Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

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

Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

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 proj ect 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 j ournal s - community programs, and even university sponsored certificate and degree programs, and at least one certification examination sponsored by the International Special Events Society. However, if one reviews the texts it is obvious that there is still no overarching process drawing all the different functions or activities of event management together.

As most accepted professions have had to do in the past, the event management discipline is moving toward developing a body of knowledge as one of the pre-requisite s to being recognized as a profession. One of the advantages of living in this modern world is that no matter what is being attempted, something similar has probably been accomplished earlier. That model can then be adapted to meet the needs of other groups. This paper discusses the development of a unique body of knowledge for the events management field, as well as the need for an overarching process to guide its development. The project management body of knowledge provides a model that will allow event management to develop quickly as a profession.


What distinguishes a profession, and how does a group of practitioners become a profession? In the past, professional status has been achieved by practitioners assuring the public and government that they would manage, monitor and control the activities of practitioners through a set of self-regulating standards (Zwerman et. al., 2002). In part, recognition as a profession relies on the existence of characteristics that have been identified as defining accepted professions. These have been identified as: a set of standards for entry into the profession, an enforced ethics policy, a professional service motive, a sanctioning organization, and a specialized body of knowledge unique to the profession (Adams et al., 1983; Zwerman et. al., 2002). While arguments continue within different organizations about the validity of these five characteristics, it is generally accepted that as a minimum a profession must have a recognized specialized body of knowledge associated with it.

The definition of a specialized body of knowledge is, in a sense, the first step in any field's efforts to develop professional status. It is the basis around which educational programs, certification programs, and standards for both entry and performance can be established. Professions generally document the body of knowledge that applies to their specialized field, track the development of this knowledge within their field, and periodically update both the knowledge base and "best practices" for using that knowledge base within their field. Portions of the knowledge base can be, and frequently are, shared with other professions, but the specialized mix of knowledge appropriate to the specified field is likely to be unique to that field and lead to the unique standards and "best practices" that characterize that field. Educational programs should teach the defined body of knowledge. Certification programs should test an individual's knowledge ofthat unique body of knowledge. Standards for entry to the profession should evaluate the individual's unique understanding of the body of knowledge, and standards for practice of the profession should specify safe and appropriate practices for implementing that knowledge within the profession. It is indeed difficult to see how any field could be considered a profession without having defined, nurtured and developed its own unique body of knowledge.


As is suggested by O' Toole (2003) there are many event management books that "describe how to get an event together. . ." but that many "confuse the event with the management" of the event. That is, the event is the product that is produced by event management. This product will be different for every event, but the management procedures to accomplish that event should be largely consistent across events, and should therefore provide the basis of a body of knowledge for event management. A short literature review conducted by the authors confirms O' Toole' s assertion. Six event management books were reviewed to determine if there was any over-riding process being discussed in the event management literature (Nadler et al, 1987, Allen, 2000, Dove et al, 2001, Armstrong, 2001, Goldblatt, 2002, and Wendroff, 2004). Table 1 summarizes the results of this review, providing a chapter by chapter breakdown of the materials covered within the book. For convenience purposes, these chapters were organized according to the sequence of processes that occur within any project, as specified by the Project Management Institute in its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This organization is discussed later in the paper (see Table 1).

Only two of the books, Armstrong (2001), and Goldblatt (2002) discuss "phases" and "stages" of a special event. Armstrong identifies a planning phase, a tactical and deadline phase, an enjoyment phase, and an afterglow phase. Goldblatt discusses research, design, planning, coordination, and evaluation stages or phases of event management. Among the six books reviewed, there was no general consensus concerning the sequence of stages or phases that would be appropriate for successfully managing a special event.

