Adapting Project Management Processes to the Management of Special Events: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt


The number, size and complexity of what are called "special even." haves increased significantly over the last three decades. Examples of special events include: civic events, meetings and conferences, expositions, fairs and festivals, and hallmark events such as the Olympic Games, sporting events, and a variety of other similar activities (Goldblatt, 2003). Sporadic reports indicate that Project management processes are increasingly being used to implement such special events. This paper explores event literature on this phenomenon and comments on how, from both a project management and an event management perspective, the project management process can facilitate a more effective and professional management of special events.

Over the last 25 years project management has seen the development of a defined body of knowledge, formalized management processes, and institutionalized professionalism designed to improve the management of timed events or projects. It would appear logical that current project management processes and procedures might be well adapted to increasing professionalism in managing special events. In the project management field, the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMI PMBOK Guide, 2000) defines a project as"... a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service." The term "special events," as employed by event managers clearly fits this definition.

Through a literature review the paper demonstrates the ability of the project management processes and body of knowledge to provide a modified management structure to theevent management field. Project management as a process for change management, the iterative nature of the project management process, and the processes designed to meet deadlines are discussed to demonstrate how they can be adapted to increase professionalism in the management of events.


In the past decade special events have increased extensively in number, size and complexity. As these events increase in size and complexity they need ever increasing planning and management efforts. The larger numbers of people (it is not uncommon for a professional conference in the USA to attract more than 5,000 attendees for periods ranging from 3 days to 7 days (PMI Seminar and Symposium, San Antonio, 2002). Within such events are multiple presentations occurring simultaneously as well as workshops and exhibitions. These large events demand more sophisticated crowd and traffic control, while their increased complexity, including such things as half time entertainment, requires a much detailed control of the schedule. Smaller events held by local government, charity and private organizations have proliferated in the past decade spawning many organizations that specialize in planning and organizing special events.

Summer and Winter Olympic Games are now huge events involving thousands of athletes and volunteers, and hundreds of venues. In 2002, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was broken down into some 37,000 tasks and used a project management software package to schedule and integrate these individual tasks. The organizers of these events recognized that they could not achieve the necessary integration without the use of at least project management software packages, and in some cases the complete range of project management tools and techniques (Bittern, 1992, Eager, 1997, Foti, 2004).

To manage the proliferation of large special events and the many smaller events occurring at the local level, a new discipline has developed known as "Event Management". In the past, those who managed such events could consider their jobs "more of a folk craft than a profession" (O'Toole, 2000, 2). Today, however, there are textbooks, trade publications--both books and journals--community programs, and even university sponsored certificate and degree programs, and at least one certification examination sponsored by the International Special Events Society. …