No project turnaround needed for the World Cup. But, will it lead to a successful 2016 Olympics?

With the 2014 World Cup a few weeks behind us and the media attention mostly subsided, it’s time to take a look at Brazil’s use of “project turnaround” efforts to remediate many of its pre-hosting issues. Many people, myself included, noticed several factors that could have easily led to “imminent failure” in the weeks leading up to opening day. Expectations were low. However, Brazil proved it was able to host a major international sporting event without any large hitches (the less than stellar performance of their national team not withstanding), paving the way for a successful 2016 Olympics. Let’s rank Brazil in each of the categories I identified in my last two posts:

  • Project Governance/Alignment: While Brazil has never wavered in its national spirit, its preparations for the World Cup did not always align with what might be expected from a well-prepared host. Even Brazilian football superstar Ronaldo was quoted as saying he was “appalled” with the lack of planning that went into the World Cup. However, it appears that the experience of the games in a vibrant environment such as Brazil provided a morale boost that unified the entire country to complete the task at hand. National pride was at stake, after all. For the Olympic Games, the lively atmosphere of Rio should help unify the city once again with its outstanding goals of preparing fully for the games – as long as proper project governance is engaged to keep critical infrastructure efforts on track.
  • Scope/Product: There were definite issues with the infrastructure and stadiums built for the Cup early on, but final problems were minimal, covered by the large scale effort of Brazilian workers. Although overall scope was vast and seemingly impossible to meet, the workers of Brazil were credited with “…sweating the whole thing into place” with an “army of local volunteers who brightened and eased and smoothed what delays and hitches…show[ed] through.” The issues with infrastructure quality that were heavily publicized prior to the games never materialized during the event itself, but attention to “product” detail for the Olympics will need to be a focus to ensure the much larger scope does not cause short cuts in quality.
  • Time: Almost all major projects were completed on time, preparing the country well for the work that will need to be completed for the 2016 Olympics. The preparations for the World Cup have already set the stage for a more tightly executed timeline for the Olympics. Although organizers admit construction remains behind schedule, World Cup infrastructure and experience has the potential to get everything back on track “by September.”
  • Cost: While there will certainly be no recovery of some of the sunk costs that funded the World Cup, as well as the expensive preparations already underway for the Olympic Games, some bright spots exist. The tournament injected 30 billion reais ($13.5 billion) into Brazil’s economy and created 710,000 permanent jobs, according to President Rousseff. Further, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, claims the $36.7 billion budget will be able to fund much needed infrastructure improvements to the city, providing benefits beyond the scope of the Games themselves. However, some issues remain and the intended boom in tourism might not return the country’s investment for the event. Costly stadiums could go unused, particularly in smaller markets with smaller teams.
  • Resources/Relationships: Project resources did not always work together effectively in the lead up to the World Cup. As with any large project or event, much political wrangling for projects or funding took place behind the scenes (and sometimes out in the open). Getting a large number of stakeholders to agree on planning for the Olympic Games – which equates to 28 simultaneous world championships, 10,500 athletes, 45,000 volunteers, and 21,500 members of the media – is a greater endeavor than hosting seven World Cup matches. As Rio focuses on the Olympic Games, much attention will need to be dedicated towards ensuring productive and collaborative relationships exist between project members.
  • Communication: Proper communication was the factor that received the correct amount of attention from Brazil, directly impacting the international perception of the World Cup. The success of the event was clearly communicated, including construction completion, safety conditions, and infrastructure reviews. Formal communication regarding the preparation for the Olympic Games has already begun, proving Brazil can learn from its previous mistakes.

When we look back at the World Cup, it is clear that a number of the main issues facing the country prior to the start of the event had been at least partially remediated before or during the event. With attention paid to lessons learned and a renewed focus for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the use of proper project governance, clearly defined scope, attention to cost and resource needs, and clear communication will ensure that preparations for the Games do not run the same risk of “imminent failure” that the World Cup faced.

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