Project Management

Managing By Walking Around

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Categories: PMO Leadership

Walking (noun) / to advance or travel on foot.
Managing By Walking Around

What is MBWA..? Chances are, if you are a manager and are over 50 years old, you know what MBWA is and probably have had management training in the technique. Back in the days when we had our business departments, in some cases divisions, all in the same office building and we managed face to face, MBWA was just one of many leadership techniques. But, if you are a manager under 30 years of age, you might not have ever heard this term. In fact, you may not even had any kind of management training and development. How times have changed!

MBWA - Manage by Walking Around.

Though I formally learned about MBWA in new manager training years ago, I experienced it first hand even before that. The year was 1983 and I was an Account Manager in Dallas. I was having lunch with my customer, a value added reseller of ours, and point of contact for our relationship. We were at their company cafeteria and it was a Wednesday. Now, you might be thinking, after three decades, how could I possibly remember that it was a Wednesday? Well, I remember for a fact that it was a Wednesday because on Wednesdays the company cafeteria served Prime Rib and every Wednesday we would have our customer/vendor status meeting and working lunch. Just me, from the vendor side, and my point of contact, from the customer side.

On one of these Wednesday’s and for no particular reason, a well dressed gentleman sat down and joined us for lunch. I immediately recognized this gentleman, though he had no reason to know of me. The only thing stranger than his sitting down and joining us were the two egg rolls and small ice tea on his tray. Not that I have anything against Chinese food, but it was Wednesday, prime rib day.

After joining us, this gentleman proceeded to ask us our names. He needed no introduction. He went on to ask us about our areas of responsibilities and our measurements as well as how business was going. And by how business was going, he didn’t mean good or bad.  He asked for details such as Year to Date percent of quota, forecast for the year, and top 3 sales opportunities for the month.

Throughout the conversation, he offered ideas and suggestions. And as our little lunch chat was coming to an end, he gave me his business card and offered that if I ever needed any help or had a problem in working with the company to give him a call. He also asked for my business card and told me how important my efforts and support were to the company. He then told the two of us to give him a call as soon as we achieved our reseller objective for the year so he could congratulate us. And, the sooner the call, the better. We learned quite a bit from this man’s suggestions and ideas. We are also quite inspired to achieve our goals and we continued on with our working session with renewed vigor and resolve. We were pumped up and it felt great.

That is the effect that MBWA, Manage By Walking Around, can have on others. It is a leadership technique that has withstood the test of time and that can be used by any manager, especially the PMO Manager.

Oh the company, it was EDS. And the gentleman that joined us for lunch in the company cafeteria, he was Ross Perot, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of EDS.

Posted on: August 26, 2012 04:56 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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I know what MBWA means, so I guess that kind of gives my age away. I was also taught this technique in my management training classes. Personally, I believe it is the most effective leadership that I have ever learned.

I have a similar story. At one time in my professional career, I worked for Compaq (before HP) as the manager of a web development team. One day, I was sitting in the company cafeteria with my team. We were eating lunch and discussing an upcoming web marketing initiative when a gentleman asked if he could join us. As we continued our discussion, this gentleman began asking questions about the initiative, what our ideas were, why we were planning on doing things one way or another, what problems and challenges we anticipated and so on. We had a lively discussion before he left and moved on to another table.

The gentleman was Ben Rosin, the Chairman of the Board for Compaq. I never forgot that. One other thing to note, he obviously was paying attention because some of our concerns were addressed within the month. So I might add that a crucial part of MBWA is to listen and then act when appropriate.

Good article Mark!

Interesting article. MBWA gives employees an impression that their needs, concerns and frustrations are taken care of, and there is always a channel for them to voice out. It helps to narrow the gap between the employees and the management. Employees will feel that the management is more reachable. However, I am not sure if this still works well now with our younger generation who cherish privacy and personal space probably more than anything else. I am not saying that the younger ones do not like to voice out. They do, but with other means and channels (e.g. social networks)

What is important to make MBWA effective is then to balance the fine line between privacy (of employees) and empathy (from management). Well, obviously we do not want to turn this whole thing into Managing By Stalking Around.

We are starting 15 minute daily stand- up meetings as part of scrum mgt in our business. Anyone can attend these sessions, but if you are not part of the team, you are meant to observe only and not talk unless asked. I guess this may present some opportunities for MBWA for executives and other Business team managers.

Thansk for the article Mark

Wai Mun, great points. Poorly done, MBWA could quickly turn into MBSA..! Also, you are so right regarding today's workforce. MBWA need not be only literally face to face, rather use of social tools and collaboration platforms aids greatly - both as it is how we interact and on account of the fact that many of our teams are not co-located. Hence, it would be a long walk; social tools can help.

Marion, such a great point. MBWA should not be viewed as a license to be interuptive. For many organizations, a daily stand-up is in essence a standing meeting - literally and figuratively. This could be a good opportunity to visit and observe per the ground rules, but not to interfere or abuse the gathering..! Thanks...

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