The College of Business

Performance Excellence At The Olympic Games 2002

The Spring 2002 Mayberry Lecture was delivered by Mr. Roy Bauer. He is currently VP of Systems Manufacturing at Pemstar. Previous positions held include Director of Market-Driven Quality at IBM Rochester. Roy has served as Senior Examiner for the Baldrige Award, serves as an adjunct professor, and is on the Board of Directors of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Foundation. He had a fascinating story to tell about the application of the Baldrige framework to a very unique and high profile event—the Olympic Games. The following is a summary of his presentation.

The Olympic Games is the premier sporting event in the world. The global audience of spectators expands the scope of the Olympic Games beyond a sporting event to a major business operation. Because of its global visibility and “Brand Awareness” potential, the business of building the infrastructure and running the two-plus weeks of the Olympic games is an enormous undertaking. With little room for error, no room for schedule adjustment, and with the world watching— architect, code, test, implement in less than 4 years with multiple and changing suppliers and stakeholders, changing languages and cultures, and changing technology, set-up, timing, performance, content management and delivery, data accuracy and reliability, service levels, operations management and support—and tear-down within a one-month period! It’s has been said that the Olympic Games is like building a billion dollar corporation in seven years, with 200,000 people in the organization at games-time; then dismantling it in about 90 days after the games.

Communications and information technology (IT) is the primary driver responsible for Olympic Games success. It brings the sporting events and sporting news live to literally anyone across the globe with a radio, TV, or computer. Spectators no longer have to travel to the Games to view the events. With today’s technology spectators can get “up close and personal” with each event, and even converse one-on-one with athletes through e-mail. The growth in size and scope makes the two-plus weeks of Games information technology operations a complex and intricate task. Supporting and running the Games operations is a system comprised of thousands of computers, local area networks within venues, wide area networks linking all the venues, and global networks connecting the masses. Setting up these networks in real-time to deliver highly accurate, sub-second information from intense competitions, and provide personalized communications to anyone across the globe, requires highly refined systems management and exceptional coordination among all contractors and stakeholders. Technology malfunctions can lead to incorrect scores or times, compromising the quality of the Games competition. Similarly, poor systems management and coordination can lead to breakdowns in Games operations, affecting TV and press coverage, transportation and other logistics, event scheduling, and any number of other problems. This breakdown happened during the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.

Problems encountered in Atlanta included:

  • Lack of a disciplined software development process that managed changes
  • Limited customer / stakeholder involvement in development
  • Poor understanding and implementation of stakeholder requirements
  • Planning for Games operations was not synchronized with IT applications
  • Limited or poor volunteer training
  • No overall leadership to consolidate / integrate activities

While much of the blame for problems was attributed to information technology, the real root causes of problems were due to systems management issues, in the broad sense of the term. Not just “system” from a technology perspective, but “system” meaning the operations that includes adequate planning, deployment, and synchronization of technology, people, and processes. IBM got blamed for operational problems that were really beyond its control. These are problems that every business has when implementing technology, but are magnified because of the Games short duration of intense operations, the global visibility, and the requirement to have it “right the first time.” IBM, the information technology supplier and a worldwide sponsor, recognized the need for a different approach to technology management for the 1998 Nagano, Japan Games and 2000 Sydney, Australia Games. To satisfy its customers and other stakeholders, this approach must extend beyond the implementation of software and hardware solutions. IBM decided that the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence was the model they would use to define a new approach and deploy this approach in the Olympic Games. This meant applying the lessons learned to:

  • Implement a strong leadership system to
    • facilitate external contractual commitments
    • leverage internal resources
    • put strategic perspective into IBM’s Olympic Games approach
  • Build strong relationship processes with
    • the Olympic family (International Olympic Committee (IOC), Country Olympic Committee (COC), Sports Federations etc.)
    • other key stakeholders (Press, timing vendor, broadcast media, etc.)
  • Use these relationship processes, clearly define and mutually agree on requirements, set expectations, and manage change
  • Manage software development and systems integration with systematic processes, strong requirements linkages, effective quality plans, and comprehensive testing activities including stakeholders and the Olympic family
  • Concurrently develop and implement operational plans and measures to support technology bring-up, Games operations, and dismantle (including help desk, problem management, and crisis management processes)

By utilizing the performance excellence model of Baldrige to create these management processes and deploying them to address the stakeholder and operational issues, the effectiveness of the information technology was greatly enhanced. The learning from the Nagano games were carried over to the Summer games at Sydney in 2000 though technology had advanced in the intervening years. The improvements in many of the performance measures were evident but the ultimate validation came from the President of IOC who said “IBM gets the gold medal at the Olympics.”