“The Apprentice” Project Manager – A True Representation?

It 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 Leader 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, 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 overbudget – 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 Method and/or the APM Body of Knowledge (APM BoK) would handle it…

Situation

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 Leader arrogantly goes for what they think is the best solution, because they are the Task Manager after all and are obviously in charge! Never mind what the outcome is, or what it looks like, just get ‘something’ created!

PRINCE2/APM BoK Response

Assignment Manager should apply the appropriate interpersonal skills such as conflict management and negotiation. (APMBoK).

Create a Task Product Description stating the agreed scope, purpose of and acceptance criteria for the solution. Raise an issue and escalate to the Assigned Board to resolve any requirement conflict if agreement can’t be made and the situation is out of the Project Manager’s control/remit. (PRINCE2).

Situation

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 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!

PRINCE2/APM BoK Response

Agree the scope and objectives of the task and the desired outcome (APMBoK & PRINCE2).

Have a clear reporting structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, backed up by an effective communication management strategy (PRINCE2).

The PM should manage the dynamics of the team through the four typical phases of its life; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing e.g. ‘Tuckman’s theory’. (APMBoK).

Situation

The Team 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 out getting completed but often deliberately badly and/or wrongly!

PRINCE2/APM BoK Response

The Project Leader should apply their motivational skills by identifying what it is that will motivate that particular person to get the task done, and also apply the appropriate leadership style to suit the situation, e.g. autocratic or democratic (APMBoK).

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. (PRINCE2).

Situation

The team members are in the wrong ‘social role’ for their personal strengths. They have differing needs, understandings and incompatible strengths and consequently tasks are either being done badly or not getting done at all.

The Apprentice Response

All the team get stressed, argue and blame each other for their mistakes and shortcomings. They all look to the Project Manager for guidance and then blame the Project Manager for their lack of leadership!

PRINCE2/APM BoK Response

When initially building the team, apply a social role model such as ‘Belbin’ to find out what people’s different strengths are and then design the team based on the best combination and balance of roles. Motivate and lead the team taking into account and balancing each individual’s, the team’s and the task’s needs.(APMBoK).

Okay, the above 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 tasks! However, delivering a well-managed project on time to the agreed budget, and producing a deliverable to a business that meets its expectations, is fit for purpose and capable of generating the expected benefits, can be very fulfilling and motivating.

Having a string of successful projects as well as industry accepted and internationally recognised associated qualifications on a CV can be a significant career booster. It may have even helped those budding apprentices with their interview stages of the TV show… as ‘PRINCE2 Practitioner’ has been spotted by those eagle-eyed viewers on more than one CV during previous series!

So, what do you need to know to get ahead in this profession?

You’ll certainly need to know your PRINCE2 from your Prince Charles! But what does it take to be a good leader?

• Can you apply the right style of leadership (e.g. know when to be autocratic or democratic) given the situation?

• Can you negotiate effectively?

• Are you good at managing and resolving conflict?

• Can you motivate and manage people to get the most from them?

• Do you know the factors to consider when designing and developing an effective project team?

Do you know about health, safety and environment management?

Do you understand a procurement process?

Can you apply stakeholder management?

These are just a few of the ‘wider’ aspects of project management not covered in detail by

PRINCE2… but why not if they are deemed to be key knowledge and competency areas required of a Project Manager?…

… because PRINCE2 is a generic project management method designed to be applied to any type of project in any environment, whereas such wider aspects of project management can and will differ depending on the project type and environment, as well as the preference, skills and ability of the Project Manager. For example, not all projects will require procurement and other aspects are ‘how’ something should be done, whereas PRINCE2 concentrates more on ‘what’ needs to be done and ‘why’, leaving the ‘how’ up to each organisation depending on the type of project being managed. Such additional aspects of project management should therefore be ‘bolted on’ to and applied within your PRINCE2 framework as required. They will perfectly complement the PRINCE2 method, thus creating a FULL project management environment.

So, this is where having a good understanding of the APM ‘Body of Knowledge’ (APM BoK) and having the associated APMP qualification will help you be a more effective Project Manager and will ‘complement’ your PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification due to the APM BoK covering such wider aspects of project management which are fundamental to a project’s success.

To find out more about what it takes to become a Project Manager and how to gain the associated and internationally recognised professional qualifications, such as PRINCE2 and APMP, which can help to boost your career prospects…

… contact SPOCE Project Management Ltd, the training professionals and longest standing company in the world who specialise in delivering Global Best Practice examined training events.