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The Montreal Olympics Case of 1976 Case Study

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2020


This paper evaluates the Montreal Olympics case of 1976 with the sole focus on some of the factors that caused its failure. The study will provide an in-depth evaluation of this project by demonstrating the author’s grasp of project management (PM) concepts while applying the lessons covered through the PM program. In detail, this paper will give an overview of the case, analyzing the mistakes that ensued during the application of the five fundamental features of project management. It will also explain all the actions that the project managers should have taken to ensure the proper use of the specified PM elements. Lastly, the paper will end with a brief conclusion that summarizes the main findings of the study.

Overview of the Case

The decision to allow Montreal to host the Olympic Games of 1976 followed extensive diplomacy and lobbying by the city’s Mayor Jean Drapeau that took place in May 1970. Montreal won the opportunity to hold the event in the light of stiff competition from both Los Angeles and Moscow. The two cities had better financial offers. However, Drapeau confirmed to the relevant authorities that the Olympic Games would demand a hefty sum of not less than $124 million. He also stated that hosting the games would reshape the reputation and history of Montreal.

The next few years after getting the opportunity to host the event, Montreal did few preparations and even scrapped off the original plan. An architect, namely, Roger Taillibert, constructed the Paris-based Parc des Princes pitch. The cost of building the stadium skyrocketed from the initial estimate of $9 million to an overwhelming $25 million, which became the final cost. Drapeau handpicked Tailibert who – just like him – had problems with the overruns of the cost.

He (Taillibert) orchestrated the construction of the stadium. In part, the Olympics bid underlined the Montreal’s success in hosting the Expo of 1967, which cost an overwhelming $430 million, which was $270 million more than the 1964 estimate of $160 million. At last, the Mayor and other relevant authorities laid out a new plan in a press conference held in April 1972 when the city had wasted almost two years preparing for Olympics (Patel, Bosela, & Delatte, 2013). Seven months later, the Mayor estimated that the Olympic Games would demand as much as $310 million where $250 million would cover capital expenditures, $16.4 million to cater for the velodrome, and $130.8 million to cover all the stadium expenses.

The Olympic Village fell under the noncapital charges, which the Mayor estimated to demand $5 million. According to Howell, this budget was similar to that of Drapeau’s kitchen table, although nobody took it seriously. No one collected adequate data to challenge it. One of the biggest problems with the budget was the fact that everything estimated seemed suspicious from the early stages. The recently concluded events that took place in Munich (Munich Games) had cost the city about $600 million.

In January 1973, few months after the Munich event, Drapeau repeatedly made his occasionally quoted and derided claim, “the upcoming Montreal Olympics will no more feature a deficit than any man can bear a baby” (Todd, 2016, para. 15). People had become confused to the extent that they started believing that the Mayor gave the correct cost estimate at last anytime he did it (Patel et al., 2013). However, based on the five PM principles, the handling of the case was full of mistakes.

The Mistakes made in the Use of the 5 PM Elements

Given the compound nature of projects, they undergo several stages that ensure their successful completion. The management of any project is demanding. Hence, those in charge are required to apply practical measures to ensure that all operations move in line with the available monetary, human, and time resources. Such resources are limited in nature and that mismanagement of any may be accompanied by significant monetary implications.

Unless the manager observes all the requirements of every phase of the project, he or she is likely to make mistakes that can jeopardize its successful completion. Project Management undergoes several stages. However, five essential features ensure the smooth execution of every project, whether small or huge. Hence, it is crucial to analyze the mistakes that ensued in the application of the five fundamental features of Project Management on the Montreal Olympics of 1976.


Also referred to as the definition or project conception, initiation comprises the formal kick-start of any project. It is spurred by the issues associated with Project Mandate, which gives a brief explanation of the intention, including the expenditure of the budget designed for it. In this stage, the project manager assesses all the needs based on the tasks at hand and/or how best to utilize the resources available to handle the demands. Initiation should only take place after the definition of the project’s scope and nature.

