ABOVE: Doha Oasis theme park. nFusion, in collaboration with both AECOM and Gensler, is using its knowledge, experience and resources to provide technical, creative, design, and project management services to ensure that all of the client’s goals are achieved.
This is how it starts: a developer has land, money, and a vision. A team is formed; a theme park project is launched. What could go wrong?
As anyone with project experience in this industry knows all too well, many things can go wrong, and many worthy projects don’t make it to the finish line. When a project bubble pops, time and money are wasted. Expected economic benefits and tourism are lost. Companies lose financial footing, reputations are tarnished. Ultimately, such failures are bad for the whole industry. The larger the project scale, the greater the impact.
What goes wrong? The big-picture perspective, according to the team of project management specialists at nFusion, is that projects get out of alignment due to an imbalance in the development efforts. Armed with formidable expertise and a detailed methodology based on many years of experience in entertainment project management, they’re working to change that.
nFusion is one of three of The Companies of Nassal brands – Nassal has been a well established, Orlando-based firm serving the visitor attractions industry with fabrication and production. nFusion, which was born out of a series of project management services The Nassal Company was asked to perform in the mid-1990s, launched in 2014 as Nassal ACM (Attractions Construction Management). It is an independent program management (aka project management) consulting firm based in the Los Angeles area. Today, The Companies of Nassal umbrella also encompasses Lexington, a scenic fabricator focusing on museums, casinos and hospitality, complimenting Nassal’s specialization in theme parks, zoos and aquariums. nFusion operates independently, and in fact mostly works on projects with which its sister companies have no involvement.
Key members of the nFusion team are Martin Zurauskas, Managing Director, and Program Directors John Lindsay, Gina Yu, John Dreher, Daryl Parker, and Robert Wyatt. (See sidebar for details.) The relationships that led to the formation of Nassal ACM grew out of a fast-tracked LEGOLAND project in Germany, where Zurauskas, then Head of Development for LEGOLAND, brought Nassal on as construction manager.
The nFusion team represents substantial collective history developing attractions and entire parks for top developers and operators around the world (including Disney and Universal, as well as LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, and many others) and extensive knowledge of the myriad disciplines involved in creating such projects. Their nFusion codified process of “Project Gates” is designed to minimize avoidable risks and usher more projects to completion and success.
“We bring focus and efficiencies with the pragmatic side,” said Lindsay. “How will you build, operate and manage your entertainment destination? Is there a qualified market which makes economic sense? Is the team aligned with a common understanding of ‘why’ the project is appropriate (vision), as well as ‘what’ (scope), ‘how’ (delivery), and finally the ‘protocol’ of implementing the work?”
Building a multi-faceted attraction (on time and on budget, of course) involves thousands more elements than the average construction project. All the elements of designing and building an attraction are combined with the process of housing it – of permanent construction – and optimizing it for viable and lucrative operations. Planning and creating the attraction must be woven into the fabric of the construction process, from early concept development to schematics to budgets to turning on the electricity for the first time. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to fall into the kinds of costly mistakes that can send even the most promising concept into the theme park graveyard.
Dreher, nFusion’s Program Director over project controls, said, “Knowledge of all of the elements and their component parts is critical for success. Forecasting the capital required for the vision, dissecting the program and leveraging our database of historical costs enables us to provide the team a robust framework that we then use to monitor design to budget.”
“What we advocate is discipline,” said Zurauskas. “We balance all the areas involved to keep the project on track.”
Having spent many years developing successful attractions for the industry’s big players, nFusion’s executives decided to build upon best project management practices to formulate and formalize an industry-specific, program management plan based on what they’ve seen work in the field. Together they came up with a series of steps they call Project Gates. The point of Project Gates is to keep the project and the process on track and in sync, so each element is done correctly the first time in alignment with the development process, thus minimizing the number of costly re-do’s. Communication, scheduling and budgeting are all key. As a basis of best practices, Zurauskas cited a paper presented in 2000 at the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium in Houston, TX, “Accelerating product developments via phase-gate processes,” by H.J. Thamhain.
