habit hard to break.
  • Solution to Challenges/Barriers: Make safety personal, Just do it!
  • Resources: Support from peers and family.

This action plan is easier said than done. Yes, there are reminders everywhere. AT&T is currently running an ad campaign against texting while driving that is so authentic and moving. Still, all my years of driving and using my phone at the same time has made me believe that nothing is going to happen to me. Experiences foster beliefs; beliefs influences actions; and actions produce results. The result — my bad habit of using my phone while driving.

Breaking the Habit

The biggest takeaway that I got from the program is how to make safety personal. I am convinced that making safety more personal is the solution. I decided to start breaking my habit yesterday. I called my boss before I physically left my office to wrap-up the business of the day. In the parking before leaving, I called my wife and asked her if she needed something. I told her I will be driving with my phone silent and in the car compartment. I will be unreachable for 30 minutes, and will see just her at home.

I drive to work five times a week. My family expects me to come home. I have a wife and two sons — two beautiful sixteen month-old twin boys. The story of how we had our first kids after nine years of marriage is a long one. So these boys are extra special and long-awaited. I dream of playing basketball with them when they grow up . I dream of travelling with them to places my wife and I have been to. I look forward to teaching them how to run, bike and swim. The best part of my day is when I come home. As soon as the boys hear me open the door, they drop whatever they’re doing and come rushing to me. It is the best feeling in the world. I want to be able to do all those things with them and for them. I want to come home safe and sound everyday.

Bad habits and false sense of security are main reasons why people behave unsafely.

Photo courtesy of adamr and video from AT&T

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