Unexpectedly Intriguing!
March 31, 2005

The most recent episode of The Apprentice offers a classic case study of how a project should be managed. In the episode, the two teams "Magna" and "Net Worth" were given the assignment of creating a "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY) workshop for this week's product placement sponsor Home Depot.

Each team's choice of a DIY project directly sealed their fates in the episode. Net Worth made the unfortuante choice of a rolling kitchen work table, which required a substantial amount of manual labor to successfully assemble. While the tip-off to the team that this particular workshop project was a poor choice should have come while they practiced assembling the table, the team made the critical mistake of not discarding the product and choosing a different one around which to build their workshop.

In effect, the team became too emotionally invested in making the rolling table project work. This irrational investment could be seen by their unwillingness to write-off the time that they had already invested and considering changing their product to one that offered a better opportunity for success while they still had time to do so. Eventually, this irrationality led directly to the team's failure, as when it came time to run their workshop, they were as spectacularly unsuccessful at assembling the table as they had been in practice.

By contrast, the DIY project selected by Magna's project manager was a model of simplicity, as noted by Suzanne Condie Lambert:

Craig informs Magna that its project is: a box. The box does not roll, fly, vibrate or explode. It's: a box.

It was so simple that the team's members all questioned whether or not it was a good choice. Fortunately for the team, project manager Craig stuck to his guns in selecting the project and the team enjoyed considerable success in running their workshop, which engaged families in the making and personalization of the box. In fact, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, your local Home Depot may be hosting it's own box workshop.

From a project management standpoint, the real secret to Magna's success in managing their assignment was scope control. By selecting a very simple product, Craig ensured that his team would not get bogged down by complexity in the way that Net Worth did. By keeping the underlying scope of the project simple, Magna made it possible to add a significant amount variability to their workshop, while still keeping the overall project simple. It's a lesson that more businesses, and project managers, could stand to learn.

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