Episode 134 – Creating an Olympic Legacy: London 2012

Episode #134
Original Air Date: 08.02.2021

46 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Ian Crockford

Going for gold: How to successfully manage an Olympic project! Ian Crockford was the Project Executive at the Olympic Delivery Authority, the public body responsible for ensuring the delivery of the infrastructure, design and construction of buildings, transport, and the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The venues were required to use materials and components that could be reused, relocated, or recycled to meet the Olympic Delivery Authority’s sustainability objectives.

Ian and his team were facing huge constraints which impacted project planning. They were challenged to deliver venues and infrastructure that met long-term regeneration goals, and to also deliver intensive short-term requirements for the games. Ian explains the six project objectives and how they met these objectives for an event which catered to 300 thousand people per day. (250k visitors, 25k media and 25k athletes)

This project had an immovable deadline. The goal was to complete the project one year in advance to allow for testing. Listen in to hear if they achieved the goal! Ian breaks down the planning process and how time constraints impacted management of the project schedule. Hear how they were also challenged with sticking to scope and budget in the midst of the global economic crisis of 2012. Ian also talks about the international nature of the teams and how they facilitated team building and communication on a culturally diverse team. Ian also led the London Eye project from concept to operation; he is a delivery focused business executive with experience in financing, master planning, structuring and assembling high profile engineering schemes.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"It really is an opportunity to stage the greatest show on Earth. And you’ve got to give it your best, haven’t you."

- Ian Crockford

"...if you do it diligently and pull all the systems together, from your governance, your meetings, your risk management, your design management, your cost management, stakeholder management and everything, it actually works. And it’s a joy because a project is so complicated, and there are so many moving parts, you need that structure to hold it together."

- Ian Crockford

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. Creating an Olympic legacy: The project story about successfully ensuring the delivery of venues and infrastructure of the London 2012 Olympic Games while overcoming huge constraints which impacted project planning. 

Table of Contents

01:54 … Meet Ian
03:04 … Planning Short-Term Needs and Long-Term Vision
04:55 … Project Themes and Project Objectives
09:20 … Key Stakeholders
11:38 … Responding to Feedback
12:46 … Olympic Planning Process
15:50 … Immovable Time Constraints
18:05 … Delivering on Time
18:49 … The Value in Testing
22:37 … The Legacy Viewpoint
24:08 … Budget Challenges
27:12 … Disciplined Project Management
29:25 … Project Teams
32:16 … Team Building in Cultural Diversity
33:38 … Surprises
36:21 … Biggest Takeaways
40:03 … “When Did it Hit You?”
43:04 … Praise from the IOC
44:20 … Get in Touch with Ian
45:40 … Closing

IAN CROCKFORD: It really is an opportunity to stage the greatest show on Earth.  And you’ve got to give it your best, haven’t you.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and joining me is Bill Yates.  Today we’re talking with Ian Crockford, and Ian is based outside London, near Heathrow Airport.


WENDY GROUNDS:  So you may get to hear a plane or two…


WENDY GROUNDS:  …going over.  He was the project executive at the Olympic Delivery Authority, the ODA.  And this was the public body responsible for ensuring the delivery of the infrastructure, the design, and the construction of buildings, transport, and the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  We’re busy with the 2021 Olympic Games right now, so we’re very excited about this episode.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it’s great timing.  One of the things you’ll pick up on a theme as you listen to this conversation with Ian, the venues that he was responsible for delivering.  Those venues were required to use materials and components that could be reused, relocated, or recycled to meet the Olympic Delivery Authority’s sustainability objectives.  That’s a huge constraint.  And it’ll be interesting, I think, for our listeners as we go through and have the conversation to hear how frequently and to what degree this impacted the planning that Ian and his team did.

WENDY GROUNDS:  The London 2012 Olympic Games were an incredibly successful Olympic Games.  I know Ian is very proud of the work that they have done, and they have received high praise from the Olympic Committee for the work that they have done.  And they’ve served as an example to many other countries who’ve been hosting Olympic Games since then.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, they’ve set the bar incredibly high.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Ian.  We’re so excited to talk with you today.  Thank you for being our guest.

IAN CROCKFORD:  You’re welcome.  I’m looking forward to talking with you.

Meet Ian

WENDY GROUNDS:  First of all, I want to find out how you got to be part of this project.  What was the story that led to you becoming involved in this huge project?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Well, that’s an interesting one.  I guess we’re back in 2005.  And as a new organization, the Olympic Delivery Authority was looking for people who could lead and manage the development of certain venues around the park.  I was approached then, and I guess in my CV was delivering the London Eye.  So I had actually had the benefit from the late ‘90s right through a rollercoaster, one of those 24/7 jobs, delivering the London Eye for the Millennium Eve.

And that, you know, that teaches you not only about innovative projects and being a bit agile as a leader, as well as project delivery, but also great media interest that comes with these projects, and the need to publicly speak a lot.  And there’s all that other paraphernalia, dealing with politicians at high levels and the other stakeholders.  So I guess that played in my favor, and I was selected and interviewed as normal, and I was really pleased to be handed initially the Olympic Stadium project, but then I took under my belt the Aquatic Center and other venues in what was called the South Olympic Park.

