Project Management

Will the real project managers please stand up?

From the Project Management For Real Blog
Since 2001, the column "Project Management in Practice" has been read by thousands of visitors to Mark Mullaly has offered his insights, perspectives and observations about what really happens in organizations on a (mostly) monthly basis. The column confronts head-on the challenges that project managers confront on a regular basis, and strives to make sense of what happens when projects and organizations collide. This blog takes a closer look at what happens when we try to manage projects “for real”. What really works, and what really doesn’t.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Will the real project managers please stand up?

If we need standards, why aren't we using them?

So do we really need standards?

Does the world need another standard?

If ever there was proof needed that project management is a misunderstood role, you only have to look as far as prime time TV. In the last year or so, 'project manager' has entered the vernacular... but hardly in a positive way.

Opening Soon is a show on Home and Garden TV in Canada that chronicles the launching and/or major renovation of several restaurants. Predictably, tempers flare, desgns change, budgets get blown out of the water and schedules are pushed to the bitter end. Inevitably the final afternoon before opening is a massive installation, clean up and rush to get prep completed or the grand opening in 2 hours. 

More commonly known to most of us is The Apprentice, which gave us the immortal line "You're fired!" So what does it take to be a project manager? According to this show, you need to be arrogant, over-confident, look good in a suit and be prepared to stab your colleagues in the back. In public. On prime time TV. No actual project management happens -- and whoever lands the project management role on an episode seems to lose whatever few leadership qualities that thye might have once had.

For both shows, the viewing is pretty entertaining. Is it project management, though? Heck no. At least, not as I'd want to see it being described. But that's just me.

Posted on: June 04, 2007 12:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Mark I agree with your comments entirely. The only thing which seems realist about the way project management is portrayed is the unrealist time scales we sometime have to work to. Where has all the planning gone, the only consultation is when one of the team is told they are doing a certain task. The PM always seems to ask for suggestions but disregards everyone elses and decides on their own suggestion in the end. Sometimes I am convinced it is scripted for good viewing...or am I being naive here.
The winning team seems to win by shear luck.
Now with real project management, there are lots of planning, consultation, breifs, client communication, meetings,
re- planning, further consultations, client communications, and more meetings, but with a timescale not to dissimilar to that on the apprentice.
The differance is so close, its almost is project management (tonge in cheek humour) .

Hi Mark, though I agree with your sentiment, I actually disagree with your conclusion. The examples of the TV shows like The Apprentice and the Home and Garden Show are good examples to use. Is this project management? You say "no" and from a project management profession perspective I suspect that you are correct. But, I contend that this is very much project management and that this form of project management is ubiquitous, not just on TV shows, but in companies of all shapes and sizes and it exists and takes place in every corner of the business. Project management is not an endeavor limited to formal projects (real projects) and trained professionals (real project managers), rather it is a core competence and strategic skill set that is applicable to everyone (at some level). And, here is where I go out on a limb and say that the "collective" business impact and value to a company of all of those "invisible" projects haphazardly managed, if at all, may very well exceed the value of the formal projects in the IT PMO project portfolio. Some PMOs do a yeoman's job recognizing that everyone in the company manages projects of some kind, but most PMOs don't. Perhaps they think this is an HR or line of business responsibility. But, the undeniable fact is that these kinds of projects, whatever we want to label them, exist everywhere. We in the PMO (or in a position to act) can simply ignore it all or find a way to help. I prefer the latter.

I think there are a few aspects of project management in The Apprentice, and those are:

1. dealing with all of the personalities of your project team, doing the proper communication, handling conflicts, etc.

2. like John-Lewis says above, dealing with the incredibly tight deadlines and pressures of a project that is being pushed and rushed out the door, with all of the variables raise the level of risk and can cause it to fail at any point.

I haven't watched The Apprentice much since the first couple seasons, but I used to be totally hooked.

I think it would be funny to do one episiode and show what a Project Manager should ALSO be doing besides what he/she does in the show. So, there''''''''d be the initial rush of the challenge presented and then the person will sit down and work on a scope statement, activity list, risk plan, organize resources, risk register, etc. We would be watching this team sit in front of their computers and sit in alot of meetings. I doubt it would be so entertaining and would probably not last more than an episode...but hey, there are so many other reality shows out there, who knows!

Hi Mark,
Your right the portrait is not that realistic.
On the other hand, so are more professions in TV show. If the project was on time, on budget they would not have the suspense needed to generate interest.

Hi Mark
I agree with 100%, these programs might be entertaining but they are destructive for the project management values and also it is very destructive for young people who think that these reality shows are the project management. I am having serious problem here in Australia for the same issue.
Kevin D

The other point to take from this is that maybe we need a reality tv show to find the next big project manager - something like American Idol perhaps 😀

good one

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"You must be the change you want to see in the world."

- Mahatma Gandhi