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ILX's The Apprentice Review: Episode 6

When you order a pizza online and opt to track your order, there’s a step the tracker displays before “Out for Delivery”, and it’s usually called “Quality Control”. A lot of people think this is just to cover extended delivery, but this is actually a crucial stage of the pizza delivery process.

Just as the pizza comes out of the oven, someone checks it to make sure it’s exactly what the customer ordered, and is made to company standards. They then must carefully cut it into equal slices, and box it with all additional items placed in the order. This is all about meeting customer expectations, and is essential.

In episode 6 of The Apprentice, both Team Graphene and Team Vitality were pulled up on the quality of their Project results in the boardroom. They had been tasked to deliver a guided tour of Bruges to two groups of British tourists. They needed to sell tickets on the ferry over, deliver an outstanding experience and gain a profit to win. As Lord Sugar warned them, the tourists were welcome to claim refunds should the experience not live up to expectations.

Project Quality Management is divided by the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK Guide) into three steps:

1. Quality planning – identifying the standards you expect to deliver, and how you will deliver them.

2. Quality assurance – continuously evaluating performance to build confidence that the Project will deliver these standards.

3. Quality control – monitoring results to see if they comply with the defined standards, and identifying and eliminating factors that hinder the Project’s performance.

The initial stage of this task required the teams to agree which experience they would deliver, then divide into two smaller groups to plan and sell it. Excellent communication was, and always is, essential for Quality Management. Graphene chose a modern walking tour of Bruges with added Segway ride; Vitality opted for a historical tour with added beer tasting. Unfortunately, each sales team either didn’t understand that the Segway ride and tasting were small added extras, or they deliberately oversold these elements to get people to buy tickets.

In reality, both the promised “Segway tour” and “Beer tasting tour” turned out to be walking tours which ended with a tiny amount of time on Segways, and a paltry amount of beer compared to what had been offered in the sales pitch. In their feedback, both groups of customers were disappointed, and a few requested refunds. Interestingly, had the teams promised less, the perceived quality of the experiences may have been much better. Their failure to deliver outlined standards (as the PMBOK Guide recommends) exacerbated their customers’ disappointment.

If the wrong pizza was delivered to a customer, thus not meeting expectations, you would expect the company to make up for it e.g. with vouchers, extras or replacement pizza. Of course, the teams couldn’t compensate the experiences, due to the time pressure and fate of the task being decided by final profit. However, upon discovering too much had been promised by the sales teams, they should have evaluated their performance to improve what they could offer – as in Step 2. This could have been by better preparing their routes and speeches, creating a more positive, upbeat atmosphere, or throwing in some small extras. Admittedly, some of these were executed fairly well in parts of the episode. By maximising these efforts despite the initial over-sell, they could have delivered higher standards of customer care, assuring them that (at least some of) their expectations would be met.