Planning Short-Term Needs and Long-Term Vision

WENDY GROUNDS:  Looking at the Olympics – and I’m a huge Olympics fan.  And planning something like the Olympics, they have very short-term intense needs.  And then after that there’s a long-term vision.  Now, I know you’ve talked about the Olympic Delivery Authority, and they had probably a long-term vision for the venues and the infrastructure.  So how do you correlate the two in your planning?

IAN CROCKFORD:  From the outset we said the main mission for the project was to transform this global city of London.  We were in a deprived area of London, and there was a band of London that, from research back in the 1830s, was always the poorest area of London, always the highest unemployment and lowest disposable income.  And that was the East of London leading into a band up into the Epping Forest.  And so we thought, right.  So let’s focus on the legacy, and let’s really create a 30-year vision for what that area of London could be.  And we had this great program of 30 years and what we’re going to do in this area.  And literally, six weeks is the Olympic Games, in what was then six or seven years’ time.

So we had this need for six weeks, but really the vision was what we’re going to do for the 30 years, and how do we make that 30 years really sing?  Then as you start appointing contractors and different people to be part of the job for this fantastic delivery effort of transforming this land, gets a bit competitive.  You know, everyone wants to be part of it, and no one wants to let the side down.

So that we were awarded in 2005.  We had a two-year planning period, to 2007, and really then you got five years, which we then broke down to actually four years because we wanted to be a year ahead of the Games.  Four years to really hit the ground running and really go.  And, you know, it was a great motivator for everyone involved just to do their bit, do the best they could, deliver on time, and just set the whole job up, one, for Olympic success, but then for that great long-term legacy.

Project Themes and Project Objectives

BILL YATES:  Ian, I can recall Atlanta had the 1996 Olympic Games.  And I remember the impact that it had on our community.  Obviously there are a lot of orange cones and construction and cranes.  So there’s that turmoil that takes place.  But I remember the excitement in the community just about the enhancements that were coming.  I can see how you and those that were working directly with a team could just feed off that excitement, and that’s very palpable to me.  I remember what it was like being in a community at that time.  One of the things that we wanted to ask you about were themes and objectives.  So could you explain the strategic project themes in parallel with the project objectives?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Sure.  And I agree, it was such an exciting time that you have to – I think we underestimate the stakeholder management because really you are trying to bring a nation along with you, as well as the local community and the local politics.  But we had the vision of achieving all we needed to for the Olympic and the Paralympic Games that maximized the sustainable legacy.  And of course always within an available budget.  So that was the budget constraints.  But what we did then is that we had the time, cost, and quality kind of project issues that were fundamental.  But then we set up six key goals that we wanted to achieve.

And in a way we wanted to sort of transform the industry a little bit, the development and delivery industry in the U.K.  We already had a world-class health-and-safety sort of record in the U.K.  But we set them apart as try and beat that accident or incident record by 10 times on the Olympic Games, which was an incredible kind of goal to set. 

But we just thought, you know, we are in the 21st Century here.  We can’t be putting people to work in an unsafe environment and having them not go home after a day’s work.  This is wrong.  We don’t want them injured.  This is it.  So that was one thing.  Then we were really focused on the sustainability aspect.  All aspects.  Not only were we cleaning up a very polluted area of London, but all the materials we were going to analyze that we needed to use for the Games.

And hosting the event, we had a lot of temporary facilities; so how were we going to do that in a sustainable way?  And then equality and inclusion was, you know, another fundamental area. We were in an area of London that actually represented every nation that was visiting the Games; and every faith, every belief, every sexual orientation we were catering for in a very open and inclusive way.  And again, the legacy comes hugely into this, as well, probably more than the Games in the way we did that. 

Then we had employment and skills.  Again, I said that we were in a deprived area of London, so we needed to really boost employment in the area.  The legacy overall, just as a general theme, was huge.  The future development and the transformation of this area of London over 30 years was still – is fundamental.  And then design and accessibility.

So there were common design standards and common design quality standards.  But also we wanted the whole park accessible to all.  So you were getting into venues.  We’re going through complex landscaping in an area that was all wheelchair accessible.  So the health and safety, sustainability, equality and inclusion, employment and skills, legacy, and then design and accessibility.  And those six, you knew them.  So every decision we made throughout the development or delivery, you were conscious of hitting the mark on these objectives.

BILL YATES:  Those are, for project managers, those are constraints, not in a bad way.  They’re good.  They build the fence around that thing that you’re building and help you focus and say, okay, does this meet this constraint, or am I getting out of bounds?  So those are really helpful.  And it’s amazing, too, I’ll look back at some of the statistics on the success of the 2012 London Games.  And one of them is about inclusion and about equality.  44% of the Games’ competitors were women.


BILL YATES:  That was a new mark.  And with the addition of women’s boxing, women competed in all sports on the Olympic program for the first time.  So kudos, you know, that checks one of those boxes and is with an exclamation point.  That’s great.

IAN CROCKFORD:  And I think when it came to the Paralympic Games, the whole design accessibility just came into it.  So we helped set a new benchmark for that inclusion there with design accessibility.  Everywhere was accessible throughout the park.

Key Stakeholders

WENDY GROUNDS:  You’ve talked a little bit about stakeholders.  Can you elaborate on who were your key stakeholders?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, we were, obviously, beholden to central government and budgets.  So we had a structure there where we had a Government Olympic Executive, which were basically like a fund manager.  They syndicated funds in lots of government departments and then facilitated the budget release to us as the client developer.  So that GOE relationship was quite key.  Central government relationship was very key.  But winning over the hearts and minds of the locals and working locally with the community that were going to be most impacted, we had five host London boroughs.  The largest one was Newham, but then we had four that sort of made a ring around Newham County.