Recently, two authors in the event management field (Silvers, 2003; O' Toole, 2003), have put forward suggestions for a body of knowledge for event management, and have developed processes and knowledge areas for an event management body of knowledge. Silvers (2003), has proposed a knowledge domain structure, depicted in Figure 1, which "represents a simple mapping of concepts." While admitting that many of the functional units and topics represented in the structure can be separate disciplines or specializations within their own right, the author proposes that the structure is used to illustrate "the scope and complexity of this profession. . . " (Silvers, 2003 , 8).

The domain structure proposes four knowledge domains (administration, operations, marketing and, risk management.) Within these domains are thirty functional units. Within each functional unit is a list of topics. The topics relate to very specific actions or items that may need to be carried out during an event and could be more accurately described as a check list. From the project management point of view this list would be used during the planning phase of a project to determine which topics needed to be included in the schedule.

The domain structure proposed by Silver represents a starting point for discussion of the event management body of knowledge. It demonstrates no interdependencies or interactions of the various knowledge domains, functional units or topics. Many of the functional and topic areas are actually activities of an event, not a description or process that could be applied to an event management. Finally, many of the topics are, in fact, separate specializations or disciplines, including for example, hospitality management and logistics management. While this may be a good starting point, the domain structure proposed would need extensive development before it could be identified as resembling a body of knowledge for event management. Of course, developing a body of knowledge was not Silver's intent. However, used in conjunction with the project management body of knowledge it could be used to define more clearly the processes of managing an event.

Meanwhile, O' Toole (2003), taking a major step beyond Silvers, has proposed process maps for 13 event management processes. Summaries of these processes are presented in Figure 2. Each of the 13 special event processes has been broken down into component processes and O'Toole provides flow maps for each of the 13 processes, but these are only loosely connected with each other. There is still no overarching model that links all of these 13 processes together to provide a more general presentation of an overall events management process.


A process is a course of action, procedure or method which, when applied to a series of management activities, will help rationalize and compartmentalize those activities in a systematic way. In the Proj ect Management Institute' s Guide to the Proj ect Management Body of Knowledge (2000 edition), a "process" is defined as "a series of actions bringing about a result" (PMBOK 2000. 29). The PMBOK defines five process groups which loosely relate to a generic project life cycle. They are: an initiation process which authorizes the project or plan, a planning process that defines and refines objectives which allows the best of alternative courses of action to be attained, an executing process involves carrying out the plan using the resources allocated, a controlling process which monitors and measures project progress regularly to ensure appropriate corrective action can be taken when necessary, and a closing process which involves a formal acceptance of project completion and the termination of any contracts (PMBOK, 2000). Figures 3 and 4 demonstrate that while sequential in concept, some of these process groups overlap and involve iteration.

The PMBOK thus describes a process which is divided into two major categories - a project management process that describes, organizes, and completes the work of the project, and a product oriented process that specifies and creates the project's product (PMBOK, 2000, 30).

The proj ect management process described above applies to all projects across all industries. Because special events fall within the PMBOK definition of a project, that is, "a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service" (PMBOK, 2000, 4), then this "project management process," with industry specific modification, should be applicable to special events as well. (Note that a special event is a "temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service.") It would therefore appear that both the proj ect life cycle and the proj ect process groups should apply to special events as well as they apply to any other project.

The five basic process groups described above are broken down into Knowledge Areas, and these Knowledge Areas are broken down into processes. At the time of this writing, there are a total of thirty-nine processes in nine knowledge areas. This is up from six knowledge areas when the PMBOK was first published in the early 1980's. The history of the PMBOK indicates that the defined "bodies of knowledge" tend to increase in number and become much more complex as time passes and the knowledge base for the profession matures (see Figure 5).