Essentially, Project Gates are well-defined, incremental building blocks and checkpoints that maintain alignment of the flow of the development process. The procedure involves looking at all pertinent elements at once and keeping their costs in line. Otherwise, a project might derail because too much money is spent in one area before assessing what obstacles might demand that element be changed to make it viable.
nFusion outlines four major stages to a project: Definition, Master Plan, Design and Implementation. At the corresponding completion of each stage, before passing through the Gate to the next stage, key questions must be asked and answered: Is the project feasible, deliverable, buildable? And finally, is it operable?
From one Gate to another are many steps to execute and checkpoints to fulfill before going to the next. “We continually revisit the big questions,” said Zurauskas. “When is the attraction buildable? Are things at the point of readiness for the client to spend the big money required to take it to opening day? Is the client ready to make the hard commitments necessary to get ride suppliers, technology experts and such on board? We make sure clients pace what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. We see the vision, the ambition, but also understand the economics involved. At a certain point, one can say with confidence, ‘This is a deliverable idea; now you can hit the big green GO button to go forward and execute the idea. Now we can move into more detailed design, including all the planning necessary to understand the procurement details.”
Throughout all steps, Zurauskas noted, it is critical to keep the vision consistent, and to maintain the respect of all the professionals involved. A common pitfall to be avoided is spending too much money in one area and compensating by pulling from another. “That ultimately results in chiseling away at ideas,” he said. “We are deliberate, and conscious, throughout the process of staying true to the vision. We do that by being respectful of and collaborative with all the players, whether the design company, a ride maker, a contractor, an architect or an operations group.”
The nFusion team advocates implementing their system at the very beginning of the attraction-development process for it to be most effective. “It’s all about the foundation,” said Lindsay. “If the beginning of a project is weak, the execution is weak. We make sure that as a project goes through each of the gates, from inception on, we’re building on progressively and always tying back to the foundation: the goals, strategies, economic model and creative visions, as well as what the intellectual property vision is against that. We keep on top of the means and methods the client needs to think about. Each step has to be considered holistically as you pass through each gate.”
Specifically, nFusion incorporates the vast array of elements into each gate. “What makes the realm of what we do different is that in addition to traditional and wellunderstood disciplines, we look at areas like infrastructure, traffic, procurement and construction,” said Zurauskas. “We consider additional elements such as ‘Can I get the land? Are there entitlements there? What does the schematic design say? How will the specialty work be produced? Are there competitors?’ We believe we are unique in being discipline-agnostic. We focus on what needs to happen, in the right order, to ensure that clients have a balanced and complete view of the elements that need to be in place to move from one stage to the next without excessive risk.”
Equality is part of the equation. “We keep everybody in lockstep as we move through the process,” Lindsay emphasized. “The operator sits shoulder to shoulder with the economist, with the land planner who figures out how the land works with adjacent land, with the infrastructure people to make sure highways, roads and rails are aligned, as well as architects and the creative vision. We ask if the utilities are a monopoly, and if the developer has negotiated rates at the same time as government subsidies. Power is very expensive and needs to be dealt with at that point in the process. All move in lockstep through completion.”
Ultimately nFusion needs its experts on the ground wherever in the world a project is being built, yet the process begins in the Los Angeles area, which is a hub of industry expertise including designers, concept architects, land use planners, show designers, animators and others. While a new attraction is still simply an idea, those behind it talk with the nFusion team. “Early stages of attraction design – in particular, show and ride design – happens stateside, while local team members provide the code and statutory requirements inputs that are specific to the region,” said Yu. “We lead the integration of art and science of show and facility design to create an unforgettable guest experience.” As planning progresses toward constructing, the geographic circle starts to widen. “Then we have workshops here and on the client’s site, as necessary. That works until we reach the strategic point where we hand off the project to the production team, understanding that they’ll use local labor. That’s where the pendulum swings.”
nFusion mavens are sent to the construction site, building begins, and ultimately a thoughtfully planned, knowledgeably budgeted attraction starts to evolve, infused with nFusion pragmatism.