And we worked closely with all those five boroughs throughout the Games.  Which at times is difficult.  Stakeholder management isn’t easy.  Some people want a bit more of the slice of the pie than other, you know.  It was more – I guess it was more positive, rather than negative.  You know, it wasn’t about disruption.  They wanted more of the benefits of the build and the redevelopment rather than worried about noise and dust and things like that.  But we did extensive public consultation, so there was a period where two to three nights a week I’d be in village halls or community halls, talking to local residents and hearing their views and answering their concerns or their wishes.  But they were the main ones.

And then you’ve obviously got the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.  The Olympic Delivery Authority was used as like the public sector delivery development vehicle.  And the LOCOG, which was the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.  That was a very close relationship.  Sometimes a bit of positive conflict because we both had to get the job done.  One’s organizing the event, and the other one’s delivering the facilities.  But we had to have a good relationship there.  One’s effectively the operator, and the other one’s the developer delivery vehicle.

My experience in projects is when you’ve got an operator on board within your client team, it’s absolutely critical to get the right solution.  So they’re the main parties.  And then you just go wider, you know, the whole London population, the GLA.  And then at one time the media was saying, oh, do you realize your local land taxes or house taxes are going to go up to pay for this?  Then you got the U.K. nation as a whole.  So it’s an incredibly wide, you know, stakeholder base.

Responding to Feedback

BILL YATES:  Ian, a quick follow-up on that.  This piece of the town hall meetings that you had so frequently, I hadn’t really thought about that.  Can you look back on any of those and say, you know what, we ended up making this change to how we did our project based on some of the feedback we got in those town hall meetings.

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be a good listener.  You’ve got to be an active listener when you’re doing these things.  It’s not all one way, you speaking, you know, by any means.  And you’ve got to really listen to people’s concerns and address them.  See, I can’t think of a specific example, but definitely on employment and skills, on the use of local businesses and local training centers like construction skill training centers and things like that, and bringing them into the whole development delivery piece.

I remember in a meeting, a very difficult meeting, somebody wanting silent road surfacing so that the traffic wouldn’t make a noise.  But I did say we’d address it, and we did look at different road coverings.  And it is true that some road coverings are quieter than others.  But there’s a whole array of things.  And I think you’ve just got to be an active listener.  There are benefits that come from those meetings that you can make positive changes to your project.

Olympic Planning Process

WENDY GROUNDS:  All right.  Let’s talk a little bit about the planning process.  How long did that take, and what were some of the considerations that you took? 

IAN CROCKFORD:  So while we were bidding, we already had the idea of a master plan, obviously.  And we had agreement with the five host boroughs, and we had an Act of Parliament set up, which is like government speak in the U.K. for basically giving people the authority to actually develop and seize control of some land.  So we had the benefit of – basically we had a Labor government with a Democrat mayor.  And what I found out quite early, they managed to get together really quickly, agree how they were going to set up the Acts of Parliament for delivery of the park, and we had all that established by July 2005, when we were awarded the Games.

So that enabled us to basically then, on the award, to fast-track the Acts going through Parliament and getting sorted out formally, but they were already in place, and there was no more argument or negotiation to do.  And then with that we set up a whole legacy development business.  So we had the planning authority, effectively, within that legacy development business set up.  And we had the Olympic Delivery Authority had its own power to actually get hold of the land we needed and start negotiating with businesses and relocating the businesses around the park because this site is quite close to the center of the City of London, and there were literally hundreds of businesses operating on this site.  So we had to buy the business.  We had to build them new facilities, move these businesses off before we could start cleaning.

So that was really fast-tracked, the end of 2005 until, say, middle of 2007.  I think Los Angeles had the benefit of just a bit longer time due to the time when the decision was made.  But traditionally you’ve got seven years.  So we had from 2005 to 2012.  And we broke it down into two-four-one, effectively, so we had two years of planning, organizing, cleaning the site, getting the site vacant and ready for development, cleaning up all the soil and the pollution and everything on the area.  Then we had four years of build.  And that gave one year preparation for operations.  So that was critical.  So we had a year.  We wanted to be ready one year ahead of the Games with all the key venues built.

But your question’s about the planning.  So by that time we had the Planning Authority set up.  So I was then developing my plans.  I had an authority that I could go and talk to as a local planning authority.  And I still had to go through a planning application process, which is quite long-winded, under normal government standards and heavily auditable.  So it had to be done correctly. 

And we went through the planning process with the authority to do that.  So just so you know, 90% of the times the Olympics – there are arguments between the host country and the host city that go on far too long.  And that seven years just gets eaten up, and then they run out of time to deliver, honestly.  So I could give you story after story of Athens, and even Commonwealth Games, Delhi and things, oh, it’s crazy what happens.  Rio was another one.  Oh.  We were ahead of the game when we started.

Immovable Time Constraints

BILL YATES:  So Ian, in the summer of 2012, someone was going to make the proclamation that the Olympic Games were now open, and welcome all the different countries and their athletes.  It’s a very, very public, I think I saw the audience was four billion worldwide, you know, when you count all those folks who were watching on TV or whatever.  So in the summer of 2012, your project had to be done.  You guys had to be ready.  That’s about as immovable a deadline as you can have.  So share your views with us on those time constraints and how those impacted management of the project schedule?

