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