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‘The Apprentice’ Project Manager: a true representation?

How true to life are the so-called projects being managed by the so-called Project Managers on The Apprentice TV show? 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?

image source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/0/the-apprentice-candidates-meet-lord-sugars-new-intake-for-2016/

The latest series is currently on TV and as any fans 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, I know the show is pretty far detached from what actually goes on in real-life, as is their version of the Project Manager role, 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, over-budget, or even fail, it’s usually the Project Manager who is held to account…. “You’re fired” springs to mind…rightly or wrongly.

What would a PRINCE2 Agile approach to The Apprentice challenges look like?

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.

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 and to the agreed budget, whilst producing a deliverable that meets expectations, is fit for purpose and capable of generating the expected benefits, can all be very fulfilling and motivating.

Situation #1: The team are at logger heads and two or more in the group can’t agree on what would make their solution acceptable.

  • The Apprentice Response: Naive Project Manager arrogantly goes for what they think 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.
  • PRINCE2 Agile: 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.

Situation #2: 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.

  • The Apprentice Response: They 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.
  • PRINCE2 Agile: At the beginning of a work package the Project Manager should ensure that the team agree the scope and objectives of the task, 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 collaboratively with high levels of trust and transparency.The team monitors 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-organisation and exploration.

Situation #3: The Project Manager can’t get a team member to willingly undertake a task which has been assigned to them. They are demoralised and frustrated by the lack of guidance being given to them.

  • The Apprentice Response: They argue, ignore each other and then do a bit of back-stabbing. The task may end up getting completed, but often deliberately badly and/or wrongly.
  • PRINCE2 Agile: The key requirements are set and prioritised 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 recognised 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 it to the appropriate Project Board member to resolve.

Situation #4: The Project Manager is constantly interrupting the team for progress reports.

  • The Apprentice Response: The team get frustrated by the interruptions, breaking their concentration and feel that they are not trusted to get on with their tasks.
  • PRINCE2 Agile: 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, in addition to industry accepted and internationally recognized qualifications on a CV, can be a significant career booster.

Having a PRINCE2® qualification is great but organisations are increasingly looking to agile methods of working to increase speed of delivery and business fit for their products. Blending PRINCE2 and Agile offers the best of both worlds – structure and agility – to project delivery.


Authors: Richard Lampitt & Julia Gosse

Richard and Julia have vast experience between them delivering project management training and consultancy services. Both are accredited PRINCE2 and PRINCE2 Agile trainers with SPOCE Project Management.


About SPOCE

SPOCE Project Management Limited is a global leader in delivering best practice training for project programme and risk management. They offer a wide range of courses which can be tailored to suit any form of training need. SPOCE was the first training organization accredited to deliver PRINCE2® and MSP® training. Find out more at www.spoce.com.


SPOCE, in partnership with AXELOS and APMG will be taking PRINCE2 Agile on the road. Join us at The Cottonwood Hotel in Bournemouth on Thursday 24th November for our PRINCE2 Agile event.
Find out more and register (for free) here.

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