IAN CROCKFORD:  I think the immovable deadline of the Olympic Games is, yes, it’s a constraint, and a concern.  But it’s a tremendous driver.  It really gives you that really good discipline, that time is the enemy, and you’ve got to stick to program.  Well, plus that on a wider sort of listing area, we said, you know, we were going to get ready with the five big venues.  We were going to be ready, I think the date was July the 25th, 2011, ahead of July the 26th in 2012.  I think that date’s correct.  But we were going to be ready 2011, complete, all the main delivery done.  The venues were then handed over to the Organizing Committee for them to do any work they needed to do to host.

So, yeah, so we used those tools.  We actually imposed a year earlier deadline on ourselves, when you look at that.  So you’re sticking to program, sticking to drive.  That two years’ planning was absolutely critical, getting the scope of work correct, and getting your budget correct, locking it down with contractors, going through a good procurement process.  And then it was just then the philosophy was we’re going to go, and then you’re trying not to change too much; right?  Yes, inevitably there’s going to be changes set up.  We had a very organized governance framework with project boards for any changes that were necessary.

And sure, things come up.  But as much as possible, sticking to the scope that you procured four years before the 2011, and delivering to that.  And it worked.  It worked really well.  You know, it gave you a lot of assurance, a lot of – it kind of gave you that backup, that you were supported, that you knew that you had to just deliver, you know, that was it.  It was all about delivering to that program and sticking to the program.

Delivering on Time

WENDY GROUNDS:  You mentioned that the aim was to complete one year in advance.  Were you able to do that?

IAN CROCKFORD:  We did.  The stadium was ahead of that.  The aquatics was an incredibly complicated project.  The Aquatics Center finished on that day, one year ahead.


IAN CROCKFORD:  And we had – and again, to celebrate that, I mean, these are the deadlines you get, but you don’t honestly just set a normal project deadline.  But we had all the national TV crews in that Aquatic Center.  We had a diving exhibition to mark the one year to the Olympic Games on that day.  So it was a fantastic achievement, yeah.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, that’s impressive.

IAN CROCKFORD:  So, yeah, we’re all very proud that we did, we achieved that goal.  So the five big build venues were all done.

The Value in Testing

BILL YATES:  So then, per the plan, you had a year of buffer, if you will, where you could test.  Did that testing prove valuable?  Did you find things that needed to be changed, adjusted, redone?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yes, certainly.  So that test was invaluable, that one-year period for operations.  So this sort of dynamic between the developer, the Olympic Delivery Authority, with the private sector, if you like, the OCOG, which is privately financed and funded, the dynamic here is that they’d like to resource late. They’re not going to have a lot of resources while you’re delivering the venues.  And so even though we had that operator onboard, perhaps, for the delivery authority, the resource could have been greater, I think, and the information could have been a bit greater.  But we handed the venue over to them, and then they recruit.

And they’ve got then the bandwidth of, even though the basic operations is okay within the facilities, you then bring in the TV crews.  As you said, you know, you’ve got 80,000 people in the stadium, but you’ve got four billion watching the Opening Ceremony.  And so you could say that it’s all about the TV.  The TV’s absolutely critical.  And it’s only then, a year before, or even later than that, nine, six months before, the TV want all the latest technology.  I mean, at that time slow-mo was a big thing coming in.

So we were moving to 600 frames a second film speed.  And then we were into such a level of frames in TV that it actually, if your lighting was done on a normal electric power, it used to flicker.  So we had to then change all the lighting for what’s called “electronic ballast,” so it wasn’t under a normal electrical sine wave of AC power.  And those things that you wouldn’t expect, you did in that year to cater for the TV because we want that slow-mo, you know, we want that diver diving into the pool and seeing that droplet of water in the air, or we want to see that bead of sweat on Usain Bolt’s forehead as he’s doing the 100 meters.  And it’s fantastic.

But you don’t realize the sort of infrastructure requirements to deliver those sort of images.  And they arrive late.  But that year you’ve got just to get things absolutely perfect.  And inevitably there, you know, you’re just working with the latest technologies, so there are some challenges at the end.  But at least we had a complete venue, all done, all the main infrastructure.  The roof’s on.  Everything’s working.  And then you can work from that to cater for those sort of last-minute requirements.

BILL YATES:  I remember, you know, I can picture Usain Bolt.  I can picture Michael Phelps.  So the slow-mos of him with the water beads just in the pool as he’s striking the water.

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, they’re just iconic images, fantastic.

BILL YATES:  It’s iconic, yeah, yeah.

IAN CROCKFORD:  So it was exactly what we wanted, you know, when we looked at the lighting.  We said, right.  And even then you’re working with lighting manufacturers.  You realize that they’re trying to keep pace with the TV technology.  So we were basically developing this electronic to ballast to actually change the lighting, so the lighting was on permanently.  So that time to get things right and do all your test events and all your full licensing events and everything is absolutely critical.

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s impressive, just to get it done a year in advance.  I know some of the other Olympic venues haven’t, haven’t managed that, just maybe the week before, some of it.

IAN CROCKFORD:  No.  No, you’re exactly right, Wendy.  I remember we were obviously on a 2012 timeline.  And the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games was at a similar stage of construction that we were.


