Going for Gold

What makes a gold standard facilities manager? Design journalist Fiona McAuslan interviews one of the facilities managers behind the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games how they pulled off two world-class events.

How do you define excellence? It depends who you ask, of course. For a hungry Joe it could be a perfectly cooked steak in an uptown eatery, for a culture vulture a film that still has them talking a week later, while others it could be a perfectly pulled pint in a country pub on a winter's day.

Good, better, excellent

Ask a facility manager and terms like 'going the extra mile' and, 'pushing the boundaries' crop up time and again. But in real terms what does that actually mean? And how can you make sure you're achieving it. Who better to give the lowdown than the man in charge of delivering accommodation for the best athletes on the planet. Dominic Bolongaro was New Projects Manager for London 2012 and Overlay Manager for the XX Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014, which encompassed managing the design, build and facilities management of the rowing centre's athlete village and the main athlete village respectively. I caught up with Dom a few days before he jetted off to start his next job – managing the design and build of the athletes' village for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Best ever

“The key words were Best. Games. Ever," says Dom, “That's what the whole team was striving for." Each set of games that Dom worked on have been feted as being the most successful yet with much of the smooth running down to the behind the scenes logistics, design and facilities management teams. So how do you build a template for excellence? “The core element was 'get it done through hell or high water.' The plans go out of the window when you step on site," laughs Dom wryly. Hearing him talk about fighting fire (figuratively at least) and the keep-calm-and-carry-on solutions he had to employ, the analogy that comes to mind is of a duck smoothly travelling across a lake while below the water line its little feet are paddling furiously.

Forward planning

However, for all the act-in-the-moment aspect to the job, an immense amount of forward planning is obviously essential. “To a certain degree success is a given, because we share information. During Glasgow and London we had teams from Rio visiting and we were able to give them hands-on advice that will feed into the planning stages at that event. We had similar advice too.

Having high standards is another biggie. “We had to build a hospital so obviously there are pre-determined standards that you have to meet for that, but even in other areas you want to do something to be proud of. In Rio, for example, I'll be making sure the international zone [a private party zone for athletes to entertain their family and friends] will be exceptional. There's going to be an artificial beach… they'll be screaming about it with excitement!" says Dom.

Great expectations

Anyone who works in facilities management knows that another huge part of the job is managing the expectations of clients and stakeholders. So how do you make sure your project is going to snare a podium place? Dom doesn't pull any punches: “Dealing with so many stakeholders was like herding cats. It was so complicated at design stage some of the meetings had 60-odd people in the room. I'd come out of one meeting thinking I'd solved a problem and go into the next meeting and it would come back up again," he says.

Ultimately, he puts his success down to clear communication. “Building relationships with key people is what it's all about. Also, making sure you really get to know them and what they need early on in the process when you have the luxury of a bit more time. The push and shove of delivery can be full on; so a good foundation will carry you through when you get into that phase," says Dom.

And it all worked out brilliantly: “By the time the Commonwealth Games were actually on the only problems we had to deal with were very minor like a couple of blocked toilets," he remembers. “It's a great indicator of how we'd done when at the end athletes, coaches and medics were all coming up and congratulating us."

For Active, the process is no different. During a conversation with Director, Adrian Powell he mentioned that he's never let a client down – – even when the team had to complete a relocation job in a building with a broken lift shaft they worked through the night to get the job completed within the time frame. Lugging a van full of filing cabinets up several flights of stairs might not be an Olympics sport yet – but it's certainly gold medal winning attitude.

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