December 18, 2017

How critical is critical (path)?

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Barely 60 days until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. More than 10,000 athletes and delegates from more than 200 nations will parade in front of 80,000 spectators at the Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro. Several more billions will be watching the live broadcast. In addition, swarms of tourists will flock to Rio and the rest of Brazil. I’m thrilled just to think of the vibrant carnival atmosphere, where so many people will articulate the games slogan ‘live your passion (Viva sua paixão)’. Hooray!

Logo_rio_2016

By rio 2016 (rio 2016) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Olympic Games mega project (actually, it is a mega programme) is vast. A spectacular video demonstrating just one aspect of the Olympics games – the production and broadcasting of the games to the world – can be viewed here.

As a project manager, I can also imagine the chaos and anxiety the International Olympic Committee (IOC) managers and hosting government officials are experiencing as I write these lines. The responsibility for meeting this firm deadline is difficult to bear. This deadline was set about four years ago; each and every operation and task have been synchronised towards it ever since. The project has now consumed any possible slack while juggling to expedite the preparation works, and many of the construction and infrastructure projects are severely behind schedule. In addition to the delays, the organisers have been bombarded with so many unforeseen/unforeseeable risks, it is as if someone is putting them through a series of vicious tests. To name just a few:

  • Logistic, as the new metro line leading to the stadium is now planned to be open just 4 days(!) before the opening ceremony.
  • Safety, as part of the seaside bike path had collapsed, causing the death of two cyclists and some injuries.
  • Health, as poor sanitation conditions caused by the polluted waters that contain industrial and domestic waste are still contaminating the bay area where the sailing events are planned. And there’s the Zika virus threat: the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that athletes and visitors to areas where Zika is circulating should exercise caution. Still, some athletes are considering skipping the games, while others in the scientific community are calling to postpone or move the games.
  • Political instability, as Ms Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, has been stripped of her presidential duties. Or the corruption scandal involving politicians and the state-controlled oil company, Petrobras. Or the replacement of three health ministers in just a few months.
  • Economic crisis, as Brazil continues to sink into a deep recession.
  • Domestic violence, such as the still-high crime rate in Rio’s surrounding favelas and famous tourist attractions. And of course, there is the on-going risk of a terror attack.

Last year, the IOC formed a special task force to try to speed up preparations. The point of no return was crossed long ago. For example, the last part of the project schedule can be viewed here. This cannot be compromised. The situation is still critical. It doesn’t look good … or does it?

A scenario under which the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony on 5 August is postponed is unimaginable. Defiantly, the games will go ahead. Operations might falter, as we can recall from the Athens 2000 Olympics. However, the essence of the Olympics operation is beyond Gantt charts and processes. Quality and cost, which were sacrificed for critical time, are not enough. At this time, the human spirit and dedication are doing their wonders, subject to ‘imagine the imaginable’ scenarios. My ‘prognosis’ is that the patient will survive its critical condition … So, blow the horn, beat the drum – Rio 2016 here we come!

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Shai Davidov About Shai Davidov

Shai Davidov, Edinburgh Business School, Senior Teaching Fellow