Just as it functions separately from Nassal’s other arms, nFusion has no allegiance to any one subcontractor during any given project. “We are independent of all the people that are doing all the other things on the project, and that’s the incentive for a client to bring us to the table,” said Zurauskas. “We don’t design the project. We don’t provide the money. We’re not the fabricator. We’re not providing the intellectual property and we’re not providing the construction.”
nFusion’s specialties are fourfold: In addition to program management, the firm offers cost management, design management and specialty construction management, usually all at once. The offerings serve to make nFusion what Zurauskas and the team call “guardians of the vision.” Said Zurauskas, “That means we’re there to try and guide this development process to better successful outcomes. The word ‘fusion’ speaks to being a catalyst, to bringing diverse disciplines together to reach a successful project conclusion.” • • •
Programs may be one or multiple projects. Program managers maintain alignment of the project(s) team(s) through a pragmatic process that grounds the team while addressing the development challenges against the baseline.
Traditional development projects have 30+ divisions of work. Destination entertainment projects have 100+ divisions of work. Our program managers span both traditional and specialty disciplines and are alert to the interfaces between these divisions of work.
Owner’s rep acts on behalf of the Owner, whereby the program management consultancy facilitates the work in place of the Owner. The Owner’s Rep is in contrast to a Program Management Office approach which is a blended team of the Owner and the Program Manager to holistically manage the project delivery.
The overall program manager is the Program Director responsible for the integration of the project managers.
The project managers are responsible for delivering specific scopes with the overall program.
The Program Director is responsible for aggregation and integration of the work streams and resources. When projects move forward without such overall leadership an area of expertise / scope of work will be developed ahead of the balance of the project. This introduces significant risk into the development, often requiring rework of design or construction scope which wastes time and money.
Yes. The Program Manager listens to the Owner, developing the brief against which the talent to perform the work is cast. Casting without a brief will lead to misaligned resources and potential for work which is not needed. •
nFusion is staffed by attractions-industry veterans who have been through the development process repeatedly and learned from their mistakes and successes along the way. Here are key players.
Martin Zurauskas, Managing Director – a 25-year industry veteran who joined Nassal in 2014 to build the program management business. Martin has worked with multiple studios and IPs on projects in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He has had stints at Chimera Design LCC, which he founded and served as CEO, and The Lego Company, where he helped develop LEGOLAND parks.
John Lindsay, Program Director – Lindsay joined nFusion in 2018, shortly after serving as Vice President, Project Management for Shanghai Disneyland, a role he began back in 2010. Over the years, he has worked on four Disney theme parks, projects at three World Expos, and with multiple Studios (Universal, Sony, MGM, and the like) on destination entertainment projects. In 2018 he was honored by the Themed Entertainment Association as an inaugural “TEA Master” in the discipline of Project Management.
Gina Yu, Program Director – For more than 20 years, Gina Yu has led and managed the creation of themed environments in the entertainment, leisure and mixed-use sectors. Her portfolio includes projects such as Universal Studios Hollywood, Disney’s California Adventure and two LEGOLAND Parks.
John Dreher, Program Director – A budgeting expert, Dreher plied his trade with Walt Disney Imagineering for 27 years. He was executive director of project controls for Disneyland Paris and handled budgeting for Shanghai Disneyland.
Robert Wyatt, Program Director – After a quarter century at top theme park and resort groups, Robert Wyatt brings his project executive expertise to nFusion. Past responsibilities have involved NASA, Disney, Universal and Dubailand.
Daryl Parker, Program Director – An ace at construction management, before joining nFusion – where he’s currently working on Qatar’s Doha Oasis Theme Park – Daryl Parker was a key player in building Universal Studios Hollywood attractions including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. •
Rona Gindin (rona@ronagindin. com), joined the InPark community of contributors in November 2017. Rona writes about tourism, business, travel, restaurant, lifestyle issues and the leisure industry. Her work has appeared in Zagat, foodnetwork.com, Brides, Parenting, Endless Vacation and other publications and websites.
