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‘The Apprentice’ Project Manager - A True Representation?

Blog posted by: Richard Lampitt and Julia Gosse, 09 November 2016.

‘The Apprentice’ Project Manager - A True Representation?


How true to life are the so-called projects being managed by the so-called Project Manager on The Apprentice? What problems do they encounter and how do they deal with them? How should they be dealt with and how would the PRINCE2 Agile® guidance handle things?

The series has now returned to TV and as any fan of The Apprentice will know, it’s often the case that when the role of Project Manager is up for grabs, many of the wannabe protégés either suddenly become very quiet, or they very keenly put themselves forward… perhaps in part due to naivety!

Now, we know the show is pretty far detached from what actually goes on in real-life, and their version of the ‘Project Manager’ role might well be as well, however this situation does highlight how leading a team involves a certain amount of responsibility and interpersonal skills, as well as ‘putting your neck on the line’!

While mishaps along the way might not mean the equivalent of a ‘fast track to a boardroom showdown’, project management can be quite stressful because when projects are delayed, or over-budget – or even fail – then it’s usually the Project Manager who is held to account…. “You’re fired” springs to mind... rightly or wrongly!

Below are just a few situations and the differences in how ‘The Apprentice Wannabes’ typically deal with them and how the PRINCE2 Agile guidance would handle it….

Okay, we thought we’d throw out some comparisons for you to read. In the following examples there are somewhat negative and potentially stressful situations, but then any Project Manager would know that such situations usually come with the territory in the case of poorly managed projects! However, delivering a well-managed project on time to the agreed budget; producing a deliverable to a business that meets the expectations of that business; making sure the deliverable is fit for purpose and capable of generating the expected benefits... can be all very fulfilling and motivating.

Situation The Apprentice Response PRINCE2 Agile
The team are at loggerheads and two or more in the group can’t agree on what would make their solution acceptable. Naive Project Manager arrogantly goes for what theythink is the best solution, because they are the Project Manager after all and are obviously in charge! Never mind what the outcome is, or what it looks like, just get ‘something’ created! The Project Manager is responsible for creating an environment where the team are empowered and responsible for what they produce. A Product Owner or Customer Subject Matter Expert would be part of the development team, representing the business, and they would be empowered to make decisions on the suitability of the solution.

The Team manager would be responsible for working with the team to address any differences of opinion. A facilitated workshop could be held with a neutral facilitator to help the team resolve their differences.
No one knows what they are meant to be doing and why, or who they should liaise with regarding what.
 
They all have very different and conflicting ideas and are very much in competition with each other rather than working collaboratively as a team.
They simply aimlessly get on with the work which they believe the Project Manager has instructed them to do and then collectively blame the Project Manager when it proves to be wrong and the outcome is unacceptable! At the beginning of a work package the Project Manager should ensure that the team agree the scope and objectives of the task and the desired outcome and the escalation path for issues and risks.
 
The whole philosophy of working in an agile way depends on the team working in a collaborative way with high levels of trust and transparency. The team monitor this as part of their ongoing introspection and work together to address them.  This is based on the required behaviours of transparency, collaboration, rich communication, self-organization and exploration.
The Project Manager can’t get a team member to willingly undertake a task which has been assigned to them. They are demoralized and frustrated by the lack of guidance being given to them. They argue, ignore each other and then do a bit of back-stabbing. The task may end out getting completed but often deliberately badly and/or wrongly! The key requirements are set and prioritized at the beginning of the relevant timeframe and the team decides between them who is the most appropriate person to do the work.

The product may need to go through a couple of iterations so that a correct solution can evolve. A safe to fail environment needs to be fostered. It is recognized that it is rare for a perfect solution to be built without the need for revisions.

If the situation still can’t be resolved, raise an issue and escalate to the appropriate Project Board member to resolve, e.g. if user related then Senior User, if supplier related then to Senior Supplier.

The Project Manager is constantly interrupting the team for progress reports
The team get frustrated by the interruptions, breaking their concentration and feel that they are not trusted to get on with their tasks. The Project Manager can attend the daily stand-up, as an observer not a participant, to get a feel for how things are progressing and to pick up any issues that need escalating.

Progress can be shown on an information radiator and or burn chart. This means that progress information can be pulled by the Project Manager when required.


Having a string of successful projects as well as industry accepted and internationally recognized associated qualifications on a CV can be a significant career booster. Having a PRINCE2® qualification is great but organizations are increasingly looking to agile ways of delivery to increase the speed of delivery and business fit for their products. Blending PRINCE2 and Agile gives the best of both worlds, structure and agility to project delivery.

See our PRINCE2 Agile and PRINCE2 sections for more information.

This blog post was originally published by our partners SPOCE.

 

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