July 2014

The trouble of leading projects to success: What we can learn from the World Cup

“Brazil is struggling to meet deadlines for construction of stadia for the FIFA 2014 World Cup.” Such devastating news went through the press for weeks and damaged the World Cup host’s reputation.

What was happening?

According to FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) regulations, all stadiums have to be finished by the end of the year preceding the World Cup. For Brazil, this deadline was December 31st , 2013. However, several stadiums were well behind schedule.

How can I prevent my own projects from being behind schedule?

Let’s look at the problems from a project management view and draw conclusions about how projects should be approached to avoid failure:

1. Don’t overcharge your project

“Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”: FIFA required eight stadiums to be constructed but such was the popularity of the regions around Brazil to get involved with the football tournament, the host nation decided to go ahead with 12 new stadium projects.

The lesson to be learned here is to stay realistic and carefully define the scope of your projects. Take into consideration the time you can spend on your project and set up the project phases accordingly. Structuring your project in detail will allow you to gain a better overview of the time you need to complete each phase and thus of the total duration of your project.

2. Don’t hesitate to look into risks

Risk management can quickly come to be a highly complicated endeavour. However, you don’t immediately have to go into a high-quality risk management assessment. In fact, it may already be sufficient to consider the most obvious risks, as the following example of a Brazilian stadium shows:

One of the Brazilian stadia, a stadium in the northern city of Manaus, which is being funded by £186m of public money, was very behind schedule. As the developer told the BBC, the workers were struggling with the hot, tropical weather.

The lesson to be learned: Before starting to structure a project, jot down some to the factors which may lead to a delay. Some of them may appear nearly self-evident – and yet, it is worth considering them and perhaps even search for possible solutions right from the beginning.

3. When you notice signs of failure, act immediately!

In Brazil, the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba was one of the stadia missing the initial 31 December deadline. As a consequence, hundreds of extra workers were brought in to meet building requirements on the 40,000-seater stadium, in order to avoid it being the first ground to be dropped from a World Cup.

In your projects, you also have the possibility of adding additional resources, either human or monetary. As the Brazilian example shows, it may be wise to do so, especially if the project’s failure would entail greater damage than the usage of additional resources.

The lesson to be learned: A careful project follow up will enable you to anticipate problems and react to them even before they appear.

4. Take into account the lessons learned from the past

According to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, the serial delays in building Brazil's 12 World Cup stadiums should serve as a lesson to Russia and Qatar, the countries hosting the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Valcke said FIFA would learn from its mistakes and do things differently in Russia and particularly Qatar, which will have fewer stadiums.

The lesson to be learned: Take into consideration the problems you or others experienced with similar projects either in your own company or beyond. It may be worth involving them once you are setting up your project plan or have a look at it with them before finishing it. You may be surprised how helpful a third or fourth opinion may be, especially when it comes from someone who has actual experience in the field.

With these thoughts in mind, I’m sure you will complete your projects successfully!

Aleksandra Cierpinska

Customer Care Manager

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