Phillips (2013) argues that a project, an overview of the business, a proper understanding of both the stakeholders and customers’ expectations, and a log of risks should be in place during this stage. Although Montreal had Project Mandate, which revealed the rationale of hosting the 1976 Olympic Games, the city demonstrated apparent errors in the early stages of dealing with the project. Despite expressing its desire to host the event, one can deduce that Montreal was not ready for the tasks associated with the program.

Notably, its motives did not underline the city’s preparedness for the duties that would come with hosting the event. Some of the factors that prompted Montreal to place a bid for the 1976 Olympic Games were its successful hosting of the Munich Games and the fending off of the competition from Moscow and Los Angeles. In the latter case, it seems that Mayor Drapeau’s interest was to reshape the reputation and history of Montreal, rather than ensuring the smooth execution of the project.


The initiation phase sets the stage for the project manager to carry out a high-level plan for the entire project whereas the planning (development) phase allows him or her to conduct a detailed outline of how the project team should execute all the operations. The result of the activities of this stage involves a vivid specification of all the things that need to be undertaken, including the timelines and the specific task force for each process (Phillips, 2013).

Here, project managers’ focus is to ensure that the available human resources, time, and cost face sensible management. Risks and resources reserved for dealing with unexpected issues, including the checkpoints of progress, should also feature in the detailed plan (Sharma, 2016).

Lack of proper planning was one of the causal factors/mistakes that caused the failure of Montreal’s efforts to host the 1976 Olympic Games. For example, it did minor preparations and even scrapped off the original plan during the next few years after getting the opportunity to host the event. One of the biggest mistakes that Montreal made in the planning stage was drawing a budget when it did have sufficient funds or proper means of securing the financing. Mayor Drapeau laid out a $310 million plan with the expectations that a large chunk of that budget would come from the sale of the Olympic commemorative coins, which the city valued at $250 million. However, the Canadian federal government reviewed the entire budget and indicated that the real value of the coins was just $100 million.

Since the federal government did not want to struggle with the payment of the construction process or the Olympic Games and the Montreal City, both the Quebec Province and Canada did not wish to bear the responsibility of having to fulfill that obligation. At the same time, both of them seemed to believe that the cost estimates for the construction fell under the ballpark. Because of the turn of events, the mayor hinted at a press conference that the biggest problem that could jeopardize the operation was improvising a practical measure of handling the surplus cash that the city would earn from the initial self-financing Olympic Games in the world’s history.

Production and Execution

Also referred to as the implementation phase, the production and execution stage is associated with the project team putting the master plan into action. In other words, the team implements all the processes identified in the previous phases. At the execution stage, the project team produces all the deliverables (when necessary) in line with the definition of the entire project’s plan (Westland, 2006; Phillips, 2013).

Since Montreal did not have a proper for the project through its Project Manager, Jean Drapeau, it made several mistakes in this stage. The first one was poor time management. Drapeau did not make the preparations, plan, or budget in time. Hence, the implementation of hosting the Olympic Games of 1976 started late. For example, the mistrust between the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, and Mayor Drapeau caused several delays.

Particularly, it took an extended period to design the Olympic coin and lottery, as well as the stamp program for supporting the games, a situation that led to wastage of 34 months of lead-time. The delays also arose from several unpaid bills until Quebec Province stepped in in 1973 by reluctantly agreeing to assume the responsibility for all the deficits.

Another mistake that the project manager made in the execution stage was to use unskilled workers who were overworked because the manager ran behind the proposed time. The planning of the project was two years late. Hence, scheduling failed because accommodation all the construction programs on the site of the project became physically impossible. At the same time, Montreal aimed at avoiding the potential embarrassment of failing to host the opening games. As a result, despite providing a fixed deadline for completing the construction, it still failed to prepare the bid documents in time.

Consequently, it only awarded the work to some selected contractors because it had competitively placed its bid. Besides, the Mayor had an almost blind worshipful attitude towards his handpicked architect, Roger Taillibert. For example, Drapeau rejected the chance to use cuts that would save as much as $146 million just to continue working with Taillibert. He also insisted on using concrete to build the stadium to host the Olympic Games because Taillibert was an expert of precast-concrete. Had he used steel, the construction of the stadium would have cost $100 million less than that of the concrete?

