How efficient project management could have streamlined the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics

Hosting one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events is no mean feat and, all in all, Rio de Janeiro did a good job of organizing the 2016 Olympic Games. It did so in the face of multiple complications, over which the event’s organizers had little control: fears about the Zika virus; the revelation of a state-funded doping program in Russia; the city’s excessive water-pollution issues; and the threat of crime and terrorism (highlighted in a statement by the Rio Organizing Committee’s CEO, Sidney Levy, as a main concern for the Games), for example. However, many issues throughout the Rio Olympics could have been avoided with effective project management, in order to streamline the lead-up to the Games.

While some 11,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees (NOCs) were rounding off their training programmes and preparing to compete, the Rio organizers were facing immense pressure to get the venue up to standard for the Games. The news was littered with details of organizational setbacks that raised concerns about the quality of the project – the collapse of a sailing ramp at the Marina da Gloria, for example. Sure enough, the problems did not cease with the arrival of the athletes in the Olympic village. A number of the rooms were incomplete, with plumbing and electrical problems rife. British diving champion Tom Daley even said that the bathroom sink fell off the wall while he was brushing his teeth! The Director of the Olympic Village, Mario Cilenti, was reportedly fired.

How on-demand talent could have helped the Rio organizers

Organizing a large-scale event like the Olympic Games is about more than just overseeing the construction of affordable, safe and purpose-built stadiums: it’s about marketing, infrastructure, ticket sales, security, coordinating volunteers and ensuring the overall smooth-running of the event’s entire duration. For events like these, where multiple projects are being conducted at once, a strategic approach to project management is vital, with the best skills being injected at exactly the right time. With so many intricate details to get right, it’s essential that project managers and teams are highly experienced in the areas they’re assigned to, and that they have industry-specific knowledge to keep the project running smoothly and ensure consistently high levels of quality throughout.

An example of where industry-specific knowledge was lacking at the Olympics is when the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre diving pool turned green. The Director of Venue Management, Gustavo Nascimento, admitted that 80 litres of hydrogen peroxide had been put into the water on the day of the opening ceremony, causing it to react with the chlorine and prevent the chemical from killing the organic matter in the water. Organizers hadn’t considered the effect that a large number of athletes using the pool in quick succession would have on the chemicals. Had professionals with specific knowledge in this area of the project been employed, this slip-up would likely not have occurred.

Even with huge resources like the Rio Organizing Committee, tapping into the right skills at the right time can be a challenge. You may not have all the skills you need in-house, and hiring full-time workers is expensive and time-consuming. Also, the skills you need now may be different to the skills you need in the future. This is where on-demand talent can help, enabling you to access independent professionals on a flexible basis. As well as ensuring the work is managed to budget, deadline and standard, independent professionals bring a wealth of industry experience and foresight to the projects they work on – making sure potential problems are ironed out before they emerge, and that the entire team can respond quickly, efficiently and discreetly if issues do occur.

Holistic project management to help maximize on-demand talent

As highlighted by the Rio swimming pool mishap, large-scale sporting events like the Olympics cannot be managed to their full potential if the project structure is industry-agnostic. This is why it’s important that project structuring, which is usually the administrative part of project management, incorporates a degree of strategy, so that the exact number and nature of resources can be implemented for the particular project at hand. Solutions such as PMO2, which approaches project management with a combination of structure and analytical rigor, and industry and management expertise, are ideal, as administrative support, performance monitoring, project execution, strategic decision support, stakeholder management, governance, change management and communication are all dealt with through a single channel.

Bringing the right combination of skills together is one critical part of successful project management, but you also need to manage and integrate that talent properly for the project to go smoothly. You need to define a clear purpose for why you’re hiring, and the exact skills you need, as well as communicating with Independent Professionals clearly in terms of project expectations, and investing in your relationship with them. Put simply: to maximise your return on your on-demand workforce, treat them as you would a regular, full-time team of staff.

For the organizers of the Rio Games, unresolved problems with logistics, security, costs, communication and workers meant that the majority of 2016’s Olympians competed in front of scores of empty seats. Had a streamlined project management approach been taken, in which Independent Professionals were hired on demand for their industry-specific knowledge and skills, and coordinated within a framework that was relevant to the Games, the lead-up to the event may well have run more smoothly.

Just like the Olympics, complex business projects also require an expert, efficient and streamlined approach to project management, which taps into the exact skills you need, exactly when you need them. Here at a-connect, our pool of senior talent is made up of Independent Professionals across a wide range of industries, disciplines and global locations, so that we can curate the ideal team to meet the demands of your project.

