MBWA: Funny Acronym or Effective Personnel Management?

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) refers to a style of management whereby the manager, or specifically the project manager as discussed in Chapter 10 of “Project Management: The Managerial Process”, initiates contact and builds relationships with key players whose participation is critical for the success of the project. Through these relationships and consistent face-to-face interaction, the project manager is able to foster cooperation between stakeholders and improve probability of project success.

This style was contrasted with an old management adage standby: “the open-door policy”. The open-door policy encourages employees to come to the manager at any point when a problem arises. It relies on the aggressiveness of the employee, the strength of the manager/employee relationship and the employee’s own initiative to bring an issue to the boss. On the other hand, if the employee is not aggressive, lacks initiative or doesn’t have a positive working relationship with their boss whom they can easily bring issues to, this policy can jeopardize success of the project.

That’s the author’s opinion, anyway.

Reading this passage got me thinking: what kind of manager am l? Which one of these policies works better for me? Is one of these policies really better than the other? The answer, like a lot of what I’ve encountered in B-school, depends. I think it depends on the members on your team, and what their preferences are. If you have people whom you know are hard workers but perhaps not extroverted enough to seek you out when necessary, then MBWA works very well. It lets them know you are involved, present, ready to engage when necessary and the consistent interaction will help foster a positive relationship. If, on the other hand, you have team members who have no problem escalating when necessary, and in fact would not appreciate you showing up at their desk unannounced a few times a week, open-door works better for them. Nothing is worse than having a micro-manager for a boss, and MBWA could start to feel like that to a more experienced/confident employee.

I’ve been in both situations–managed people who clearly prefer (and need) the frequent touchpoints that MBWA can provide; I myself employ open-door policy with my boss. I don’t think one one policy is really better than the other, and both have their appropriate uses in the workplace. Fellow managers and supervisors: which style works better for you?

8 thoughts on “MBWA: Funny Acronym or Effective Personnel Management?

  1. This post was very successful in getting me thinking not only what management style I use, but also what style I need as a subordinate. I think the author is right on the money in saying that both styles have their place. Understanding what works best for individual employees is key.

  2. All people are different. Therefore, it is important to understand that various management techniques should be used in effective personnel management. I agree with Scott and Erika that combination of both managing methods should used in personnel management.

  3. On one hand the new MBWA allows for mangers to keep track of how employees are doing, but on the other hand I can lead to micro management. It can also distract a manger from primary tasks.

    Sent from my iPhone in Frankfurt Germany

  4. Another challenge that is not squarely addressed by either of these theories is the fact that many people do not reside in the same office or perhaps not even in the same country as their manager. I work from a home office and have for several years. I never even met my previous manager in person as he was based in Europe. Many project teams I have led or been a part of only have the ability to meet via conference call as people are scattered throughout the world. In these cases more thought has to go into how you keep in touch and build relationships. With busy schedules and time differences interactions often have to be more rigidly scheduled and people have to find a way to build trust and commradre virtually. This can be a difficult thing to do but a skill that will set project managers apart in the global business environment.

  5. I agree with Erika’s position in that you have to use different techniques for different employees. I’ve worked in both environments and felt micromanaged by the MBWA technique. That said, I believe the technique was taken to the extreme. The textbook that Erika refers to describes someone that is involved and connects with employees thereby fostering a open environment rather than a shadow that constantly checks an employees’ work.

    Many things can be taken to the extreme and turn out negative. I currently have a supervisor that uses the open door policy and it works for both of us. That said, he also connects with me during meetings, outside work, etc so I know that the door is open. Alternatively, some “open door policy” managers are strictly how it is described which would negatively impact the employer/employee relationship.

    Anne – Great addition.

    One additional comment to the above would be from the standpoint of working in a global company. Some cultures would dictate which of these policies would work best and how to implement it. Americans generally don’t have an issue expressing their opinions and frustrations, but some other cultures don’t express those same thoughts (at least in the workplace).

  6. I don’t think there is just one style of management that you should adopt as a manager. You have to know your group and act accordingly. I personally would prefer open door used with me. I do not like to be micro managed. I assume most people are like that, but that is where good judgment comes into play as a manager.

  7. I think both the open door policy and MBWA have their place as management styles but both of them rely on a closeness of physical location. At my office, many managers have and open door policy and since we have a fairly open floor plan and a smaller office it works well. Similarly, I can see how MBWA would be very effective assuming you have a relaxed and sociable personality. A manager who lacks social grace and attempts to use MWBA will have conversations that feel more like micromanagement than team building. I think in today’s world of spread out teams and digital communication both MBWA and the open door policy could find themselves changed to “easily contacted through email” or “always on Skype”.

  8. After being part of a work force where forceful managerial concepts was poorly used. After reading your post, the action taken that MBWA could provide would be beneficial to many businesses who aren’t widely corporate and are considered smaller businesses. I have worked at a handful of companies in the past where the “open door policy” did not exist and if it did, it was not enforced. Many managers who have a degree and have graduated tend to look down on those employees who are still in college or even may be in high school and not take their own personal opinions on improving the work environment in order to benefit the customers, or even any ethical issues that arrive at work are sometimes ignored. However, I do agree with Jacob that it cannot be taken to the extreme. A good balance would set many of the businesses in a good environment for employees and managers.

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