The next mistake was the city’s reliance on the Mayor to mastermind all the activities of the project. Drapeau’s failure on many occasions prompts one to feel that he must have had many duties to handle. First, he was two years behind schedule with his planning, which led to the project stakeholders setting a fixed deadline for completing the construction of the stadium among other structures that related to the successful hosting of the 1976 Olympic Games. The Mayor also did not seem to know the exact budget or even the estimate of the project. Hence, he kept on asking for more funds and quoting costs that many people felt indicated overestimation.

Controlling and Monitoring

The project managers and teams start the monitoring process at the production and execution phase (Westland, 2006). They carry out this process through all the remaining operations. It is through controlling that the project team finds it possible to deal with the day-to-day errands while handling all the unexpected issues that arise (Phillips, 2013). The performance of the project requires regular observation where it is measured in line with the requirements of the entire project’s plan. In addition, the team must also prepare proper mechanisms for measuring the quality of the project operations (Nwagbogwu, 2011).

Montreal did not have any good measures for controlling or monitoring the activities that could help it in hosting the Olympic Games. For example, the project manager did not guide or provide a clear procedure for running errands of the project. The only controlling he did was to ensure that Taillibert managed all the construction activities, calling for press conferences, and demanding more money for the project.

Probably, the only monitored the workers when he realized that the building of the stadium world had a fixed deadline because the plan was behind schedule for about two years. As a result, he used double shifts, overtime, and double crews to improve productivity. In addition, with few, if any, qualifications in either architecture or engineering, Drapeau spent much time visiting the working sites to give orders, which left workers confused. In one of his attempts to get more money for the project, he sent a representative to a meeting to say that the stadium would demand more money than he had already quoted. At the same time, the project still faced labor strikes and demonstrations.


Every project has a set of goals and objectives to accomplish, after which it is terminated. The closing phase is the last stage of the entire process. It involves the formal acceptance of the work done and the dissolution of the project. The closure stage is not an automatic indication of success, but just the final step in all the procedures. For example, any failed projects face cancellation, during which they are also closed. The closing stage involves the finalization of all the activities of the project and a handover to the next thing, other than executing the project. At this stage, the project team produces a detailed review of the activities undertaken in the venture or drafting all the things learned in it. The project manager also needs to archive all the relevant documents of the project (Newton, 2012).

Just as erroneous as the other stages, the closure of the project featured several mistakes. In November 1975, Quebec Province relieved Drapeau and his associate Taillibert off their duties by creating Régie des Installations Olympiques (RIO) to take over the ownership of the project.

RIO was given the mandate to finish the construction of the Olympic Park. Although Quebec issued $200 million for the advancement of the project, other important constructions in Montreal such as sewerage treatment plants and subway had to face delays. Other mistakes that ensued in this stage were those highlighted in the criticisms of Tedesko and Zetlin Lev (consulting engineer). The latter pointed out that a large-span structure should have used simple methods of construction, have room for a large error margin in the field, and light. Montreal Olympic Stadium violated these three fundamental principles.

Recommendations for Handling the Mistakes

In terms of initiation, Mayor Drapeau’s interest was to reshape the reputation and history of Montreal and not ensuring the proper initiation and management of the project. Therefore, he had to hold a meeting with the relevant authorities to ensure that the city was prepared to host the event. For example, he would have evaluated the city’s financial powers during the initiation stage to pull through the deal, the resources necessary for ensuring the successful completion of the project, and the period to do it.

Montreal had just hosted the Munich Games, which must have forced the city to stretch its budget. Unless the mayor evaluated the financial position of the city, he would not have known whether it was possible to execute the problem with ease.

As earlier mentioned, poor planning resulted in the failure of this project. The perfect remedy for such a situation would have been to start the planning process as soon as it had won the bid to host the event. Probably, the project would have come up with practical measures of drawing up a perfect plan for constructing the Montreal Olympic complex, velodrome, viaduct, and the Olympics stadium. If the city drafted a proper plan, it would have known the value of the coins.

