The Apprentice Week 3 – Design Flaws

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

The Apprentice Week 3 – Design flaws

This week the teams are tasked with designing a new flat-packed piece of furniture. It’s a research, design and pitch task.

The teams assemble along gender lines once again, at the home of the Design Council. Sugar warns the girls as to their behaviour, but for the first time allows both teams to choose their own PM. Business Analyst Jordan leads the boys, whilst Natalie heads up the girls.

The girls go for a multi-functional cube shaped table. Everyone is on broadcast and no one is on receive. The boys go for a folding chair, championed by Alex.

The next day, Rebecca reveals on that she is not in favour of the cube, but finds herself as part of the Market Research (MR) team, along with Sophie who claims to have expertise in this area. Not surprisingly, they hear mixed feedback, but is this due to a poor product, or poorly conducted feedback? The first rule of MR is to be open minded and neutral, which is why we generally use external agencies. Rebecca seems quick to jump on any opportunity to re-design the cube, but Sophie is just too unassertive. Similarly, the boys MR includes doubters, so conflict results in both teams (so we are back to Storming behaviour again (see last week). Divisions become apparent within the sub teams of both the girls and the boys. It is how the 2 PMs handle this situation that proves telling. There is broad consensus in the boys’ team, led by Jordan, and argument amongst the girls’. Natalie ignores the feedback and pushes on with the product.

In terms of design, the girls look for ease of assembly, but struggle to identify an inspirational design they can agree on. Alex pushes the boys with an easy to assemble folding chair, but as time is running out, mistakes are made in both teams.  Nick reminds us that it a camel “a horse designed by committee”, something that could apply to both products.

Once again, there is no agreed process on how the item will be designed and produced. This is the key to success here; role clarity and trust. If you set up a MR team, you need to listen to them. In the end there is a lack of buy in, especially within the girl’s team, because their input has been ignored.

Prototypes are produced overnight. The girls’ “Tidy-Sidy”, but the cushion is the wrong size.  The boys are happy with their product.

At the pitches there is mixed feedback to both products, but the girls get more consistent negative feedback. For the boys, it is the length of the legs that splits opinions, depending on who they are pitching to. Zee in particular fares badly in the pitches for the boys and is removed from further pitches by PM Jordan, but the girls get slicker as the pitches progress, despite having a poor product design (a box on wheels).

Next day, it’s into the boardroom and both PMs are given support from their teams. The orders are counted and it the boys run away with it, thanks to an order of 2,500 units ordered from the catalogue company. The girls lose again.

Sugar tells the boys that Alex’ product is the best he has seen in the boardroom.

Interrogation in the boardroom allows Sugar to be wise after the fact and rubbish the product. The girls look to see who is to blame and the bitchiness returns. Rebecca is quizzed about her dislike of the product. Observer Karen blames the team for trying to incorporate everyone’s ideas. This has to be the responsibility of PM Natalie. The MR is also challenged and rubbished by Sugar.

Natalie brings back Uzma and Sophie. Natalie blames both for hiding. Uzma is blamed for the design and Sophie for the MR. Shouting ensues. Sophie says it’s all unfair, but eventually Sugar makes his decision and it is the PM Natalie who must take the overall blame, but thanks to “gut feel” it is Sophie who is fired, for hiding. Sophie keeps her dignity, but not her job.

In the end, Sophie was fired for “hiding” something that Sugar hates. Her real crime was to be too quiet in a loud team. She had some good contribution, but she was just too nice and too quiet. Natalie probably should have been fired, but she put up a robust defense and survived.  In contrast, Jordan was an effective PM , and led the team well. He looks like one to watch. Zee, on the other hand seems to have lost the fait of the rest of the boys, and is unlikely to last long on this performance.

The Apprentice 2013 Week 1 – Self-Contained Mess

The Apprentice 2013 Week 1 – Self-Contained Mess

Your firedThe first task facing our new candidates (you can read my pre-series review here) is to remember who is who as they meet each other for the first time. Same for us really. And what a bunch they are. A mixture of the vain, the lame and downright hopeless. Who is which remains to be seen.

Once again, the aim is to find a business partner, rather than an Apprentice. The first task sees the teams in the traditional Boys v Girls. Midnight. The Boardroom. A brief introduction to the candidates and then we’re off. The first task involves a container of imported products for each team. Aim – to sell from dawn throughout the day. The team that sells the most wins. Jaz volunteers to be the PM for the girls, with real conviction (“I’m only bossy if I’m right, which is most of the time”). Jason also volunteers, but seems to immediately regret it. He gets the job.

Potential Team names are bounced around, and the girls take Evolve and the boys go for Endeavour. Jaz reveals her teaching background and treats the team like kids. Jason struggles to control the egos on display as he is low assertive.

Locations are investigated and pitches are done, giving us a chance to see the typical team in Forming / Storming phase, which all teams go through when they first come together. As there is no formal leader, just a self appointed volunteer, this model (originated by Bruce Tuckman) suggests we can expect the team to hit “Storming” phase quite quickly. So it proves to be. Throughout the programme this is evidenced by ego clashes and arguments (think of your typical teenager and their parents). This is added to by the fact that he teams are not really teams, but individuals who are competing with each other. To support the team through this phase, the leader needs to adopt a strong guiding style. Neither Jaz or Jason, seem to have this in them. There is some politeness in front of the PM, but also occasional bursts of emotion as frustration sets in and deadlines approach. In the boys team, Neil in particular can’t resist taking over.

In the boardroom, the performances of the teams are scrutinised by Sugar, with both PMs getting criticism from their teams, as well as some praise. The winning team is revealed to be…Endeavour. By £58.

Sugar challenges Jaz on her strategy and location choices and her leadership.  After deliberation, PM Jaz decides to bring back Sophie and Uzma, neither of whom sold anything. Uzma protests that she had a “logistics” role. Jaz says she made a big mistake in not finding a buyer for the cat litter. Jaz describes Sophie as a “passenger”.

In the end Sugar decides that Uzma shouldn’t have been brought back. He turns on Sophie and Jaz, and ultimately, due to bad organisation, Jaz should be fired. This is probably the right decision as Jaz showed no commercial acumen and limited applied leadership ability. To me it is risky to take the first PM role when you don’t know the individuals. The first task is always going to be stormy.