Contact us at a-connect today to find out how we could help your company with expert project management.

Inflexion points

Most movies contain a scene in which the protagonists stop defending themselves against the bad guy, and start attacking. It is the moment when a family member dies, for example, and Luke Skywalker, Bruce Wayne or Scarlett O’Hara decides to take arms against the world. In the movies, this moment happens so consistently that, if you opened a script, it would usually occur around page 25 and divide Act One from Act Two.

Many organizations experience a similar moment. After a long period of cost-cutting and disappointing results, during which success means surviving another day, they reach an inflexion point and figure out that it is time to start growing again.

Maybe this is because the crisis that triggered the need for cost-cutting is over. Maybe the company has achieved its cost goals, or a new market has opened up. Maybe the process of consolidation has taken care of oversupply.

Whatever the reason, it means that the crisis is in the past. The board has approved the growth strategy, and yesterday’s sacrifice has paid off, meaning the company can untighten its belt, reap the rewards of years of austerity and get busy with growing.

Except that things almost never happen like that.

Looking at a sample of sectors that underwent such contraction-then-growth cycles, a significant number of companies have had difficulties with inflexion points, and have sometimes taken years to ‘change gear’.

People are stuck in an old mindset

One issue that holds companies back is that many of their people are stuck in an old reality. Managers may fear that approved resources will be unapproved or just delayed. Salespeople may distrust the production numbers, and production people may distrust the sales numbers. And both may distrust the market forecasts.

Issues such as informal lines of communication, company culture, reward systems and lack of buy-in often reinforce these fears – especially if the senior leadership is not wholeheartedly committed to the new plan.

Besides the human factors, aspects like organizational design, processes, reports, performance indicators, governance model, discussion forums and skill sets may also be inadequate for the growth phase.

Even if everyone in the organization believes that times have changed, altering processes and structures takes time. In fact, the chances are that, for a long time, the company will be better equipped for controlling costs than creating growth.

Better management of inflexion points is a competitive advantage

Our experience with clients in similar situations points to four best practices: 1. design for early wins; 2. invest in confidence; 3. make public displays of commitment; and 4. look outside.

1. Design for early wins: Designing your growth strategy so that you can showcase and learn from your victories early on is a no-brainer. It creates positive momentum and makes you more adaptive.

A financial services company that I worked with realized that responding to market opportunities required reassessing some of the risk-management controls that they had developed in response to the global financial crisis. However, doing this would mean undergoing a long and complex change, which a lot of people would resist because of its perceived long-term impact on the quality of the business.

Hence, we started by focusing on other issues instead: for example, making processes more efficient and scalable, and increasing the company’s control over the risk–return indicators that we wanted to improve. Not only did this have immediate pay-off, but it also provided the management team with better controls for the next phase.

2. Invest in confidence: As a general rule, having a great strategy is always a good investment. Research indicates that companies with superior insight, greater buy-in and better-prepared teams outperform their competitors, and deliver higher returns to their shareholders. But this general rule is never truer than during inflexion points.

It is critical for senior management to invest time into developing and communicating the strategy, and to have support from high-caliber professionals who have experience in this process, and who recognize the challenges the company will face. It is also important to ensure that there is enough quality insight, data and analysis available to support the most critical decisions, and to clearly understand the business implications of making assumptions with differing levels of confidence.

Another client had been addressing this issue by investing in tools to improve the company’s demand-forecasting capabilities. However, after critically analyzing the business, it was obvious that improving the demand-forecasting in general had very little impact on the company’s preparedness and results.

For a very small set of products, though, any improvement in forecast quality yielded a significant business impact. The company then redefined the objective of its program around this set of products, and decided to accept the inherent margin of error on the rest of its portfolio – leading to great results.

3. Make public displays of commitment: Showing internal and external stakeholders that you are committed to the new strategy goes a long way towards recruiting them for the initiative. Thus, the new strategy must become the reference point of all the critical decisions, including the approval, prioritization and availability of resources.

During inflexion points, many business leaders believe that they can boost results by “delaying writing that cheque for a few days”. However, this often has the opposite effect, creating issues with critical resources, undermining financial discipline and confidence, and making the company less adaptable.

4. Look outside: In many cases, external partners are an additional source of inertia. If you sell through distributors, then part of the process of growing sales is outside your control. If you have critical suppliers, they may have different views of the market, and be reticent or incapable of making the capital commitment to scale up production.

Knowing where your external partners and clients are, and whether and how they are dealing with their own inflexion points, is not only critical to avoiding problems, but also a potential source of opportunities.

