Three Things “The Apprentice” Doesn’t Teach You About Being a Project Manger

9 May 2013

Michael Bowell

Michael Bowell


I remember whilst studying at University, taking the occasional break during the week to watch "The Apprentice". Every week the teams were set a challenge. This is where it also got interesting - and the loudest because at the beginning everyone sought to be the Project Manager. Who was so skilled with what was involved in this particular challenge that he/she deserved to be the Project Manager?

"I used to help out my father in his restaurant, as this task included selling food products so I should be the project manager." Quotes such as this rippled throughout the program. At this stage in my career I was under the impression that the most knowledgeable person in the team of a particular area is naturally the chosen choice as the project manager.

I can now definitely say that I was very much misinformed. In a recent project that I was involved in, I found myself participating in Project Management support. My new perception is that the project manager isn't the go to person about the technology or the market, but it is the person that:

  • Will ensure that all sections of the project are in constant communication. This way there are no sudden surprises down the line when something has changed. All areas need to know exactly what the other areas are doing so that detailed impact assessments can be carried out. The program needs to know who will be affected by what changes.
  • Will plan the project from beginning to end, mapping all dependencies. In case of this project in particular, a global solution will require a staggered Go-Live. Dependencies are vital in the plan so that everybody knows when tasks need to be completed by. It is pointless having a particular localized integration with a customer system ready 4 weeks after Go-Live. There will not be a user buy-in when the system doesn't work from day 1.
  • Will track people against the plan. Everyone knows how easy it is to get sidetracked from a plan and do something that isn't due for completion for another month. The project manager needs to ensure that individuals are completing tasks in the right order with reference to the project plan.
    From this experience I have come to my own conclusions. Project Managers aren't people to tell everybody else what to do. That is what a work stream lead is for. The stream leads are skilled in the areas of interest and thus have a good idea of how a block of deliverables should be attacked. The Project Manager is in fact a tool to support the program.

A Project Manager will typically have a toolkit that will help the whole project stay within the outlined delivery methodology and delivery on time, within budget. This toolkit involves; correct resources delivered at the right time, access to key stakeholders to schedule workshops with the correct resources, a plan for work streams to deliver against, provide an overall project vision. These tools are so that the expertise within the team can transpose their knowledge into a solution for a business requirement.

Given this insight, my advice to the next set of young entrepreneurs attempting the challenge is; if you want to be a project manager, make sure you can support people and give people room to lay down their skills. If you are skilled in the area of interest, maybe let someone else be the project manager so that your skills can be utilized as a man on the ground instead of coordinating. Having specific expertise on the ground is a vital asset when facing off to a customer in a particular industry.

Three tips to being a successful Project Manager

  1. The project plan becomes absolutely critical. If one aspect or deliverable changes within one work stream, in some cases it will have a direct impact upon another work stream. These dependencies need to be mapped appropriately so that each work stream can visualised who is dependent on one of their deliverables being completed on time.
  2. Project wide communication is very important. This doesn't necessarily mean verbal or email communication. Use of visual management boards all the team to have important project information in front of them on a daily basis. Information such as the program vision can be illustrated on these and so there is a single view and idea of the goal of the project.
  3. Time and agenda management in meetings. There are often meetings that occur where a large amount of time is spent discussing an issue that should be raised in a different forum. The result of which means that teams are locked into meetings way beyond the time they had planned for. By managing a strict agenda in a meeting, the intended points can be covered instead of issues not being fully addressed until the next meeting.
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