Populous builds global sports events with Smartsheet at the foundation

Smartsheet enables Populous to seamlessly manage every task and deadline in order to achieve its mission of bringing people together.

Avg. read time: 7 min


  • Live Entertainment, Travel and Hospitality

Organization Size

  • Mid-market (200-1999)


  • North America

Platform Capabilities

Watch how Populous builds the world's greatest events.

"Having a single source of truth for an event plan and an event operations team is without a doubt the biggest advantage we’ve gotten with Smartsheet, hands down."

Marc Klein

Principal, Populous

Major events like the Final Four and the Olympic Games draw the eyes of the world. For Populous, the world’s leading sports architecture firm, that means every detail, from venue construction to traffic flow and lighting, will be seen by thousands of in-person attendees and millions of TV viewers. It takes extensive planning and the collaboration of hundreds of partners and vendors to build and execute these large-scale gatherings — with no room for delays or mistakes. Smartsheet enables Populous to seamlessly manage every task and deadline in order to achieve its mission of bringing people together.

“We are an architect-based practice, and we deliver solutions in a very invisible manner,” says Marc Klein, principal at Populous. “You can feel the difference between a Populous event and someone else’s event because of the level of professional architecture we bring to the events — they look seamless. We deliver the most challenging events, and we make it all look like it’s supposed to be there.”

When Klein joined Populous more than 10 years ago as the principal responsible for project management, one of his goals was to standardize processes so the architects could focus on the design and development of memorable venues. He needed a tool that could replace his colleagues’ reliance on paper and spreadsheets, and that could enable a consistent approach across a range of unique events.

“We needed to bring our methods and our tools up to the level of events we were being asked to deliver,” Klein says. “All of our innovation was in design, not in the delivery methods and processes we were implementing.”

Klein evaluated a wide range of project management tools to find just the right combination of capabilities and flexibility. He couldn’t afford to make trade-offs; budget and deadline management, file sharing, and the ability to quickly compile minutes and agendas were part of a long list of must-haves. Working style was also crucial — “Architects hate Gantt charts,” Klein says — and the right solution had to be easy for anyone to learn. Smartsheet hit Klein’s most important requirements: flexibility, rich reporting, cost, and ease of use.

A flexible solution for demanding projects

From NHL events to the NCAA Final Four to the Olympic Games, each event that Populous works on is complex and unique. Klein found that many project management solutions rely on rigidly defined templates or processes that don’t fit the work he and his teams need to do. Pre-built Smartsheet templates and the ability to create templates from existing sheets help Klein standardize processes and approaches while setting up workspaces that are tailored to each event.

“For every project that we do, I’m in a new city with new people, a new stadium, new vendors,” Klein says. “I have to have processes and methods that are very, very quick to implement with a team that is not part of our corporate structure, so they can’t get on our servers or our VPN. I have to have a process across all my projects that allows us to move from city to city, team to team, and get people up to speed and working very quickly.”

The right information for the right partners and vendors

Klein used to set up master spreadsheets with thousands of rows, which quickly overwhelmed partners who only needed to manage a small share of tasks. With Smartsheet, Klein can create subsidiary sheets for safety planning, transportation, fence building, permits, and all the other components of a major global event. Vendors and partners see their piece of the puzzle; as they input their information, Klein gets automated updates and alerts that help him spot and resolve conflicts immediately.

Powerful return on a budget-friendly cost

Populous’ clients are all budget-conscious, though their priorities vary; organizers of some events want to get the greatest spectacle for their investment, while universities hosting a basketball game have to make efficient use of athletic budgets that support all of the school’s sports teams. Because Smartsheet user licenses are affordable for any size of event, Klein can easily structure a cost plan that gives event clients the capabilities they need, well within their budgets. Smartsheet also helps Populous control costs during the course of an event by providing real-time views into spending, along with easy approval processes when circumstances change.

“It’s had a significant impact on our onsite budget management and change order control,” Klein says. “When change orders that were all approved verbally would show up two weeks later, the client would say, ‘There’s $85,000 in change orders here. Who approved all of these?’ And we would spend weeks unraveling that. Now we have a complete log, and they’ve all been approved, because we build all of our change order processes in Smartsheet and check boxes and back and forth with a client. So we no longer see this massive ‘uh-oh’ at the end of the event, in terms of both unexpected cost and the manpower to unravel what the heck happened.”

Several Populous clients have found Smartsheet so valuable, they’ve enlisted Klein to help them adopt the solution for their everyday use.

“We’re supporting three different organizations right now with our licenses, and they’re running Smartsheet for non-event related activities,” Klein says. “They’ve paid us professional fees to come in and train them, set them up, and support them. We’ve left a trail of Smartsheet licenses behind us.”

Easy to learn and use immediately

Populous works with vendors who are specialists in their fields — which usually isn’t productivity software. Whether he’s training budget managers who have years of experience with spreadsheets, or fence builders and mechanics who might not use computers every day, Klein can introduce partners to Smartsheet and get them productive right away. The easy-to-use mobile app means vendors can access the most current information at any point, whether they’re on the road delivering materials or finishing the last system tests before the venue gates are opened to ticket holders.

“If you can use a spreadsheet, you can use Smartsheet,” Klein says. “When I come in every year to a new set of clients or a new city and say, ‘All right, guys, we’re using this tool,’ everybody rolls their eyes. They think I’m rolling out some ungodly heavy system. Then I say, ‘No, here it is. Here are the sheets. Here’s how you access it. You just log in, it’s on the browser, it doesn’t interfere with any corporate networks, and it’s all based on skills that you know.’”

Because Smartsheet can be accessed online, it streamlines management of international events. During the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Klein’s Denver-based team could easily share key details and updates with partners and clients in Korea despite a 15-hour time difference. Klein doesn’t miss the days of collating printed forms and reconciling multiple versions of an event spreadsheet; Smartsheet enables project management that’s just as smooth and professional as the innovative architectural designs his colleagues create for the world’s biggest events.

“Having a single source of truth for an event plan and an event operations team is without a doubt the biggest advantage we’ve gotten with Smartsheet, hands down,” Klein says. “When I need to do something, my first thought now always is, ‘Well, how can I do it in Smartsheet?’ It’s the way I approach projects now, because I’ve seen the value of sharing real-time information. We’ve gotten so much value out of having information available to the whole team, all the time, that I can never see going back.”


For more information

For more information about Smartsheet, visit https://www.smartsheet.com/

For more information about Populous, visit https://populous.com/