Stakeholder management and the Olympics – Dame Tessa Jowell

A key part of project management is the art of recognising functional relationships and successfully managing them. At the recent PMI UK Chapter Synergy 2012 conference Dame Tessa Jowell, Minister for the 2012 London Olympics, emphasised how important it is to set and agree clear project expectations and manage them while keeping the stakeholders onboard.


She compared the London Olympics with the building of what is now the O2 Arena, formally the Millennium Dome. The Dome was on time and within budget but judged a failure by the majority. Why was this? She suggested that endless meddling by key stakeholders (namely the politicians), constantly changing scope and above all an ambiguous objective of which nobody could agree.

She also drew on lessons from the construction of the new Wembley stadium. This suffered from a lack of good stakeholder management, contractual problems and was often driven by negative press headlines that involved the project’s lateness, it’s overspend and the competence of the people in charge.

Drawing on the lessons from these and other previous projects it was important that the Olympics could not be micro managed by civil servants (who initially wanted to sign off every contract over £12m) or be delivered by committee. It was clear that an empowered team of ‘believers’ was put in charge who would deliver the games in a non partisan way. She quoted Henry S Truman as saying “it’s remarkable what a small group of people can achieve if they do not mind who gets the credit.”  She described the team as ‘porous’ working across and beyond the normal boundaries.

With time being immoveable and a budget that was fixed, she explained how important it was to get stakeholder agreement and buy-in. The scope was visited at every stage to ensure that the project was under control. Stakeholder confidence was crucial and alliances had to built on all sides and at all levels. She talked about the challenge of managing the government’s expectations of the Olympics at cabinet level and how that they were ultimately the absolute guarantor they did not have total control and responsibility for the project.

Building a strong team is one thing, but managing your stakeholders so that they feel part of a wider team is a key success factor in any complex project such as the Olympics. Sharing the vision is a vital part of stakeholder management. She gave some interesting examples of managing stakeholders ‘under the radar’.

Things will go wrong and it is then that strong leadership is required. Resilience to the brickbats that will inevitably come and building confidence in the team and the wider stakeholders is a key part of good leadership. You have to keep on believing in the vision and share that belief.

Stakeholder management and the Olympics by Dame Tessa Jowell is available on the Development package for £149/year on The PM Channel.  CPD Log available.

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