Organizations live in complex ecosystems and often the best way to ensure your success is to align it with the success of others.

Organizations that are aspiring to become adaptive and to capture opportunities from market inflexion points must ensure that they have laser-like focus.

From PowerPoint to bottom line

Actions speak louder than words, but words tend to dominate strategy implementation

Picture this: after months of hard work, the strategy project team has just delivered its final presentation to the management team, receiving praise, acceptance and a commitment to move forward on the recommended path. Thorough analysis has been conducted, great solutions have been developed, recommendations have been carefully crafted, and the team members breathe a sigh of relief and victory as they leave the room, perhaps celebrating this achievement later that evening. By the time the strategy is communicated, that same team has already disbanded into its respective, disjointed day-to-day jobs. Fast-forward a couple of months – two team members bump into each other in the hallway, and ask each other how the new strategy is working out. As far as they can tell, not much has happened; they both lament the slow speed of change and assure each other that something needs to be done urgently, before shuffling on to the business at hand.

If this sounds familiar to you, it is because the majority of large-scale project recommendations and changes are not implemented or not adequately implemented. The significant efforts that go into strategy design and producing hundreds of PowerPoint slides are, in most cases, insufficiently translated into an equally high-profile, high-urgency, and highly resourced implementation. As a result, many implementation efforts generate only lackluster outcomes, and the underlying strategic initiatives, along with the leadership who initiated and communicated them, lose credibility, and the extended team that was involved gets demoralized.

The struggle to get from PowerPoint to bottom line

The reasons why organizations typically struggle to implement initiatives are few and preventable, yet typically hard to address in practice. First, there is the challenge of the strategy itself, which may not have sufficient buy-in from the organization – in particular from middle management – and may be conceptual, high level, and unsuited to the realities of the company. All of these factors mean that it would not lend itself well to bottom-up implementation. Secondly, the right team is often not set up to run the implementation, which is equally as important as the strategy development phase and should get the same exposure to and involvement from senior management. Finally, many implementation plans tend to roll out sequentially rather than in parallel, making one change after another – the time required for this approach means that the plan risks being derailed by competing objectives, or loses momentum in the absence of continuous, noticeable progress.

Key factors for successful implementation

  • Develop an implementation plan
    The most obvious point is frequently also the least resourced and emphasized. High-level strategy goals need to be broken down into constituent milestones and work packages need to be designed, resourced and allocated. Planning needs to be given adequate time so that realistic and credible roadmaps are developed – otherwise implementation is not set up to succeed.
  • Create combined teams
    Implementation is often either the responsibility of line managers or special project managers. In reality, the best teams are a mix of both, allowing for the adequate balance between momentum and pragmatism, and the balance between strategy and business realities.
  • Establish a governance system
    Develop a governance system that audits the project, creates and measures KPIs, and is able to course-correct and escalate if results or progress are not materializing as expected. Those who are part of the governance team should have this reflected in their personal goal-setting to ensure that enough time and priority is allocated to implementation.
  • Manage stakeholders
    The management of stakeholders and their agendas is essential to the success of an implementation program. Stakeholders on all levels need to be addressed and adequately involved.
  • Ensure active senior management involvement
    Active senior management involvement and follow up is crucial to the implementation success. This means not just reviewing the reported ‘traffic lights’, but helping to remove obstacles and getting engaged in the problem solving.
  • Drive change management
    Larger initiatives require changes in organization and behavior. For this to be effective, project and line managers need to act as role models and ambassadors, not only for the strategy but for the associated behavioral changes. Through strong change management you enable organizational learning and knowledge transfer that will make the change stick and prevent the organization from falling back into the old way of working.
  • Complete a communication plan
    An extensive, long-term communication plan needs to be put into place to continuously reinforce objectives and keep the organization feeling like it is moving together in the same direction.

a-connect’s unique implementation capabilities

a-connect has a long history of successfully implementing client projects in Financial Services, Life Sciences, Agribusiness, Food and Chemicals (AFC) and Private Equity. The foundation for our success is three-pronged:

  • Our consultants combine comprehensive industry and line management expertise with extensive consulting experience. This allows them to fully understand not only the necessity and objectives of the strategy, but the real-time requirements of an organization that needs to simultaneously operate and change. Additionally, consultants with line business experience understand the ‘hidden rules of the game’!
  • We offer our clients full flexibility. Not only do we encourage a blended team approach where our consultants are fully integrated with the client team, but we also recognize that, especially when it comes to implementation, a dynamic approach is necessary. Sometimes the project requires only a single external resource; other times a full team is needed to create greater momentum. Moreover, we know that these needs change over time.
  • Implementation has been part of our core offering since a-connect’s inception and we are able to draw on rich and diverse project experiences to identify what works and what doesn’t work. 

