Home > Management > Project Management Lessons from the Olympics Games

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.

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  1. Vaughan Merlyn
    August 17, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Superb analogy!

    • August 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

      I got a lot of insights from your previous posts covering similar subject. Thanks Vaughan!

  2. August 17, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Hi Glenn,

    It’s been a long time since I published one of your posts on PM Hut. I think this one will be appreciated by PM Hut readers as it relates to a recent important even that we all like. Please email me if you’re OK with the republishing.

    I did publish something on the olympics and project management before, you can find it here: http://www.pmhut.com/project-management-olympic-gold-a-real-yawner

    • August 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      PM Hut, please go ahead with publishing this post in PM Hut. Appreciate the invite. Thanks.

  3. Ken Kiunisala
    August 17, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Good writing Glenn. Let’s wait for the PH economy to boom and hopefully our sports peogram as well… 😛

    • August 18, 2012 at 5:20 am

      Hope so too Ken. I have been monitoring progress there, it is amazing that we have the fastest growing economy there in the last quarter at 6.3%, much higher than projected. I hope we sustain that growth and progress for our people. It is exciting to follow indeed. You will never now, maybe our sports program there will get more funding in the future. We need reform minded sports leaders too to lead the way to make it work. Thanks!

  4. August 20, 2012 at 9:19 am

    The connection seems obvoius. The way you analize and put in this article it is powerful. Don´t stop doing.

    • August 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks Mike, appreciate the comment. Kind regards

  5. Jesus Martinez
    August 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Excellent article Glenn. That’s a very good proof of the results when an organization does not only proper project management but more important, program management . Very clear objectives decomposed in specific projects.

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