4 Project Management Lessons from World Cup Planning

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Our northern neighbor is about to shift from the land of maple syrup and moose to the land of hat tricks and dangerous plays. The Women’s World Cup, which started on Saturday, has brought tens of thousands of tourists to Canada. While attendance pales in comparison to the World Cup, Edmonton officials have been scrambling to prepare their city for the swarm of soccer (or football) tourists.

The World Cup and the Women’s World Cup take an incredible amount of planning. They provide abundant lessons for project managers to improve their trade.

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Here are just four of them.

1. For massive projects, start early.

Take a look at Brazil’s World Cup fiasco last year. The Cup was spread over 12 cities (an admitted mistake) and cost the country $13.5 billion dollars—without making needed improvement to infrastructure.

Brazil was suffocated by delays, that could have been expected (weather and protests) or prevented (construction worker deaths). Unexpected, unpreventable delays (like the outbreak of swine flu), should, in its own way, be a part of the risk management analysis (as the linked article details, Brazil should have graphed out possible problems, and prioritized responses to them accordingly). Brazil should have afforded more time to get everything they wanted to get done.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

With expected record crowds and high U.S. TV ratings, Canada’s cities have done a good job using the resources they already have to host the Women’s World Cup. Hosted between Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottowa, and Vancouver, Canada is relying on pre-existing stadiums and infrastructure to be able to support the surge in tourism. In fact, Canada did not need to construct any new stadiums to support the Women’s World Cup.

Brazil, on the other hand, tried to remake itself as a country for the World Cup last year. Brazil’s decision to build seven additional stadiums was an unnecessary challenge.

Realizing one’s own capacity is often a difficult task, especially with a tight deadline. Luckily there is project management software to help determine your capabilities.

3. Take your stakeholders seriously.

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FIFA and Canada aren’t the only two organizations involved in facilitating the World Cup. There are attendees, commercial partners like Visa and Coca-Cola, host cities, and non-governmental organizations.

And that’s nothing to say of the players, without whom there would be no World Cup. This was a mistake that Canada made early on. A group of Women’s World Cup players went as far as to level a lawsuit against FIFA for making them play on artificial turf—a synthetic surface that makes players more susceptible to injury. Ultimately, the players withdrew their complaint, but not before the controversy globally embarrassed Canada and gave FIFA critics more ammunition for their ongoing controversies.

Treating stakeholders with care not only prevents fiascos such as these, but also increases communication between the two parties. When communication is central, the final product tends to be closer to what all invested parties imagined at the outset.

4. Be realistic.

Saying “no” is hard even for the most seasoned of project managers—and for Brazil, this turned out to be too great a challenge. Brazil, in their attempts to win the bid made some big promises they were not able to follow through with. For example, research had found that they would be unable to finish upgrades to Brazilian airports by the time the World Cup started. Ignoring these forecasts, President Dilma Rouseff enforced a “strong intervention” to make sure that the airports would be ready, which included allowing private investors to partake in airport construction and devoting more resources to the project (taking them away from other projects) than originally planned.

The airports were not completed on time. Elevators were broken, leaving disabled passengers with no way to exit. Illegal taxi drivers swarmed departure and arrival zones. And Afonso Pena International Airport relied largely on makeshift structures and temporary jet ways throughout the entire World Cup. The airports in Brazil were a disaster, leading to strikes and stranded passengers.

The airport fiasco ended up an embarrassment not just for Brazil but for FIFA, demonstrating disorganization and carelessness. Brazil knew that it would be incapable of finishing the airports, but still made it a deliverable. Be upfront with your stakeholders about what’s possible—and what isn’t.

How do you do that?

  • Follow the data. If your project management software or studies say that it’s impossible, it’s likely impossible.
  • Share this data with your stakeholders to build vulnerability-based trust.
  • Communicate what you think your team can accomplish, and be firm about what it can’t.


As the Women’s World Cup unfolds, there are sure to be plenty more project management lessons. Were there any that I missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Images by Abby Kahler

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.



That’s a great share Rachel! It is really important to understand the aspects you have touched upon simply because “projects directly affect revenues”. A good plan is half the battle won. This was quite evident in Germany’s recent FIFA victory. The other aspect that complements your last point is “Play the game well, on and off the field”. Today’s project manager cannot afford to be a coordinator anymore. To stay in the game and win it, he/she needs to be a leader who can lead teams, manage stakeholders and make data oriented decisions.

Thanks again for the wonderful read.

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