In terms of production and execution, many people feel that Drapeau was corrupt and that he used the surplus for personal gains. In other words, he was less focused on the tasks. However, this assumption is open to debates. It is evident that he had the responsibility to handle almost everything associated with the completion of the project. Hence, he would have felt the workload taking a toll on him. With a perfect plan, the project team would have found it easy to implement the project, as it would have used it (the plan) as the guideline.

Just as the above issues indicate, the project lacked proper control because the manager seemed overwhelmed by the responsibilities assigned to him, including his refusal to take ideas from other people. As a result, he delegated almost all the duties of managing the construction to his handpicked associate, Taillibert. In this case, the city should have appointed a team of professionals to assist the Mayor in his duties such as making reports on the activities of the project.

Although Quebec relieved Drapeau and Taillibert of their duties, the project did not have an appropriate closure. Making a report of the operations of the project was the perfect movie to help the city rectify the problems that it encountered in any phase of the project.

Quality Assurance Measures

During the project, Dapreau did not have an appropriate strategy for measuring the quality of the work done. For example, he handed over almost all the construction duties to Taillibert. He did not see the need to counter check the progress. Besides, he did not have much time to test the quality of the tasks because the project had a fixed deadline, which he pushed the workers to beat. On the contrary, things changed for the better when the Province of Quebec relieved Drapeau and his associate Taillibert of their duties. For example, Tedesko and Zetlin Lev (consulting engineer) criticized some of the errors in the project. As earlier mentioned, the engineer advised the need to have cheaper materials being used, as opposed to the costly ones that led to huge financial constraints.

Key Mistakes that Could have Reduced the Costs

With Drapeau demanding more money in almost every press conference, it is evident that the project used more money than initially planned. At the same, poor planning and lack of focus underlined some mistakes that increased the cost of the project. One of them was the Mayor’s attitude towards his specially selected engineer Roger Taillibert, which prompted him to reject the chance to use cuts that would have saved almost $150 million just to keep on working with Taillibert. Another mistake that proved costly as the overdependence on Drapeau who only asked for more money, yet he was behind schedule and that he did little substantial work.

Stakeholders, Motives, and Risks

One of the primary stakeholders of the project to host the Olympic Games of 1976 in Montreal was the City’s Mayor, Jean Drapeau. He acted as the project manager who strived to ensure the smooth completion of the project. It was a risky idea to assign all the project obligations to him because he seemed overwhelmed by the tasks. He was more interested in demanding more money than getting things done. Another stakeholder was Roger Taillibert, the architect, who the Mayor selected to spearhead the construction of the Stadium.

Just like his boss, he had the same motives and risks. Another stakeholder of the project was the Province of Quebec, which provided financial support to the extent of ensuring the completion of the project by hiring RIO in place of the mayor. Since Quebec had much say on the project, the only risk associated with it was the fact that it would have jeopardized the completion of the project if it failed to provide money (Hanh, 2016). It also targeted the profits of the Olympic Games. The next stakeholder, Canada, shared the same motives and risks as the Province of Quebec.


The paper has outlined the insights that contributed to the failure of the Montreal’s efforts to host the Olympic Games of 1976. However, the information is not limited to the city alone since it outlines the fundamental concepts of project management. Hence, the paper forms a perfect basis for further studies in both the events of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and insights into managing projects. For the critics, this paper opens up a forum for arguing against the ideologies highlighted herein. For those who have an interest in conducting further research, the work forms the basis for the formulation of their theses, as well as the entire study.

Reference List

Hanh, N. (2016). An appropriate approach for program and project management. COBIT Focus, 1(1), 1-6.

Newton, P. (2012). . Web.

Nwagbogwu, D. C. (2011). The correlation between project management effectiveness and project success. Minneapolis, MN: Walden University.

Patel, A., Bosela, P. A., & Delatte, N. J. (2013). 1976 Montreal Olympics: Case study of project management failure. American Society of Civil Engineers, 1(1), 362–369.

Phillips, J. (2013). CAPM/PMP project management certification all-in-one exam guide. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Sharma, N. (2016). . Web.

Todd, J. (2016). . Web.

Westland, J. (2006). Project management life cycle. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page.

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