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?