What is Management by Walking Around?

Otherwise called Genchi Genbutsu is a feature of the Toyota Production System. After all, if we are going to pick the metaphor of assembly line/manufacturing to even knowledge centric delivery processes, better learn from the best right. Management by Walking Around (MBWA) has been around for a while, in fact one of the best examples I have heard was from Ramesh Dorairaj (VP AMS MindTree), who cited from his NTPC days of having a manager who practiced MBWA. This manager takes place of a sub ordinate who is on leave to do all the tasks, handle situations, have lunch with the sub ordinate’s group and pretty much go through the entire day on his absent sub-ordinates schedule. These are in effect rituals that every employee goes through and managers tend to forget as they do only management (whatever that means) not real work, to be in touch with those rituals is an intimate way to understand what is “work”.

In IT industry it has become even simpler, to do MBWA all you need to do is set a rule that will forward emails (in effect tasks/decision items that others create for you) to your willing boss when you are out of office. This is a great way to build integrity, trust and relationships within teams that will be scales higher than your last team building activity that typically involves jumping into high chlorine waters, or throwing paint at each other or some such nonsense.

So in effect "increasing the chance that actual issues and unplanned events will be observed first hand and are managed immediately". These points are points of knowledge creation that managers take for granted, and proceed to act as if they do not matter. This sense making is not through an MIS report or from a status reporting presentation, but from issues, constraints, problems as it happens real time. Bonus in this strategy is there will be no back log to process when you return from your vacation. You return the favor for your boss on his vacation. And you also get to do tasks of the next level and build your own capability to handle it.

I know we as humans are great at excusing ourselves (from even the radical sounding ideas such as this one), but I still feel there is genuine productivity gain from plain transparency in work places. Think about it…


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