IAN CROCKFORD:  So I was trying to finish the Aquatic Center, and they were going to be hosting events in theirs literally the next month or so.  And I’m looking at we were at a similar stage of construction.  So yes, inevitably these things…

BILL YATES:  That’s insane.

IAN CROCKFORD:  …are a rush in some of the countries that aren’t as well perhaps organized with that two-four-one policy, which I think played to our credit.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, had to make your team feel a bit better, too; right?  You know, we’re doing good.  We’re doing good.

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, exactly.

The Legacy Viewpoint

WENDY GROUNDS:  How many guests would the Olympic Park host per day?  What number were you looking at?

IAN CROCKFORD:  So that’s an interesting question, and I’m going to approach that by the legacy thoughts, if you don’t mind, because the Games, there’s a huge crowd; you know?  It’s something like 300,000 a day, and 25,000 of those are athletes.  And believe it or not, there’s another 25,000 of those who are just the media and the reporting that goes on.  So you’re into 250,000 guests alone.  And to cater for those involves your bridge infrastructure, your transport infrastructure, your footpath infrastructure, all that.  Never mind, obviously, your access to the particular venues and things like that.

And so then you look at that, right, what is the legacy need?  And the legacy need is a far reduced number of people.  So we were in a stage where we were building bridges, say 80-foot, 100-foot wide, over the rivers; but 20-foot of that was a permanent structure, and 60-foot of it would be a temporary structure.  So we were designing all the lead-in and then the abutments to suit a 20-foot bridge, and 60-foot of it would be just lifted off by a crane after the Games.  So all that pre-thought is to make the legacy feel, feel like the right size for the future use.  Okay? 

Rather than you can end up with a lot of hard surfaces, large expanses that you feel are a bit windswept and oversized.  And so that’s how we catered for the legacy during the Olympic Games, so that’s where the legacy viewpoint has great benefit.

Budget Challenges

BILL YATES:  I want to ask you a question about the budget, Ian, just thinking about some of the constraints that impacted your ability to manage the budget.  There were things like durability, low maintenance, low energy costs.  What were the challenges that those presented in order for you and the team to stay on target?

IAN CROCKFORD:  The budget, I think that’s a key part of your planning process, as well.  There’s always tremendous media interest in what’s your budget, what’s your budget, you know, right from the start.  And you’ve got to hold your nerve and not reveal something too early and sort of shoot yourself in the foot, which is an English expression for don’t trip yourself up.  But once you set the budget, yeah, it is a constraint.  You’re working to it.  But we really managed contingency well, so we knew – we did a quantitative risk analysis against all the risks that were around a venue, and that was held in a project budget.

So on any project that I was running, I had a legacy budget.  So I had a conversion budget post the Games.  I had then a project budget with all the quantitative risk analysis, all the risk quantified in there.  And that was my contingency that I could use through change board.  That was my budget, effectively.  We started the Olympic Games in 2007, where the market was – we were in a boom time economically.  And it was very difficult to get contractors involved into the process.  You’ve got to bear in mind that the Olympic Delivery Authority were a new client.  Nobody had worked with them before. 

So there was a little trepidation about how they were going to be managed.  It was kind of tainted as a big government project, so people were a little nervous how that was going to work out.  And then the GFC came along, with Global Financial Crisis, and all of a sudden we were the go-to project.  We were the big-budget project on the book.

BILL YATES:  Ah, so it flipped.  Yeah.

IAN CROCKFORD:  It absolutely turned it on its head.  But by that time we had let the big five venues, by the time the GFC came.  But it meant that a lot of the budget for the delivery came at a time when work was tight, the market was really keen to work with us, and margins became the tightest.  So in actual fact we had the benefit of coming in under budget overall.  So we procured really well on the project.  And then during the project, as well, the Legacy Development Corporation set up, and I transferred my budget to the Legacy Development Corporation so they were responsible for the legacy conversion.  And effectively I did a property handover after the Paralympic Games and some minor works.  I then handed over the property to the Legacy Development Corporation with our budget.

But, yeah, I’m pleased to say that the contingency that working with the QRA, the Quantitative Risk Analysis, and working with mitigating the risks, working through them, working through any changes and issues came through, really worked very well, very diligently; but we worked really well, really good governance.  And then as we became more confident, as the projects worked their way through, we could transfer some of the project budget into a program budget.  And basically we had then further contingency at the program level for the whole Olympic Games that effectively could have then been used to help the Organizing Committee or the schemes all get handed back to government after the end of the project.

Disciplined Project Management

BILL YATES:  That’s fantastic.  Ian, it’s one of the characteristics of a project like this that are a bit mind-blowing for me, is just the complexity added because of the length of it.  I mean, you guys are having to set budgets and do estimations for something that’s not really going to be finally purchased and installed until two, three, even four years later.  And I think of the lighting as a great example that you brought up.  It’s like you’ve got energy needs and lighting needs that you can only estimate right now; but all the architectural drawings, the renderings that are being presented and executed on, have to account for that.  Then you’re asking these architects and engineers, okay, how much is that equipment going to cost?  They’re like, well, it doesn’t actually exist yet, exactly.  So…

IAN CROCKFORD:  No, it is true.


IAN CROCKFORD:  And we did a very good thing which I’ve followed up on other projects now since then.  We did a sort of a freeze, if you like, on the project.  So you normally have a design freeze.  And we put colors on it so it was a yellow book, a blue book, red book, with no other meaning other than just to define the stage of the book.  But say you had a design freeze where you’re getting quite confident it might be a bit information.  So you’ve got freeze of the design.  And then you’ve got a really good risk schedule there, so you understand the risks and the mitigation.  Again, that QRA was quite critical.

