Donald Trump and Project Managers

One of the few reality TV shows I like to watch is Apprentice with Donald Trump, , , one of the most successful real estate developers in the world.

I find it interesting to watch the dynamics among the participants trying to become Mr. Trump’s new apprentice, , , to go to work for him.

In this particular series, every participant is without a job. All have been successful in the past but due to the bad economy they have been impacted by layoffs and downsizing that have occurred in the last two years. Each candidate is looking for work.

To give you just a bit of background of the show, , , the participants are divided into two teams and each week they compete in a business project of some type, , , it could be selling ice cream on the streets of New York City, creating an ad display for a new product announcement, hosting a charity event, , , or any type of thing a company might get involved with.

Every week each team selects a project manager (PM) and the teams are given basic information about the project objectives and key things that will make it successful. Then the two teams go their separate way to develop the project and deliver on the objectives that have been communicated to them.

Pretty simple – right?

You would think so, but it never fails to amaze me how weak most people are in managing a project, , , and some of these people are supposed to be quite capable professionals.

It also never fails to amaze me as to the dynamics that play into a project because of the different personalities and egos of people on the team. It can be quite ugly at times and illustrates the difficulty that can exist in trying to manage people.

Does the vision of “herding cats” ring a bell?

Rarely does a contestant manage the project really well. Basic things like confirming the objectives and deliverables up front almost never occur. As a result, many projects deliver less than what they should or miss the target completely.

Most conduct a Project Kickoff Meeting of sorts but the quality ranges from excellent to unsatisfactory with most leaning toward the poor side.

This week’s episode was quite interesting and showed just how frustrating a manager who is responsible for projects in his company can be, , , in this case, Donald Trump.

The objective was to conduct a fashion show that night for a large company to highlight their shoes and the “walkability” of the shoes. The guests were to be a list of celebrities and friends of Donald Trump.

One team did a great job, , , the other team was simply awful.

At the end of each project, Mr. Trump fires someone after meeting with all the participants in a Board Room session to critique the two project teams and to announce a team winner.

In this case, Trump was so disappointed (and probably embarrassed) with one team that he ended up firing both the Project Manager and one of the key participants in the project.

The key participant was the person assigned the task of MC (Master of Ceremonies), , ,  or announcer who described the shoes each model wore as they walked down the fashion show runway to display the shoes. Nice guy but just a terrible speaker in that kind of setting, , , and totally unprepared.

Trump focused in on the key points in the Board Room as he ripped the project manager (PM) and a couple of members of the team who had done so poorly, mainly the participant assigned the task of Master of Ceremonies for the event.

Trump asked a few key questions any manager should ask his PM:

  • Was the person (MC) capable of doing what you asked of him?
  • Did you inspect to validate he was capable?
  • Why didn’t you have a real rehearsal beforehand?
  • How can you expect to succeed with no rehearsal?

There were several problems in this project:

  1. The PM did not assign people tasks they were capable of.
  2. The PM did not inspect to insure each task would be executed well.
  3. The MC (presenter) had no clue about how to prepare for a presentation of this type (more on this in a second).
  4. There was no real rehearsal to prepare so they ended up “winging it”.

The bottom line is that the PM did a terrible job and allowed some of his team members to be put in a situation where they had no ability to succeed.

Being named Project Manager does not mean the PM will actually deliver.

Having a credential that says you are a PM does not guarantee success.

And certainly just because someone tells you they can do something as in the case of the MC does not mean they can actually do it.

If the PM had inspected the MC before rehearsal time, he would have discovered that the MC was making a mountain out of a mole hill. He was developing detail notes to use to talk about the shoes as a model walked down the runway. When I say detail, , , it must have been minute detail, , , way more than what you need for such an event.

When the show started and they handed the microphone over to the MC, he gets up there with a laptop in hand and starts, , , or let’s say “tries”, , , to introduce a model and talk about the shoes she wears. Right off the bat it was obvious he was not prepared, and holding the laptop was awkward and looked idiotic.

He scrambled and was obviously uncomfortable, , , mispronounced many words, , , did not describe the shoes properly and when he did it was not what you want to say about them, , , had long pauses of uncertainty.


All he needed was a 1-page PowerPoint slide for each model with a couple bullet points on a card describing simple elements of the shoes that reinforced “walkability” and “style”, , , simple, , , easy, , , and to the point. It took the MC all day to develop his comments, , , for a task that should have taken 30 minutes, , , OK, maybe an hour at most, , , there were only 8 models.

Get rid of the laptop and walk up there with a few note cards, , , and above all know what you are going to say. Much easier.

The only thing that did not go wrong was that the laptop battery lasted through the presentation. If the battery had died I’m not sure it would have been worse.

The key problem, , , the MC did not know what he was doing or even how to go about his task so he over complicated it, , , and the PM was not close enough to the project task to determine if it would be successful.

Mr. Trump was truly frustrated with this team as any manager would be. They failed dismally and embarrassed him in front of his friends and the company he was conducting the projects for. He skipped through some of the protocol he normally goes through in the Board Room and fired both participants without giving it additional consideration, , , first time to ever do this.

A couple of lessons in all of this, , ,
– You can learn a lot by observing others.
– Assign tasks to people who can do the work.
– Inspect to insure they can do the work, , , and are completing the work.
– Make adjustments when you see something isn’t working.

At the end of the day, the objective of any project is to succeed. Making an adjustment might hurt someone’s feelings but that’s better than failing and getting yourself and possibly others fired.

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