The proj ect management processes are linked by their inputs (items that will be acted upon), tools and techniques (mechanisms used to create outputs from inputs), and outputs (items that are a result of the process). The PMBOK is very clear, when defining these processes and their interactions, that these processes must "meet the test of general acceptance." That is, "they apply to most projects most of the time" (PMBOK, 2000, 37). To further emphasize this, the PMBOK defines two categories of processes, Core Processes and Facilitating Processes. Core processes "have clear dependencies that require them to be performed in essentially the same order on most proj ects" (PMBOK, 2000, 33), and Facilitating Processes that "are more dependant on the nature of the project" (PMBOK, 2000, 34). In total, the five process groups, the nine knowledge areas, and the thirtynine project management processes can be presented as shown below. Note that the interactions and interdependencies included in the PMBOK have not been presented here.


Core Processes

* Scope - Initiation

Planning Process Group

Core Processes

* Scope - Scope Planning, Scope Definition

* Time - Activity Definition, Activity Sequencing, Activity Duration Estimating, Schedule Development

* Cost - Resource planning, Cost Estimating, Cost Budgeting

* Integration - Project Plan Development

* Risk - Risk Management Planning

Facilitating Processes

* Quality - Quality planning

* Communication - Communication Planning

* Human Resources - Organizational planning, Staff Acquisition

* Procurement - Procurement Planning, Solicitation planning

* Risk - Risk Identification, Qualitative Risk analysis, Quantitative Risk analysis, Risk Response planning

Executing Process Group

Core Processes

* Integration - Project plan Execution

Facilitating Processes

* Quality - Quality Assurance

* Communication - Information Distribution

* Human Resources - Team Development

* Procurement - Solicitation, Source Selection, Contract Administration

Controlling Process Group

Core Processes

* Communications - Performance Reporting

* Integration - Integrated Change Control

Facilitating Processes

* Scope - Scope Verification, Scope Change Control

* Time - Schedule Control

* Cost - Cost Control

* Quality - Quality Control

* Risk - Risk Monitoring and Control

Closing Process Group

Core Processes

* Communication - Administrative Closure

* Procurement - Contract Closeout


The PMI Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge was originally developed in the early 1980' s and has gone through at least three major revisions and updates since that time. Membership in the institute has grown from approximately 4000 members in 1980 to approximately 130,000 members today. Developing the field of project management into a profession with a specialized body of knowledge that permitted effective education and certification programs has been credited with the vast majority of this growth. With project management rapidly being recognized as an emerging profession, the proj ect management body of knowledge provides a useful model against which to compare the two proposals that have been published leading toward a special events management body of knowledge. Such a comparison may well identify strengths, weaknesses and possibilities for the events management field.

Referring to Figure 1, Silvers domain structure proposal contains four knowledge domains (administration, operations, marketing and risk management) that roughly equate within the knowledge areas of the project management body of knowledge. Some of the 30 functional units within these domains can be equated to proj ect management knowledge areas. For example, human resource management, communications management and time management are included among these domains and are also specific knowledge areas within the PMBOK. Others of the functional units can be related to identified project management processes for example, risk assessment and information management are both processes within the project management body of knowledge. Within each of the functional units is a list of topics that relate to very specific actions or items that may need to be carried out within the special event, and these could be more accurately described as a checklist. From the project management point of view, this checklist could be used during the planning phase of a project to determine which items needed to be included and scheduled. These topics do not relate to any of the project management processes described above.

The domain structure represents a starting point for the discussion of the special event body of knowledge. It demonstrates no interdependencies or interactions of the various knowledge domains, functional units or topics. Many of the functional units and topic areas are actually activities of the special event, not a description or process that could be applied to the management of the event. Finally, many of the topics are in fact separate specializations or disciplines such as the hospitality management and logistics management topics. While it provides a good starting point, the domain structure simply does not present the global, overarching model or process that would provide guidance for developing required knowledge areas within the special events field. However, used in conjunction with the project management body of knowledge, it could be used to define at least an initial view of the processes needed to manage special events.

O' Toole' s 1 3 special event management processes shown in Figure 2 generally equate to the project management knowledge areas each of these event processes have been broken into component processes that represent a mix of proj ect management and event management processes. O' Toole broadly links inputs and outputs for each process. For example, the inputs to financial management are identified as scope, stakeholder, and marketing, while the outputs are identified as the change control process and the deadline algorithm or process. The later two outputs are common for all 13 of the event management processes.