And you understood you then had all your assumptions you were making on the project, as you’re saying, Bill. And we listed and documented all that into a book.  So we had all the costs broken down there.  And then we knew what risks we still had to manage, but also what assumptions have been made that could be correct or incorrect.  And then say every six months from there we change the color of the book.  So by this time we’ve got a contractor onboard, and we change how those assumptions have been clarified or solidified, with how the risks have been managed, where the design was now.  And then we’d do another book.

So what it gave was a benefit from moving through time, through the whole Games.  We started off with a reference baseline, which was your first book effectively, and you could see all the changes through that step by step on a sort of a six-month basis.  And that really – it was really good project management discipline to really give us confidence that we were managing things properly, and it was a really great reference document.

Project Teams

WENDY GROUNDS:  I want to talk about teams.  How many people did you have working on this project?  Do you have a number for that?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, I think totally to deliver across the site was something like 45 to 50,000 people.  I remember we set that goal to be sort of 10 times the U.K. average of incident rates on a site, and health and safety-wise.  Well, those 47,000 people, I think it worked out that each one of them would be onsite for about a year, on average.  Okay?  Unfortunately there are indices which say that level of work you could sometimes get a fatality in an industry, not an incident.  And so we did it.  We didn’t have one fatality on that project in the whole delivery of the project.  So we hit our goal of being 10 times over.

But, yeah, those 47,000 people across the park delivered, must be, I think it was 2,000 businesses in the U.K. alone that were part of the journey going through.  So, you know, you’ve got all that labor force and workforce in all those businesses, as well.  It’s just an incredible mammoth effort to deliver it.  And the great thing about it, we took the view that the team that were there, yeah, we can project manage it, but we’ve not done this before.  So we took a really, I think it’s quite an advanced kind of leadership thinking on a project where we thought, right, we’re going to empower the team.  We need the help, we showed humility.  We need your help in the businesses, we need the workforce.  And we need your experience.

So you are empowered to come up with ideas.  We want to listen to you.  If you have any ideas, there’s no such thing as a silly idea.  Same with health and safety.  If you see anything that’s concerning you, or you think that you don’t want to do a certain activity, just shout.  No one will come back to you and say, don’t be silly, you know, just get on, do it.  People will listen to you and take your concerns to heart.  So we had that approach.  Whoever you were on the site, you were empowered, and you had a voice. 

You know, I just know that it’s hard to do as a manager, but we did it very well.  Everyone felt respected.  Everyone felt listened to.  And everyone felt empowered that they could put a suggestion forward and make a decision.  I thought that was one of the great takeouts from what we achieved in the managing of the project.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, and naturally they’re motivated and inspired to give their best, as well, which is really cool.

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah.  And, you know, the incentive programs, as well.  Every month at any of the venues Wendy, we’d have the big five, we’d have a thousand people working on those venues.  So, but we had health-and-safety awards, recognition awards, you know, all the time.  We used to do town hall meetings regularly, monthly, if not quarterly, in the canteens, telling them what to expect next, making them feel part of a bigger picture because of what was happening around the Olympic Park, but also on their project, what’s coming up next.  As I said, if anyone had a good idea, then we’d listen to it.  That made the project work a lot better.  You got a great deal of productivity out of your workforce and the businesses involved.

Team Building for a Culturally Diverse Team

WENDY GROUNDS:  You had mentioned to me also when we talked a while ago about the international nature of the teams.  And you had said you’d done some team building for a culturally diverse team.  Could you share some of those things that you have done?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, I think, you know, as a leader on the project you’ve got that opportunity to really do some fun things; you know?  Because everyone needs a down time, and a lot of people are working away from home and are part of the project team.  We actually did a cookbook of all the – each nation on the project had the opportunity to write in and present a recipe or a really good meal from their home nation.  So you know, we’re into Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania.  Never mind England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and France, Germany, you know, all the countries of Europe.  So that would go into the site canteen, so we’ve got a thousand people trying a Lithuanian meal or something.

Every now and then, you know, you’ve got to celebrate success, so we’d hire somewhere off the site, and we’d have an evening where we’d do a barbecue or something like that, and we’d test different foods from different people.  In actual fact we published the Olympic Stadium Cookbook out of this.  So that was a great cultural art project we did.  Things like that are really, really exciting and very rewarding.  And you see the response from a particular nation when they’re given the opportunity to showcase their foods or drink, and they’re very excited about it.


BILL YATES:  Ian, a question I wanted to ask you was we get the sense just from your leadership style and the approach taken with this project, you really engaged those working on the site to give input and to provide suggestions.  The same thing with the many partners that were there that were helping deliver.  What were some of the surprises that you observed because of this approach that you took?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Oh, yeah.  So as I said, when you empower the businesses, you get incredible response, incredible innovation, as well.  So one of the tools you use a lot of in temporary building is PVC, polyvinylchloride. And there was a query raised about an incident in Bhopal and the horrific injuries caused people by chloride use in that industry.  And Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund (WWF), they were involved.  We actually took this suggestion seriously.  Well, we don’t want to use PVC if it’s got all these harmful chemicals in the chemical manufacturing.