Comments Off on Thoughts on Experience Design in the age of COVID
Comments Off on Museums have protective gear to donate
Comments Off on In Memoriam: Albert Uderzo, co-creator of Astérix, and Sol Kerzner, founder of Atlantis Resorts
Comments Off on Science Museum of Minnesota lays off more than 400 during extended closure, shifts to online-only programming
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on Twenty-two free online courses available for teachers and students from San Diego Zoo Global
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on 3D printed PPE face shields available during COVID-19 pandemic from Massivit 3D and the company’s global network of customers and distributors
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on Bingo Tso, ACE International, on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Asian companies and the attractions market
Apr 02, 2020 Comments Off on Mad Systems creates new ventilator prototypes and wants to supply them where they are needed
Feb 11, 2020 Comments Off on The IPM Guide to AV 2020
Feb 11, 2020 Comments Off on Mad Systems: Systems simplified
Jan 05, 2020 Comments Off on From Aichi in 2005 to Dubai in 2020, Christie technology helps spur innovation for over a decade of World Expos
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on Smart Monkeys: Visualization vectors
Oct 22, 2019 Comments Off on Smart Monkeys: Getting to know ISAAC
Oct 22, 2019 Comments Off on ISE 2020
Sep 10, 2019 Comments Off on Try a drop of this: Ten innovative technologies for water attractions
Aug 01, 2019 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: Medialon and 7thSense close the deal
May 03, 2019 Comments Off on 10 AV technologies revolutionizing attractions today
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on Bingo Tso, ACE International, on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Asian companies and the attractions marketBingo Tso of ACE International shares his perspective from...
Mar 17, 2020 Comments Off on COVID-19: Reassurances from Beijing and Kelly Ryner (Thinkwell)"As for business here in China, there is a lot of positive...
Dec 25, 2019 Comments Off on California’s Great America WinterFest: Transforming a theme park into a holiday wonderland.With millions of lights and thousands of decorations, the...
Nov 16, 2019 Comments Off on #80 – IAAPA 2019Table of contents
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Amanda ThompsonIAAPA’s incoming chair has deep roots in the attractions...
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on TEA 2020A chat with Michael Blau - incoming TEA International Board...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA 2019 Chair David Rosenberg: The aqua-manRosenberg serves as the 2019 Chair of the IAAPA Board of...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on CircusTrix CEO Fernando Eiroa: Leaps and boundsInPark spoke with Eiroa about the unique business of...
Nov 09, 2019 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: Interviews with Jeremy Railton and Scott Ault on the launch of their new company, Railton Entertainment Design (RED)Themed entertainment design veterans Jeremy Railton and...
Oct 22, 2019 Comments Off on ISE 2020The annual Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) trade show for...
Oct 21, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA: “Wear comfortable shoes!”"If this is your first Expo, attend the First Time...
Sep 11, 2019 Comments Off on Netflix and thrill: Greg Lombardo joins the content streaming powerhouse as Head of ExperiencesLombardo brings with him more than a decade experience in...
Sep 10, 2019 Comments Off on Transitions: Leaps and boundsIndustry professionals are making moves and creating waves
Sep 09, 2019 Comments Off on Exploring IAAPA EuropeMeet recent additions to IAAPA’s European team
Aug 08, 2019 Comments Off on IPM Interview: Jennifer Lee Hackett, Sinking Ship EntertainmentGiant screen veteran Jennifer Lee Hackett has joined...
Jun 28, 2019 Comments Off on John Miceli and the new DE-ŹYN StudiosThroughout his career, John Miceli has worked in feature...
Jun 26, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Lionsgate Entertainment World’s new general manager: Selena MagillMeet the new GM of Lionsgate Entertainment World, scheduled...
May 08, 2019 Comments Off on ECA2: All eyes on LanzhouECA2's latest spectacle, a permanent installation in a...
May 06, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA Expo Asia"Establishing a presence in both Hong Kong and Shanghai...
Apr 29, 2019 Comments Off on Vekoma: Coasting around AsiaInPark spoke to Jason Pan, Vekoma’s regional director of...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on Lisa Passamonte GreenThe Thea Awards Nominating Committee annually reviews and...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on Infinite Kingdoms: Planet playologyWe recently connected with founder Denise Chapman Weston...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on The French connection: Meet Michel Linet-Frion"Since I typically rely on contracted expertise and talent...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on Andrew O’Rourke: Google THISIn late 2018, Andrew became an employee of Adecco working...
Dec 18, 2018 Comments Off on Mad Systems: The future is nowInPark reported on the launch and revisited with Ensing for...