When comparing the special event management processes with the PMBOK processes, many similarities can be found. For instance, six of the 13 processes are the same as the project management knowledge areas - scope, time, human resources, communications, risk, and procurement. The other seven event management processes - finance, design, stakeholder, marketing, site choice, sponsorship, and deadline are not identical to PMBOK knowledge areas however, many of these seven items can be found within the existing PMBOK processes. For example, stakeholder analysis is found within the project management area of scope. The special event financial management process is clearly related to the project management cost process. Design, marketing, site choice and sponsorship would fit within similar categories of the project management process groups. They are activities that form part of the special events project, but would have to be contained within the proj ect plan, proj ect communications, proj ect risk and proj ect control processes as defined by the project management profession.

Similarly, most of the sub-processes within the 13 special event management processes can be better described in project management terminology as project activities or project tools and techniques. An example of project activities can be seen within the special event design activities where site-choice, and site layout form part of the event design process. These would typically be included in the proj ect planning and process groups. Within the proj ect management literature, tools and techniques form part identify what is necessary to carry out the core and facilitating processes within the overall project management process. They are not included as separate process items. As another example, a review of the special event financial management processes shows cost/benefit analysis, cash flow management and economic impact listed as processes, items which are clearly specified as tools within the project management literature.

Finally, the deadline process or algorithm identified by O' Toole appears to have been developed due to his concern for the "overriding constraint of the deadline" in the event management field (O'Toole 2000, 7). Many projects outside the special events industry are not completed within their initial time estimates. In special events management, however, slipping the completion date for an event is not an acceptable option. Within the project management field, this simply means that money and resources must be used as necessary to ensure that the event occurs on time. This is no different than any other project except that in many projects the trade off between time and money is more flexible. This allows decisions to be made which lower costs by extending the deadlines in these proj ects. Such options would not normally be available in the event management industry.

While a major improvement over Silvers' domain model, O' Toole' s event management process model still does not provide the overarching group processes and their relationships to one another that are required to bring the event management body of knowledge together into a single integrated philosophy for approaching the management of events.


The process of becoming a profession is a difficult one, and the point at which the field gains professional status is difficult to define. The old measure of self-regulation that medicine, architecture, the practice of law used is no longer relevant in a society where knowledge is increasing exponentially. The increasing complexity of our society today requires increasing fragmentation in the workplace, fragmentation which produces specialization and disciplines which not only did not exist fifty years ago, many of them could not have been thought of fifty years ago. Yet after thirty-five years of continuing development, proj ect managers still argue over whether or not they have achieved the status of a profession (Zwerman, 2002).

This paper has reviewed several books and two proposals that appear to be leading an effort to develop a unique body of knowledge for the special event management industry. The project management field faced a similar problem in the late 1970's, but in that case, it was the project management institute that undertook the task of developing the body of the knowledge, not single individuals. It can be seen from this review that the special events industry does have some unique aspects to it, the primary example being its absolute deadline requirement imposed by the nature of the product it provides. However, it is also clearly evident that special events clearly fit within the proj ect management definition of a proj ect. Certainly special events form an industry specific group of projects, but they are still projects and function as projects. No unique overarching process has been developed for special events management. It would be difficult to develop one that would provide a unique body of knowledge because if the special event is in fact a proj ect, then any process that would adequately define the events management would fit within the project management processes, and therefore would not be unique. Further, the attempts that have been made toward an events management body of knowledge have drawn heavily from the Project Management Body of Knowledge. It seems the event industry would be best served by remaining a highly specialized industry with its own standards and certification processes that document this role, by adapting the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the PMBOK processes to best suit its own needs.



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[Author Affiliation]

Michael Thomas , Western Carolina University

John Adams, Western Carolina University

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