And we actually, you know, you realize then you’ve got such power.  You’re running the world’s greatest event, and you’ve got access to U.K. Green Building Council through our government.  But we had Greenpeace.  We had the WWF in there.  And then we’d basically an idea to then bring all your big Bayer and Dow Chemicals into the business and to develop a chloride-free PVC.  And that is what we achieved.  So from some idea and some talks from businesses about how we could do things better, we actually developed a project, an innovative project, for the first time that has made the world a better place.

There was another time when someone saw a Paralympian swimmer, and it was quite a common practice, that it’s very difficult for some Paralympians to get into the pool and get out of the pool.  Literally it’s a physical lift operation.  And it is pretty undignified and disrespectful.  And that was raised to us on the Aquatic Center.  So we pulled together with a lottery fund, and we decided to do a competition to see if we could get a business to develop a different way of getting into and out of a pool in an accessible way.

And that we did a tender, we awarded a package to three guys straight out of University in Glasgow, and we helped them develop a fantastic product.  It really is cool on the poolside.  And it helps wheelchair users or people less ambulant.  And they are still developing this product.  You know, that helps pregnant women, or women with a small baby, you know, the uses are fantastic for it, honestly.  And so we’re really pleased that they are in business implementing this great device into swimming pools.  And that’s all come from just ideas and innovation and just saying, look, this isn’t good enough.  Let’s do something different.  And let’s use the power of the Games to generate a new idea and generate that innovation.  And we did it.

Biggest Takeaways

WENDY GROUNDS:  As the project manager on this, the project lead, what are your biggest takeaways?

IAN CROCKFORD:  As a project manager lead, I think it’s that discipline of – the project management discipline that we’ve learned, it actually works very, very well.  Right?

BILL YATES:  Good to hear, yeah.

IAN CROCKFORD:  I think we use it, and sometimes use it loosely and sort of cut corners on things because we know how to do it.  But if you do it diligently and pull all the systems together, from your governance, your meetings, your risk management, your design management, your cost management, stakeholder management and everything, it actually works.  And it’s a joy because a project is so complicated, and there are so many moving parts, you need that structure to hold it together.  All your project controls and all that kind of thing, it just works really well.

Another one for me is just that, you know, the view of the legacy was absolutely the right thing to do, and it changed our whole mentality of how we designed and how we implemented, even to some of the venues.  Some of the venues we didn’t build permanently.  We just built temporary because we didn’t have a use for them after the Games.  So rather than having a white elephant structure there, it was a challenge to the industry to build a temporary venue that was going to be demountable after the Games in a sustainable way.  And then the platform of land would be better used as a park rather than a venue.  So we sort of changed the mindset of how to cater for the Games, in little things.

One more thing I would say, Wendy, that I taught is that critical preplanning stage, that two-four-one thing.  And what I take now to projects is the management effort and time to really think and plan before you start the do of a project.  And we had this mentality where it goes back to this Pareto analysis, like an 80/20 rule, where you’ve probably got 20% of your time on a project to set it up, get all your systems in place, get all your control, get your scope right, get your design right, get your procurement right of a contractor.  But in that 20% of the time you’ve got all that in place.  And if all that’s coordinated and done in a robust manner, you’ve got about 80% of the value of the project.

So then you’ve got 80% of your time – bear with me here – to deliver that 20% of value.  So you could argue whether the finished product is going to be done.  You can’t get any more than 100% of your product.  So don’t try and change.  Time is the enemy there.  You’ve got 80% of your time, and people will always have an idea of how to do things better, or change it, and you’re trying to get more than 100% out of that project.  So many times, then, you’ll lose program, you’ll lose cost, and you’ll lose quality.  So you end up with less than 100% of the product; right?  So try and hold on as much as you can as a discipline to hold onto that.  And just put all your effort into getting that 80% of value at the start.

And I’ve used that a lot because that drives that really valuable thinking.  It’s kind of a human nature thing.  You want to get going.  Well, you want to put a spade in the ground and really start moving and things like that.  No, just hold onto that 20% and really use that as a discipline to get everything coordinated, everything structured properly, professionally before you press the button.  And that worked very well to our advantage.

And I’ve actually, as a project manager, for your listeners, I’ve kind of proved it later because I delivered a million square foot, two offices in Stratford as part of the legacy, actually, and I forward sold them to pension funds.  So basically I had that pack of information.  I had a contract.  I had the design done. And I had everything set up, and a pension fund bought that off me three years before I had the finished built article.  So that proves the value of that forward-selling the building.  It works.  And that proved the whole concept to me.

“When Did it Hit You?” 

BILL YATES:  Ian, when I think about the significance of this project that you led, for you and for your team members there had to be a sense of incredible satisfaction and pride when the lights came on, when the athletes came into the venues, when the empty chairs became filled with people from all over the world.  So when did it hit you?  When was that moment where you could finally pull your head out of all the reports and all the stress of the project, and it hits you that, oh, my gosh, we’ve done this.  Look at this.

IAN CROCKFORD:  Oh, wow.  I guess I had the privilege of attending the Opening Ceremony.  There was a test event before that.  So I’d been to the test event.  But when you’re there on the live Opening Ceremony, you kind of know what’s going to work, so you know where the standby generators are.  You know where the alarm systems are.  You know what lifts should be working, you know, those little things that – you know what the operators should be doing at particular times.  And you actually know what the actual choreography and the crowd are doing and the stages and things like that. 

