Many project managers only use analytical methods such as budget/actual comparison, milestone trend analysis or Earned Value Management for project monitoring and control. With these methods, however, you do not capture the current status of the project. I will show you in this article how you get faster and more direct feedback on project progress and potential problems with “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA) as an additional project monitoring method.
Project Control Not Only with Analytical Methods
Project control includes planning/scheduling, monitoring and controlling of project activities. For project monitoring, most project managers only use analytical methods such as budget/actual comparison, milestone trend analysis or Earned Value Management. Analytical methods are based on reported data which are often delayed by serveral days or weeks and you cannot read “between the lines”. But there are other methods that are much closer to what is happening and can also point to future trends. Some of them I will explain to you in the next articles. As an addtional element of your control strategy, “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA) can provide you with fast and direct feedback on the project status and potential problems.
The term “Management By Wandering Around” was coined by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their 1982 book, In Search of Excellence. Essentially, it aims to ensure managers actively maintain and shape contact with value-adding activities within the company. In this respect, it is nothing new but merely picks up on the familiar anecdotes and stories of successful entrepreneurs, who can still be found regularly in the workshop, even as managers of large corporations.
Project Control On-Site—”Go and See”
Peters and Waterman were probably inspired by the Japanese “Genchi Genbutsu”, which means, “go and see”. This is a key principle of the Toyota Production System and says: If you really want to understand a situation, you have to go to the place where the work actually takes place.
“Control” means someone is interested in the performance of the employees, and someone is “watching”. Management By Wandering Around implements this in a positive way. As the supervisor, the project manager must remain in contact with their project team members. However, it should not be autocratic control; rather, it should be interest in the employees and their work. The periodic discussions between the project manager and the team member can provide mutually beneficial insights for the management of the project.
If you really want to understand a situation, you have to go to the place where the work actually takes place.
Don’t Hide Behind Gantt-Charts and Reports
In project management, MBWA is an important success factor, since proactive and target-oriented control is only possible through regular contact with operational project execution. A project managers who only hide behind Gantt-Charts and reports will endanger their project. The success of MBWA is based entirely on trust—without it, you are considered a spy.
Essential features of the Management By Wandering Around concept are:
- Visits to team members shall not be designed or perceived as controls; rather, but must be recognisable as a genuine interest in the person and activity.
- Openness towards questions and concerns is the most important leadership behavior. Listening is the most important leadership activity.
- Answers that cannot be given immediately, and problems that cannot be solved immediately, should be dealt with within 48 hours, or qualified feedback should be provided.
- Consider all departments/working groups/employees with equal intensity.
- Encourage your employees to show you how the work is actually going.
- Ask your employees what could go wrong at work, and what could hinder them (i.e., risks).
- Inform your employees personally about management decisions.
- Actively ask for improvement opportunities.
- Obtain the opinion of your team members about goals, products, processes, etc.
- Praise publicly; criticize in private.
- Build bridges in time to minimize resistance and conflicts.
Feel the Team Spirit with Management By Wandering Around
MBWA allows you to feel the team spirit, and, at the same time, let each team member feel you appreciate them as a person. Even with international projects, when your teams are dispersed around the world, it is important to visit these project team members personally from time to time. Video conferencing is definitely not enough.
With Management By Wandering Around, you, as a project manager, will receive important information you will never read in any project report or hear at any project meetings. When properly practiced, MBWA creates trust and openness.
Key Takeaway: Stay in touch with your project team members and feel the pulse of the team. Obtain information directly from the team members (e.g., problems, impediments, risks, worries, etc.). Let the team members feel you value their collaboration.
What are your experiences with Management By Wandering Around or other similar methods? Share your experiences and comment on this article!