You’re Fired – Episode 1 of The Apprentice

Last night I watched the first episode of this season’s The Apprentice.  I must admit, I’ve never gotten into this show before, but really enjoyed it and how relevant it is to our discussions here at EPIC Project Management.  I think there are a lot of things we can learn from this show in terms of what NOT to do, I’m serious folks these people don’t know the first thing about project management!

As with usual The Apprentice tradition, the teams were split up by gender.  The men named their team ‘Octane’, I kept waiting for Tim the Toolman Taylor to jump out for a grunting cameo =)  They nominated Gene to be their project manager and the women named their team ‘Fortitude’ and nominated Nicole as their project manager.  The tasking was to develop an ultra modern office work space.  At first I thought the men were in trouble given the ‘design’ nature of the project, but was really surprised at how dysfunctional both teams were.  Let’s look at 3 lessons we can take away from this episode.

User Involvement is Key!

Whenever a project includes a design component, it’s really important to get your customer’s opinion involved!  After seeing both office spaces, the first thing Donald Trump said was ‘I don’t like either of them!’  Neither team asked Donald what he was looking for.  Another opportunity to get feedback was when Ivanika and Donald Trump Jr. came to visit the teams, but neither team took advantage of the visits or solicited feedback, they just kept their heads down and did their own thing.

Servant Leadership

Nicole if you’re out there reading this, listen up!  In weak matrix and functional organizations where the project manager doesn’t have a lot of authority, servant leadership is a critical skill for project managers to be successful.  This also applies to small project teams, like the teams on The Apprentice, where the project manager is involved in doing the work.  What is servant leadership you ask, it’s approaching your team with a ‘How can I help you’ attitude.  Nicole’s approach was contrary to this method in everything from decision making to actually the doing work.  She continually told her team ‘you decide’, and then was never around when the heavy lifting was being done.  As we would expect, Nicole’s team tore her to shreds in the board room on these points.  I was not surprised to see her get the boot.

Building Trust

Gene on the other hand was not much better at playing the project manager role.  The first day or two he looked like a deer caught in head lights.  Then we saw an abrupt change, like he was trying to muster confidence, but this resulted in him stepping all over his team’s toes.  An example of this is when he delegated the wall painting to James then came over after he had finished taping the designs and told him to start over.  Ummm Gene, if there’s one thing you don’t have.. it’s style, let alone artistic ability, over compensating for your insecurities is going to get you fired buddy.  You’re lucky it didn’t happen this week.

Join me next week as we discuss Episode 2 and learn what NOT to do.

Brandon Beemer, PhD, PMP

About Brandon Beemer PhD PMP


7 Responses to “You’re Fired – Episode 1 of The Apprentice”
  1. Nick says:

    Good insight. Now I’ll be watching for these next week.

  2. Brian says:

    It’s suprising how few people and companies understand the importance of project management. It’s also equally surprising to see how people act in a leadership role when the pressure is on. Great synopsis. I don’t have time to watch the show, so I’ll be reading about it here.

  3. Wade Pentz says:

    It is interesting to hear how these potential project managers are so unprepared to manage a simple project such as designing a modern work space. The fact that neither team was involving the stakeholder in the process of the project (the stakeholder being Donald Trump in this case). It seems that the project manager of each of the teams on the show made zero attempt to organize their project teams to maximize the productivity of the available talent.

    It is hard to say how I would perform being put in their shoes with the pressure of being on national TV in the back of your mind, but I would hope that I would intuitively bring some organization to project team. It would start by brainstorming and then defining the scope of the project. Talking with the stakeholder about what exactly he is looking for in this case would help to define the scope of the project and focus the brainstorming. I would get some knowledge as to the expertise of the team members and assign appropriate tasks and then get involved with the work itself. With the insight provided in this post, hindsight is better than 20/20 so it is easy to state the right way to approach the problem. This makes me want to watch the apprentice, haha.

  4. I think you have a real good point here Mr. Beemer. When I read the first part of your blog about how the teams did not take advantage of Donald’s check-up appearance, I thought about communication. In PM we learn how important communication is among teams members and sponsors. Had these two teams not been so shy and actively communicated with Donald about what he wanted, and then relayed this information to the team, the project would have been much more successful.

  5. Jesse Allison carpenter says:

    Being in a project management class, I can see 2 things. First, I can see from what I am learning in the class where these people went wrong. Secondly, I can understand how easy it is to go wrong. Many of the parts of project management seem to be learned by painful trial and error. Not taking input from the people you are designing for seems obvious standing outside of the job, but from inside, it probably seems like the kind of thing that you wouldn`t want to appear stupid by asking. Wouldn`t want to get a response like, “don`t you know that?” So, getting to learn by somebody else`s painful experience is pretty nice. Its nice to be doing this in a class.
    One of the things in the reading for this course was creating a culture of trust. The text talks a lot about this. It seems like not soliciting input from your stakeholders, as well as your third point are results of a lack of this. I can see how a lot of the things we are learning in class (including some of the stories from our professors experience, maybe painful) apply. One thing that seems really important is the scope, and supporting the scope. I think there is a lot to learn, but I am learning.Studying as an engineer, Im glad to be taking this class in PM. I can hopefully be a good team member, and if the manager is bad, to help the team manage the manager, or be a good manager. One of the most unpleasant things I have ever done working in the capacity of an engineer is to have a project I am trying to complete be frustrated.If I am qualified, hopefully I can help my fellow engineers avoid that kind of motivation destroying, and capability killing malarky.
    Hopefully, in whatever capacity I use it, I think this knowledge will help my fellow engineers and I to have a more satisfying, and productive tenure. Its awful to feel that you are capable, but frustrated, no matter how capable you are, that’s what in my experience, bad management feels like.One of the things that I find most encouraging about my class, is that my professor talks about going in to a group, and asking, “how can I help you to be more effective,” I mean, that’s the kind of boss I would want.
    I wouldn’t have studied engineering if I weren’t motivated and capable. But sometimes in a corporate environment, there`s crap in the way of getting the job done. So, I think that a manager who takes it upon themselves to realize that, and make it their job to help out their team with things they need help with is a good foot to start out on.
    Ive had bosses who bossed me around, without any knowledge of my own capability, and ones who did it in a completely different way. One of them got the best out of me, and I contributed to the best of my ability, the other got a far less capable person. I figure, your employees can be either a gift, or a curse. People rise to the level of maturity with which you treat them.

  6. Bob Kois PMP says:

    Great start on the blogs. So are these TV Project Managers even close to real Project Managers?

    Jesse, great comments. What if every PM or boss asked “how can I help you to be more effective?”

    What if our Local and Global governments and politicians ask “how can I help you to be more effective?”

    What will happen when you ask “how can I help you to be more effective?” You will change the world for the better.


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  1. […] watch The Apprentice last week and did a blog on it on my other website at  Here is another good blog on the topic.  Tune in Friday morning for another analysis of the […]

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