So all the time you’re thinking, I hope this works, I hope that works, and this, that, and the other.  And it all went like clockwork.  And it just proves to you that it all works.  You ask my kids, in these matters I’ve got tears in my eyes, you know, they say my eyes well up.  I’m one of those guys.  Yeah, I mean, it’s a very emotional time.

There was another time that I just want to explain to you, as well, which is a bit of a sad thing at times, but it was a fantastic Olympic Games, all great.  And, you know, as a host nation we won some medals, and it was all fantastic.  So the euphoria of the moment picks up.  And what we planned as the U.K. then was a whole procession through the City of London after the event, leading to Buckingham Palace.  There was a parade.  There was a concert going to be at Buckingham Palace, all the royalty and all that.

And unfortunately when you’re doing something like the Olympic Stadium, and you’re getting all the heads of state, you know the security needs of a project.  So there are areas that I can’t tell you about that I’ve been part of developing design solutions that are never on any drawings and things like that because you’re working with the top special service of your country.  And I know the security demands, unfortunately, of this kind of thing.

And then all of a sudden we had something like a million people on the streets of London.  We had all the athletes in buses, you know, coming, open-top buses.  Everyone was cheering.  It was just a fantastic euphoric moment at the end of the Games; you know?  I was there on The Mall just in front of Buckingham Palace, watching all the screens.  And really I was thinking, please, it just takes one person to do something stupid here. 

And when the last bus arrived, and the concert was going on, it was more secure then in that thing, I thought, wow, that’s it, we’ve done it.  Because it just took one person to create a security incident or something.  I don’t want to even go into the detail.  But it would have tainted the whole thing, in a way.  And I was so, so relieved that that didn’t happen.  And that was then where I just thought, right, we’ve done it.  That was fantastic.

BILL YATES:  I appreciate that, Ian.  You have so much intimate knowledge of the final delivery of that project.  You want everything to go perfectly until the very end.

IAN CROCKFORD:  And thank goodness it did, yeah.

Praise from the International Olympic Committee

WENDY GROUNDS:  And I know you’ve received high praise from the International Olympic Committee for the planning, for the project.  And you’ve definitely set an example to other host countries.

IAN CROCKFORD:  I think we did.  You know, we tried our hardest then with all our lessons learned.  And I had the great opportunity of going to Brazil with a lot of our team and trying to help them with their legacy.  And they had a lot of problems, you know, civil problems with the favelas and things like that in Rio.  But they had great ambition to transform an area of their city, same as we did.  But I think it’s just unfortunate they didn’t do that.  They chose then a green field site outside.  And it kind of saddens me now.  It’s called the Barra area, and it’s just a bit like Athens, you know, there’s just weeds growing.  It’s unused venues and things like that.

And you’re thinking, oh, as a global community we haven’t learned yet.  I think there are still venues in China that are not used because they weren’t designed for the legacy, but then to see that the whole Olympic Park effectively in Rio is just gone.  It’s just graffiti and weeds and rundown area.  And I think, oh, you know, we should have known about that.  You know, I’m excited to see Tokyo, what they’re doing.  They’ve had an absolute nightmare timing.  But I really hope that’s a great success.  And I’m sure it will be.  The TV is going to be superb.

Get in Touch with Ian

WENDY GROUNDS:  So you mentioned that you have your own company.


WENDY GROUNDS:  And could you tell us a bit about that?  And also, if our listeners want to hear more from you or talk with you about some of your work, how can they reach you?

IAN CROCKFORD:  Yeah, I’ve set up a company just to help clients delivering projects, really, and structure them and set them up for success.  So it’s ian.crockford@projectsolved.co.uk.  And by all means, if anyone would like to contact me on LinkedIn, then I’d love to hear from you.  So it’s Ian Crockford on LinkedIn.

BILL YATES:  Ian, thanks again for sharing so many details and reliving these amazing 2012 London Olympic Games and really helping us have that perspective of, yeah, that was 2012.  But really it was seven years before than when you got tapped and started getting into the planning and preparation to pull off this amazing project.  Thank you for sharing your “lessons learned” with us.

IAN CROCKFORD:  No, you’re welcome.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  It’s been a nostalgic kind of period, actually, taking me back in time.  There were tears in my eyes.  I was thinking about watching that last bus roll through London.  I wish L.A. all the best.  It’s only just around the corner, isn’t it.  It’s just – it’s going to go quickly.  And Paris before that.  It really is an opportunity to stage the greatest show on Earth.  And you’ve got to give it your best, haven’t you.


WENDY GROUNDS:  And that’s it from us on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can also subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.

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Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

5 responses to “Episode 134 – Creating an Olympic Legacy: London 2012”

  1. Amy G says:

    What a great walk through of what all goes into planning for the Olympics. It’s mind-boggling to think about all the what-ifs that could happen. Ian is an incredible PM – such a brilliant mind and talent. Thanks for sharing this – it was fascinating.

  2. Paul Prescott says:

    So inspiring listening to Ian and hearing a taste of the process of planning for the olympics. A great podcast! Thanks!

  3. Megan says:

    This was a fun podcast to listen to, just after watching this year’s Olympics. How awesome to watch all your work at the 2012 Olympics, from start to finish!

  4. Tammi B says:

    This was a really great podcast. What an honor it was to sponsor the Olympics. Thanks for sharing the details.

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