Totem v The Apprentice: which one is better for your project management skills? 

To avoid any unintentional Trump reference or association (especially with how much he loves a threatening legal letter), we’re going to focus this on the UK version of The Apprentice with Sir Alan Sugar. While a fan of a twitter smackdown, the stakes are smaller than attempting humour with the US President Elect. That, and, no one at Totem HQ has seen the US version.


In recent years, irrespective of the prize on offer, The Apprentice has become synonymous with what the candidates tend to call ‘PM-ing’ or, to outsiders, project management. So, in light of Totem’s launch of Unlock: Project Management, we thought we’d step into Sir Alan’s shoes to set this week’s task -  between Team Totem and Team Apprentice.



Testing your project management skills.


We can’t promise to be wholly unbiased in the battle of Team Totem vs. Team Apprentice - we’ll do our best to try and ensure at least some balance in the assessment. That said, imagine if this was the Board Room: you’d expect the gloves to come off and for Team Totem to come out fighting. I’m not sure that’s the Totem style so we’ll take it down a notch.


Structured learning experience.


It might be tempting to dismiss an entertainment show of this nature as having limited learning potential; that would probably be somewhat hasty.


It’s obvious that there is scope for the apprentices to learn and develop as the series runs its course. However, I’d argue that there is limited scope for an individual structured learning experience. The Apprentice is based on the principle of teamworking and, during your time on the show, your performance is determined by the performance of the team. A weak contestant within the winning team will escape the BoardRoom because their team won, even though their own performance may have been the weakest across the board. This limits the potential for you, as an individual, to receive relevant feedback, learn from it and develop skills.


By comparison, when playing Unlock: Project Management - you see the result of your own actions so can develop the skills you specifically need to work on. There’s no place to hide in Unlock: Project Management.


Team Totem 1: Team Apprentice 0



Real world consequences.


With this topic, comparing Team Totem to Team Apprentice is effectively like comparing one entertainment medium (a game) vs. another (a tv show). Both by the nature of the entertainment medium are simulations of the real world and are therefore limited from fully offering real world consequences.


That said, both do have elements of consequences. For Team Apprentice, poor performance leads you to a grilling in the Board Room and, for all but one, a firing. Team Totem’s Unlock: Project Management has consequences: make the wrong choice and you’ll see the result of it (just like you would in the real world).


Team Totem 1: Team Apprentice 1




We’re a fair bunch at Totem so we’re happy to admit that actually living and breathing the tasks and the experience of The Apprentice is truly interactive. The end goal isn’t predetermined - there is a framework but you can say or do whatever you want - no fixed choices or options. Until AR and VR become commonplace within Learning & Development development, the Unlock: Project Management is as interactive as corporate learning can yet. That’s not a bad thing - look at how popular gaming is and how many hours are spent gaming: it’s definitely interactive, entertaining and engaging.


Team Totem 0: Team Apprentice 1


Tweeting spoilers.


Rookie error, Sir Alan.


Team Totem 1: Team Apprentice 0



And the winner is…...Team Totem!


Team Totem 3: Team Apprentice 2


What to expect from Unlock: Project Management.


Unlock: Project Management is an interactive project management game in which the player interacts and reacts to what happens in the game, delivering a project. The game is played through 8 “rounds”, where each round represents a week of elapsed time on the project, apart from the very first round which is a mobilisation phase. In each round the player has to undertake various tasks – some major such as developing a project plan, some minor, such as developing a bi-weekly report. As in real life the game has some options, a few of which are red herrings, and some unexpected risks will arise. The aim is never to trick or confuse the player, merely to represent the twists and turns of a real life situation.


At the end of the 8th round, the game is over.


The player receives a set of scores in terms of the amount of money they have spent and the satisfaction level of 3 different stakeholders. The bi-weekly reports can be downloaded as PDFs to be kept for future review and discussion.


The game takes about 1 hour to play, although the actual length depends on the speed of response of the player. Some fast players can play it through in 40 minutes, whilst other players take longer than an hour. If this is to be used in a classroom situation, players can be instructed to go through the game in an hour. This sort of time pressure is again a realistic reflection of a project scenario.


Why don’t you demo Unlock: Project Management and see how it compares for yourself?



By the way, someone once suggested that I go on The Apprentice.


I don’t speak to them anymore.