Bringing Olympics Best Practices to Logistics Planning

I love the Olympics. As an athlete, I appreciate the hard work, determination and focus that all the participants bring to this single two week span of time on what is truly a global stage. Long-term training plans are crafted, performance is measured and plans are further refined culminating what everyone hopes to be a gold medal performance.

If I am appreciative as an athlete, then I am awestruck as a logistics professional. The scope of the problem is well known: 15,000+ athletes and officials, 30+ event sites, an influx of millions of spectators. For the United Kingdom, it represents the largest peacetime logistical event in their history.

As I sifted through all the articles written and facts published leading up to this tremendous feat of mass logistics, I wanted to find applicable parallels to the world of the everyday logistics professional. Whether a retailer, manufacturer or distributor, it’s hard to imagine dealing with such concentrated scale but what I did see was a commonality of processes. The steps taken to plan and execute on this momentous event are the same best practices that we all should be following as we operate our own logistics and transportation practices.

The Planning Continuum

Planning is not a singular event; it spans a continuum of both time and scope. With an occasion of such magnitude such as the Olympics it is easy to assume the amount of long-term planning involved. Similarly, I can appreciate planning at a granular level, but what was quite startling was the scope of the detail. In one article I read in Engineering and Technology described not just the modeling of overall traffic patterns but constructing the models at 30 minute increments to effectively anticipate London’s ability to absorb additional demands.

From this, practitioners should take away two primary concepts. The first is to appreciate the value of planning at different levels from the long term, aggregate view (planning for the Olympics was a five year project) to the fine level of execution. The second is to not be afraid to model the details. I too often see a “good enough” approach. The more granularly you represent a network, the better the answer and consequently, the better things execute when the rubber hits the road.

Collaboration

There is no “I” in “team”. There is no better event than the Olympics to witness that old adage in action. Even individual competitors are surrounded by coaches and family that help them achieve their greatness. Similarly, planning the logistics of the Olympics required multiple entities to work together for the achievement of what ultimately is a greater good.

This applies to our world as well. Collaborating with suppliers, transportation providers and customers creates a “greater good” for the flow of goods than a transportation department acting in a vacuum.

Measurement

Plans are rarely perfect, especially ones that are as grand as what we witness over the brief two weeks of the Olympic Games. Things always happen but it is our ability to constantly and consistently measure against expectations that allow the execution of contingencies when necessary. The parallel here is to look past measurement as an “after-the-fact” exercise and instead look to it as something that happens as an ongoing part of your execution process. Taking this approach will allow the adjustments and enable the contingencies that drive value and service and supply chain excellence.

Avoid the Headlines

As an athlete and spectator, I’ve enjoyed the great performances that we’ve seen so far at this summer’s Olympic Games. But, in my book, all the logistics performers behind the scenes are the real champions of these games.

As a logistics professional, you will be well served by applying many of the best practices that we can take away from the lessons of the Olympics. Hopefully what I’ve shared here helps, but regardless, if you do this, you’ll be a champion in your company.

What other takeaways do you have or perhaps already have applied?

  2 Comments   Comment

  1. The fact that the Olympics happen with minor mishaps every 4 years is truly a logistics miracle! There are so many pieces to keep track of that start years before the actual games themselves. Imagine the amount of planning that goes into the bidding process, then the actual execution and construction. Just organizing the when/where of the events is a major undertaking in and off itself.

    Reply
    • Fab Brasca

      Thank you for your comment Navdeep. “Logistics miracle” really is an apt characterization. In a lot of ways it is the epitome of logistical planning and execution. The message I want to convey is, like any ideal, it is on us to learn from it and apply what we can to our own endeavors, in this case our logistics practices. As I mention in my opening, I am an athlete myself and while I will never be of Olympic caliber, that does not preclude me from applying the same training principles and techniques that those elite competitors I look up to employ bettering myself at every step.

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