The Apprentice – Week Three: Robots

Oct 19, 2017 | #howtobeaPM, #howtowinthe apprentice, projects in plain english, the apprentice

The candidates are summoned to London’s Design Museum where Lord Sugar assigns them a robot-themed task. They have to programme and sell a prototype robot to retailers.

Uncontrolled change

The girls aim their robot at the children’s market. The boys’ team – led by project manager Michaela – create a product targeting the over 60s market, but their sales pitch does not impress the clients.

This week the losing team fell apart when they ran into the number one cause of project failure; uncontrolled change.

Credit: BBC

Change - Projects in Plain English
The girls  pitch to their client…

The tip of the iceberg

Change is inevitable in any project and a good PM will embrace it, but at the same time make sure that they understand the implications it might have. The tip of the iceberg is an appropriate metaphor. A seemingly innocent request or suggestion may have dire consequences lurking beneath the surface.

Requests for change

Most requests for change come from a project’s customers; “I know that I didn’t specify a sunroof when I ordered my new car, but is it too late to change my mind?” This kind of change will nearly always have an impact on the project’s budget or deadline. But in this week’s show the change came from within the team itself.

Jerimii may not have been the best name for a robot aimed at the over 60’s – or any other market – but it’s debatable whether Siimon was any better. Critically, the PM gave Jerimii the green light and the team responsible for programming the tiny electronic yoga guru went ahead and built it into the machine’s voice software; “Hello I’m Jerimii and it’s time to take your medication…”. It’s probably not what the Prime Minister wants to hear first thing in the morning.

Credit: BBC

Change - Projects in Plain English
Breaking all the rules of graphic design, and grammar…

Assess the impact…

When a member of her sub-team came up with the suggestion, Michaela made an executive decision to go with it.  But she didn’t think about the impact it would have on the team making the all important pitch to a major retailer. Even then she could have rescued the situation by reversing her decision and ditching the embarrassing display board incorporating the new name. She didn’t.

Credit: BBC

Change - Projects in Plain English
Michaela realises that Siimon has more charisma than most of her team…

The result

Michaela stuck to her decision and the result was a disastrous pitch that confused the clients and resulted in zero sales. For most PMs two fundamental mistakes like these would mean the end of the road. But Michaela took responsibility for her errors in the Boardroom and it was the hapless Elliot who took the early cab ride home. A great lesson in how to survive on The Apprentice, but very flaky project management.

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