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Stop, look, listen: Four steps to effective Management by Walking About (MBWA)

January 29, 2024 | Operational Excellence

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At a Glance

  • Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a technique whereby managers get out of the office to interact and communicate face-to-face with their employees, building strong relationships through informal conversations.
  • MBWA is a useful tool for supervisors and management to better understand processes, observe operational challenges, bottlenecks, or potential areas for improvement, but its success depends on the execution of these four steps: Plan, Execute, Review, and Act.
  • Several dimensions of MBWA play a critical role in achieving operational excellence, including leadership effectiveness and distinguishing superiors, as demonstrated in a cost-saving project completed by Renoir for a Southeast Asian polyethylene producer.

“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realise, they have one in the first place.”

– W. Edwards Deming

Management is the coordination of activities, operations and people in an organisation to achieve its objectives. The concept of management encompasses four primary functions: planning effective courses of action, designing organisations, leading and motivating people, and allocating resources appropriately. To carry out these functions effectively, a manager must understand the behaviour of people by using a particular practice or technique.   

Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a technique in which managers get out of the office to interact and communicate face-to-face with their employees. Using this technique, managers regularly and purposefully walk around the workplace to observe operations, communicate with employees, and keep their finger on the pulse of the organisation.  

The aim of MBWA is to encourage managers to focus on building closer human relationships through informal conversations, which is key to high performance and work development. The technique is similar to “Gemba Walks” where managers go down to the level where the action is, visiting sites to capture the ins and outs of everyday work by asking questions to develop an understanding of it.  

Benefits of MBWA 

MBWA is a useful tool for supervisors and management to understand what is happening on the ground and to assess performance in work areas. It is highly effective according to various journals.  

When managers make frequent visits to the company, it enables them to have face-to-face interaction with their subordinates. This interaction breaks down communication barriers, making the manager less intimidating and more of a person that subordinates can trust and share information with.  

The manager’s physical presence in the workplace enables him or her to better understand processes, observe operational challenges, bottlenecks, or potential areas for improvement. This information enables the manager to devise better solutions to the problem, including guidance and coaching to pass on best practice.  

Regular interaction through the MBWA approach makes employees feel valued and heard, leading to higher levels of engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction, ultimately improving productivity and retention. 

Four steps to effective MBWA

To maximise the benefits of MBWA and ensure it is used correctly, planning and regular engagement are essential. It should not be a case of aimlessly wandering around the workplace.

Three criteria that can determine the success of MBWA are having managers who listen, promoting company values, and being proactive in providing support and assistance. Here are four steps to get started with MBWA:

1. Plan

In the planning stage, identify the best times in your day to walk the floor. It is important to consider break times and planned key activities. Note the areas where value is created and where most of the work is done.

Prepare a checklist before the walk. The checklist should cover the following elements and provide insight into critical issues to identify problems early: flow, quality, stock, reliability/maintenance, the operator skills and training, environment, health and safety, tools and machinery.

2. Execute

It is time to execute what you have planned. Observe the processes and the quality of the output and service. Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of current working practices.

3. Review

In this stage, you compare current working practices with ideal practices. Review the findings and identify opportunities for improvement, particularly in processes, materials, and quality of output.

4. Act

The MBWA is only effective if feedback is given at the end of the exercise. Corrective actions should be discussed and agreed, and preventative measures should be put in place. Schedule a follow-up with those responsible for the actions for the next walkabout.

Much of the value of MBWA comes from engaging and communicating with employees. Avoid being critical when you identify undesirable behaviour, instead, use the time to coach people on the correct behaviour and schedule a follow-up for the next walkabout.

MBWA as a tool for operational excellence

A Southeast Asian polyethylene (PE) producer engaged Renoir to undertake a cost-saving project. This project targeted three key pillars of improvement: profit focus, operational excellence, and customer intimacy. A notable aspect of the implementation strategy was the intensification of proactive shop floor supervision through the Management of Walking About (MBWA) approach. Read more here to understand the impact of this approach on reducing unplanned downtime losses. 

Numerous studies have shown a clear link between MBWA and operational excellence. Several dimensions of MBWA play a critical role in achieving operational excellence, including leadership effectiveness and distinguishing superiors.   

The implementation of MBWA helps to spread the culture of operational excellence, primarily because of the human factor involved, as the presence of engaged people conveys a sense of care and concern for people and the organisation.  

Operational excellence requires dedication, hard work, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Innovate and reinvent the way you do things. Companies that succeed in achieving and maintaining operational excellence are those that have a long-term vision and a culture of continuous improvement embedded in their DNA.

Start your journey to operational excellence with Management by Walking Around.

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