Project management lessons from The Apprentice: A crash course in worst practices

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

If you've ever watched The Apprentice—the U.S. reality show that stars Donald Trump as its host and chief "decider"—you've noticed that each episode features a business-focused challenge. Teams choose a "project manager" who is expected to plan out the best strategy for his or her team to complete the assigned task and then ensure that it is executed properly.

The problem with calling reality show contestants "project managers"—as anyone who has been through project management training programs knows—is that they often do not display the skills that project managers need to thrive in the real world. Generally, the most common output from teams isn't the successful completion of a project, but rather frantic shouting and a swift "you're fired" from Trump.

In a blog post for Forrester Research, Derek Miers takes issue with how project management is handled on the UK adaption of the show—teams rush to complete tasks instead of discussing goals and empowering each member.

"There were always people standing on the sidelines wondering what to do—always people trying to lord it over others, always errors of judgment, missed opportunities, lack of transparency, and a complete failure to meet the goals and objectives," he wrote last week.

Miers isn't the first to criticize The Apprentice for how project management is portrayed. Carl Griffiths noted last year in a blog post for that there aren't many parallels between the assignments on the show and real-world business projects.

"On The Apprentice, the projects are so hurried and seemingly, slapdash, that no real management is created," he wrote last year.

So what can project managers learn from The Apprentice?

Viewers should better understand the importance of project managers who actually value careful planning, shared goals among team members and the roles that will need to be filled to complete a task.

These are big-picture issues, and through project management training programs, project leaders will better understand their own roles.

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