Project Management at the Chelsea Flower Show Part 1

imageThe Chelsea Flower show is a world famous platform for garden designers to showcase their skills. But getting a garden design built and mounted is also a feat of project management that, for many exhibitors, will stretch them and their teams to the limit.


Aside from the big show gardens, there is a range of smaller gardens, showcasing one aspect or another of design. These are often made to reproduce urban settings or are evoke a sensory experience like touch or relaxation. One of these gardens in the 2011 show was the Chilstone Garden, a modern urban design, created to evoke a sense of relaxation.

imageI spoke with Steve Clark, the General Manager of Chilstone, who led the project, working with designer, Heather Appleton. I wanted to know what particular project and risk management challenges that he and the team overcome, to produce an award-winning garden.


Know your Outcome

The first thing that struck me was how clear Steve was about why he and Chilstone had taken on what he described as a “huge undertaking”. Chilstone is a specialist manufacturer of garden and architectural stonework, based in Kent, but sending their products all over the UK and, indeed, the world. But it isn’t a huge organisation, so their capacity for marketing projects is necessarily limited – especially at a time when they are working on their biggest ever commission.

For Steve, the Chilstone Garden at Chelsea was all about exposure. His goal was to get national coverage from the BBC and from national press. Consequently, Steve geared his team up to maximise the commercial opportunities from any media interest. He set the team two simple objectives:

  1. Make everything easy for the media
  2. A maximum 2 hour response time for media enquiries

Taking the lead in all PR activities, Steve gave his team permission to interrupt him at any time to handle press enquiries. The upshot was an excellent result, with the BBC recording material that led to 15 minutes of TV broadcast coverage, and a lot of magazines and newspapers picking up Chilstone’s story – the London Evening Standard, for example, featured a picture of the garden in a two page spread.

The Chilstone Garden at Chelsea 2011

Understand your Risks

There is one absolute given with a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show: you must have it ready on time. This constrains you on the Time-Cost-Quality triangle. However, you will not be entering one of the world’s most prestigious competitions unless you are in it to win a medal, so quality was also a central concern to the team. So the essence of project management for Steve was in managing the balance between cost and quality. The main risk was of financial over-runs.


This was especially so as Chilstone was working on a tight budget. “If we did this again” says Steve, “I’d want to get an external sponsor who could allow us a ‘no expense spared’ approach.” Instead, Steve gave the designer a fixed budget to manage and told her “Chilstone cannot pay a penny over”.

Part 2 tomorrow…


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