Populous is a global design practice with offices throughout the world specializing in creating environments that draw people and communities together–particularly at major sporting facilities and related events. The team consists of architects, designers, technical experts and event specialists.

The company designs some of the world’s most prominent sporting facilities, including arenas and stadiums for the London 2012 Summer Olympic & Paralympic Games, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Wembley Stadium, and Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Additionally, Populous’ event group, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, also designs and plans large-scale events such as the NFL Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and NHL Winter Classic.

Populous manages events like the SuperBowl in Smartsheet

Event Operations on a Global Stage

For Populous’ event group, designing and planning major events on the scale of the MLB All-Star Game or Super Bowl involves managing literally millions of details and anywhere from 20-100 vendor teams to create a successful, memorable experience.

One of the biggest challenges Populous’ event group faces is keeping all of the vendors and contractors (both those under its control and those working separately for the client or owner) up to date on aspects of the project. Additionally, with events occurring in different cities around the world, Populous’ event group deals with significant vendor turnover from project to project. Hundreds of workers, including volunteers, have to quickly come up to speed on how to interact with Populous’ event group and other members of the team to provide updates. Project management of this nature, both in size and scope, can be quite a challenge.

So Much To Do, So Little Time

These large-scale events involve months of tireless planning, a tremendous amount of coordination, and ultimately, superior project management skills and pinpoint execution. The Populous event team, its vendors and the other vendors involved in the project must focus their efforts on a wide variety of issues including:

  • Organizing planning meetings
  • Reviewing budgets and construction timetables
  • Managing athletes, spectators, VIP access
  • Producing signage and managing hospitality areas
  • Coordinating crowd management and security
  • Conducting event tear-down and recap/review

Trying to keep the project contributors–the hundreds of vendors, contractors, volunteers and Populous’ event team members–updated as tasks change, problems arise, or milestones are completed can be difficult.

Marc Klein - Populous“Coordinating all of the different activities that were going on simultaneously was becoming a big headache for our team,” said Marc Klein, senior associate at Populous. “We simply had so many activities going on, and were looking for a better way to keep track of everything and keep the entire team up to date. What we needed was a tool that could improve our project management capabilities, but it had to be easy to use, cost-effective, and wouldn’t require a lot of user training."

<NOTE: Here are some related templates to kick-start your next event.>

Minute-By-Minute Management

The months leading up to these types of major events are quite challenging, but coordinating activities the day before, during and after the event are especially difficult. “During a typical event, we need to have minute-by-minute updates of what’s going on in each area throughout the venue,” said Klein. “We’ve got vehicles arriving and leaving, athletes getting ready to compete, spectators milling about in the stands, concourses and in hospitality suites, plus personnel who need to be kept informed throughout the day.” 

“In the past we’d used a combination of Microsoft Project, Sharepoint, Excel and Outlook to manage these types of large events. While those technologies have their strengths, we were looking for a technology to provide better real-time access and horsepower. What we needed was a new solution to an age-old problem.”

The Solution Emerges

After the 2011 Final Four college basketball tournament in Houston, Klein and his colleagues realized it was time for a change. “Looking at the whole process, we knew one of the larger costs of designing and planning these types of events happens in the very beginning phase– the travel time and expenses involved in the planning meetings,” said Klein. “All of the vendors involved fly into the event city to meet periodically to review the status of the project. We began looking for a good document sharing system that could offer real-time updates and reminders for open items, to help make these meetings as productive as they could be, and to take minutes from the meetings and make sure everyone had access to them to review.”

“We felt that we needed to find a cloud-based project management tool that was very easy to use, could be updated and viewed in real-time by outside vendors, could send large files electronically without crashing the entire system, and could serve as a repository for important documents.”

Populous’ event group had already been using Smartsheet for scheduling purposes. When Klein started investigating solutions that could help them improve the overall project management process, he first took a look at Smartsheet for all of their needs. After diving in and learning more about what Smartsheet offered and reviewing feedback from clients and vendors about the tool Klein was on board.

“We implemented a system whereby each vendor could add their agendas and meeting notes from our monthly meetings. We created an ‘issue tracker’ for any outstanding items to track the problem and make updates as the months moved on. The system automatically highlighted outstanding issues and shared updates with the entire team. This meant that any vendor that was behind schedule would be called out in front of the entire team which put a lot of pressure on them to get things right. Accountability and transparency have definitely been enhanced by using Smartsheet.” 

A Mobile World

Klein’s team has started using Smartsheet's mobile solution, and quickly found it a must-have, especially because many of the workers are dispersed onsite. “We have a lot of mobile users on our system,” said Klein. “Personally, I use both my iPhone and iPad each day when I’m onsite at an event. The new user interface is very user friendly and I can now download documents from links directly on my mobile device. In the past we used an FTP site for document sharing and updates, but we couldn’t access those from our mobile devices.”

The Big Winner

From planning to onsite execution, Smartsheet has become an important tool for the collaboration and workflow solution for Populous’ event group.

“Smartsheet has definitely improved our productivity, impressed our clients and vendors, and made project management for major sporting events much easier.”