Management By Wandering Around - At A Startup

What’s your management style? Approachable, open-door policy, or book by appointment two weeks in advance via your Calendly app? How about the management-by-wandering-around style, or MBWA for short?

The Gemba walk

MBWA is nothing new or novel in Japan. Used frequently in factories, plants and hospitals and known as the Gemba walk, it is the practice of senior managers being visible on the frontline in an unstructured manner, to observe problems and seek out opportunities for a leaner working environment. Now the management method is commonly implemented in large corporations around the world and gained traction as a term after being explained by leading business consultant, speaker, and author, Tom Peters

The daily grind

The daily grind of the workplace can slow production and outputs. Waiting for answers, feedback, insufferably slow IT and aging equipment all affect morale. But when management is available and approachable, those answers and issues get sorted much quicker. 

By using MBWA you don’t need to pull people away from their desks. Just wander around and if nothing has changed, the answer to the "Hey, what's going on?" question will simply be "Nothing much, still working on X feature. It’s going okay." — and then you can move on to the next person. It wastes no time at all.

If a developer is stuck on something but they don’t want to ask because they don't want to disturb engineering managers with "silly" questions. By asking “What’s up”, managers can answer those questions without it sounding like it's an ask for help — but it still gets discussed and resolved, ideally on the spot.

The method also offers another platform to align people with the company's vision - there will always be some who don’t hear it or don’t understand it. Answers to the "What's up?" question can be as much feedback for the manager as it is to the employee.

Being visible, observing the business in action, being seen as ‘one of the team’, and being available to chat informally means the benefits to MBWA are huge to start-ups. A manager can more easily facilitate improvements to employee morale, and get a sense of the organizational purpose, productivity and quality management. Compare this approach to remaining in a specific office and waiting for employees or the delivery of status reports to arrive. There’s no doubt that a company can react quicker and be more agile by employing MBWA.

Of course, For many startups and SMEs, this "wandering around" is now all virtual. But even if you work with remote workers and freelancers, being available and simply asking ‘What's up?’ is key to get people unstuck and help them to be as efficient as they can be. And the question doesn't need to be "What's up?". For people who find  open questions too difficult or vague, another question that I’ve frequently seen working is "tell me one good thing, one bad thing"

React, move and change fast

One big advantage startups have over large corporations is agility. Without layers and layers of management, startups can easily engage with employees, gather information, and make decisions, then react, move and change fast. Use this to your advantage by managing by wandering around.

If you need another pair of eyes to make a change or evaluate the effectiveness of your management style, get in touch with @TechEye.