Why ‘The Apprentice’ gives Project Management a bad name

Monday, November 14, 2016 09:00

Dan Hughes by Dan Hughes

If you’ve ever watched BBC One’s The Apprentice and revelled at the haphazard uncoordinated teams with ridiculous names failing their tasks each week, then you’ll be familiar with the obsession of labelling team leaders as ‘Project Managers.

This poison chalice of a position has seen some of the most ridiculous executive decisions made by would-be business men and women, including an advertising campaign based on wearing Y-fronts outside your trousers, a wooden box sold as ‘multifunctional furniture’ and trying to sell excess fish fingers to a vegan café.

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But perhaps the greatest misnomer in The Apprentice is the use of the title ‘Project Manager’ itself. What is the real role of a project manager and what is TV making you think it means to be the dreaded ‘PM’? 

Project Management: True or False?

"You should be the PM because you have worked in the industry and have experience in the subject."

False: Although it can help, a good project manager does not necessarily need to be a technical expert in the project’s field. A project manager’s job is to bring a project to completion, on time, within cost and to quality specification. A good PM will consult experts in their team to make informed choices. 


"As PM you are solely responsible for getting your team’s buy-in and proactive engagement in the project." 

False: Every project should have a project sponsor, in the case of The Apprentice, this is Alan sugar as he is setting the task. The sponsor must secure the project buy-in from stakeholders to a certain degree and support the PM. Alan Sugar is more of a taskmaster with witty putdowns for our amusement. 

"As PM, you are responsible for the initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure of a project."

True: As defined by The Association for Project Management, the PM is responsible for all these aspects of the project and in The Apprentice, many PMs fall down on one or more of these areas. 

"As a PM you can bring people into a boardroom and blame them for a project failure."

False: Unlike The Apprentice, the completion of a project is down to the project manager. Not all projects succeed but regular reviews, forecasting and consultation with the project sponsor should mean that passing the blame onto a project team member would be an unlikely scenario.  


"The PM should facilitate discussion, bring out everyone’s ideas and develop a consensus."

True: A project manager should work closely with their project team and gain insight from its members to help inform the project. In The Apprentice it’s quite obvious that in many cases, the candidates are chosen because of their ceiling busting egos, and for their team spirit akin to pigeons fighting over a dropped crumb. The candidates are ultimately in competition and ready to turn on each other faster than Alan Sugar's ‘firing finger’ which makes the project teams an unrealistic representation of most real world scenarios. 

So although it’s raised the profile of project management, The Apprentice is hardly an exemplary display of the profession and serves mostly to incite us to shout at the TV, questioning some of the comically poor decisions and flawed leadership approaches we love to hate. 

Interested in learning how to really run a successful project?   

Check out CoSector’sIntroduction to Project Management’ course. 


Posted in Careers and Training