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Management By Wandering Around (MBWA) is a successful technique used by Hewlett Packard (HP) since 1973 and was popularised by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in the early 1980’s. Generally, MBWA is a form of soft skill approach where managers are encouraged to leave his comfort zone, in this case the office, and spend substantial amount of time to understand and keep direct touch with the activities of projects through various form of inputs from team members.
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In project based environment, MBWA serves as an complimentary technique for managing project team as it involves numerous PMOBOK tools and techniques such as Observation and Conversation, Project Performance Appraisal, Conflict Management, Interpersonal Skills, Recognition and Rewards. It gives project manager a holistic approach in managing project teams through frequent communication with team members.
The practice of MBWA expects managers to be physically visible and accessible to team members, in such a way that it removes the perception of isolation, rigid and distant communication. Communication is the key to success of MBWA technique in managing projects. Managers are to have regular interaction with project team members, employees and even stakeholders in order to keep abreast of their work, interest, expectations and problems. The level of interaction should be informal and unstructured meeting whereby managers and team members can freely discuss any issues related to their work or even personal lives. In such situation, team members are more likely to discuss problems that will never be raised during a formal environment.
4. The Steps needed to Create the technique.
There are numerous methods and ways to implement MBWA, especially in project based environment. Firstly, MBWA technique must be encouraged and not forced upon managers. Managers must show genuine effort in promoting such management style to the team members. Be sincere when listening and show earnest interest in their work and their personal life are the core practices of MBWA. Once the familiarity and trust of both managers and team members are formed, managers can easily obtain firsthand knowledge of the activities within the project team. Noel W. Hinners (2009) stressed that “the success of MBWA is based wholly on trust, without which you are in reality a spy”.
According to Harry K. Jones (Self Growth, 2009), one of the ten approach of MBWA is to remain open and responsive to questions and concerns. In this case, managers must be ready to receive both positive and negative comments on various issues related to project tasks and response with constructive suggestion. If immediate response is not possible, managers should follow up and return with a solution within reasonable amount of time.
MBWA promotes spontaneous and unplanned visits. These visits should be relaxing and casual in nature so that team members reciprocate with similar manner. When approaching a member of the project team, the manager is encouraged to be open-minded and to have a conversation which strikes up a balance between work and employee’s personal life. Take time to understand both employees’ current work and show interest in what’s going on in their personal life. On most occasions, productivity of employees in company has a lot to do with their personal life and the problems that they are facing at work.
5. How to use the Technique:
MBWA technique is simply an alternative form of managing project teams through direct communication with project team members. Managers are encouraged to use this technique as a supplement to existing PMBOK tools and techniques. The followings will describe how to put MBWA technique into motion.
i. Getting in touch with every project team member
MBWA is only effective if project manager establishes strong communication and trust with project team members. Once this is established, project manager will have first-hand knowledge on potential problems, obstacles, internal & external complaints which are not raised during formal meetings.
ii. Perform MBWA as often as possible
MBWA should be a continuous form of project team management practice. Once this technique is accustomed among project team members, it will be a valuable platform for both team members and project manager to share and discuss various issues via an informal manner.
iii. Don’t circumvent subordinate managers
MBWA approach does not mean that project manager is taking over Functional Managers’ duties. MBWA is also not a platform for employees to complain over their immediate superiors. Issues raised by team members should be first tackled by immediate superiors while Project Manager will keep a bird’s eye view on the matter.
iv. Watch, Listen and Response
MBWA technique requires Project Manager to have full attention on the activities within the project department. Manager is to analyse team members’ reaction through a series of informal question and answer session. Listen and decipher team members’ views, suggestion and complaints before giving response.
v. Share Project Objectives and Goals
MBWA technique is a good platform to re-instil project objectives and goals among project team members. It is important that all level of project team members fully understand and synchronise with Project Manager’s target.
vi. Acknowledgement of Team Member’s Contribution
When making rounds, it is always recommended that manager acknowledges team members who do things the right way and give adequate compliments to their contribution. This method will make team members feel that there is a level of importance to their work.
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6. A worked Example:
Managers can keep track of each encounter when conducting MBWA technique with a simple register tabulation as shown below. The key input here is to take note of issues raised by employees. Other information such as personal interest or passion and personalities can be a tremendous value to evaluate and understand team members’ working styles and level of productivity.
7. Other Comments and Information:
Advantages or Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)
The advantage of MBWA technique is obvious. Through frequent communication via MBWA, managers can mitigate employees’ worries, dismiss rumours, anticipate potential problem and provide first hand solution to problems in a more effective manner (Larson and Gray, 2011, pg. 349). It helps to solve problem quicker and most importantly avoid stagnant project as a result of lengthy procedures when escalating issues. Managers who have established strong and creditable relationship with their subordinates are more likely to resolve major issue as a team while avoiding unnecessary tension and finger pointing. It creates synergy within employees and harmony working environment. Thus, in return, employees are usually more willing to response to help and participate in give-and-take interaction.
MBWA is a great tool to discover talented individuals within a project team or in an organisation. When managers are making rounds and striking up conversation, they will discover people with hidden qualities such as leadership and negotiation skills. To maximise business or project output, managers can use this technique to job match, boosting employees’ morale at the same time.
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