Find out more about the implementation projects we have conducted in Life Sciences, Agribusiness, Food and Chemicals and Private Equity. Or, for more information on how a-connect can help you with your implementation challenges, contact us today.

Identifying inflexion points

In my last article, I discussed how business leaders should manage inflexion points – those moments when a company reverts from focusing on margin preservation and starts growing again.

During the first months of an inflexion point, before the market trend reversal is confirmed or a growth strategy shows results, it can be hard for leadership to feel confident and commit wholeheartedly to growth.

To make committing even more difficult, big bets based on the expectation of a market recovery that turns out to be just a temporary boost can destroy a lot of value and undermine the organization’s confidence in all the leadership’s decisions.

However, there is a substantial reward at stake for companies smart enough to make the right move at the right time. Market inflexion points are prolific in creating new opportunities and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that smart movers can capture substantial market share during these inflexion points.

Therefore, a critical question is: how can companies recognize these inflexion moments? How can they be certain before everyone else that the tides are indeed turning, that their markets are really rallying, and that they made the right decision to refocus on growth? This article describes how companies can better recognize market-driven inflexion points and use this knowledge to their advantage.

Identifying market-driven inflexion points goes beyond reading market reports

Most companies track sales and buy reports with detailed historical data on their markets and forecasts. These are typically used in their yearly planning and, sometimes, while preparing business case proposals before major decisions. Companies get value from this approach as it uses market facts to anchor future expectations, which, in turn, anchor strategic decisions.

However, this approach is not foolproof. Some of its limitations include:

  • Your competitors are doing the same: Most companies rely on the same sources of data and intelligence to identify emerging opportunities and use the same forecasts to define their views. Thus, not only do they tend to move at the same pace as their competitors and miss inflexion point opportunities, they also tend to look at the opportunities the same way and reach similar conclusions.
  • Opportunities do not wait for you: There is significant lag in normal processes. First, market conditions need to change enough to trigger a review of expectations. Then, these changes need to be measured, results need to be compiled and published, and this information needs to be used in planning processes – which are typically yearly. Plus, approvals for recommendations based on changes of expectation tend to take longer.
  • Most public forecasts do not show how numbers change: Good reports include discussions of which factors are driving demand as well as which changes are significantly impacting them. However, this often serves more to provide reassurances to the reader than creating clarity on ‘how things work under the hood’.

Developing a customized approach to identifying inflexion points

Below are five complementary groups of actions companies should implement to better predict, recognize and deal with market insight, especially regarding inflexion points:

  1. Build proprietary knowledge: When most companies rely on the same sources, they often reach confidence in their decisions through peer validation (“I am confident because others are doing the same”) instead of diligent insight (“I am confident because I did my homework”). While public intelligence is important, developing proprietary knowledge in a few strategic areas can yield great results and, most importantly, produce insights before your competitors.
  2. Tailor planning to your needs: Likewise, developing more responsive processes, which can deal with information in a way that makes sense for your company, can yield significant results. Using this approach, one technology client developed a way to look at its markets based on their underlying platforms. This required changes to the company’s planning processes, as they could no longer simply plug in numbers from public reports.
  3. Track trending fundamentals: Fundamental drivers are the hard factors that translate into supply and demand. These drivers trend on different frequencies; for example, in consumer goods, discretionary spending changes with the economy but demographics follow long-term trends. Besides, tracking fundamentals allows companies to identify false inflexions. Tracking buildups of supply–demand imbalances, for instance, helps avoid mistaking temporary movements for long-term trends.
  4. Rely on quantitative tools: Statistical analysis of historical data can be used to determine the likelihood that new market data represents a trend reversal versus an expected variation of a current trend; for example, a financial services client used this approach for each of its product categories – revealing that a 1% reversal in a low-volatility market was more significant than a 5% change in a high-volatility one.
  5. Improve your forecasting: Finally, forecasting, like any other business process, can be improved. It is important to map the implications of different assumptions and variables and adopt different approaches to improve these over time. In one example, an industrial client realized that forecast errors only mattered for high-cost, perishable goods. Focusing efforts on improving planning for that subset of products had a very positive impact on the company.

There is no doubt that smart movers can profit tremendously during market inflexion points. By building proprietary knowledge, tailoring processes to the needs of your company, analyzing fundamentals, using quantitative tools and applying strategic continuous improvement to planning processes, companies can capture these opportunities and invest in growth with confidence.