MBWA: Management by Watching the Actual

MBWA was briefly a fad when it was known as Management by Walking Around. Supposedly the visibility of management in the workplace as well as the attention by management improved communication and performance. These days we don’t hear so much about MBWA. It is another great example of chipping off on just one piece of an excellent management practice and watching it wither and die. Walking around is just the means of locomotion to practice leader standard work, which is just a way to reinforce accountability for visual management, which is just a way to make deviations from standards visible, which is just the first step to kaizen.

We must observe with purpose, says Jamie Flinchbaugh in his blog post. As Japanese words such as genchi genbutsu, gemba and the English “go see” enter the management lexicon thanks to the popularization of the Toyota Production System, the idea of MBWA may be making something of a comeback recently. Hopefully it will not be Management by Walking Around, Wandering Aimlessly or Wondering Aloud what they are supposed to be doing there on the floor. Jamie’s article pointed out the need for a framework when you observe, a reason for being there, a learning objective.

In order to follow the spirit of genchi genbutsu, MBWA must become Management by Watching the Actual. This is enables management by fact but different from it. While facts can come to you, the actual is what you observe with your own eyes. The actual does not come to you unless you are on the gemba. You must go to the actual. That is where the walking comes in. You don’t walk around, you walk a round. The difference is subtle but important. A doctor in a hospital walking around is just wasting time. A doctor walking her rounds, or making his rounds, is seeing patients, speaking with nurses and other physicians. In other words, they are caring.

Watch the actual. Observe with purpose. Care.


  1. FlintJeff

    October 23, 2009 - 5:48 pm

    As someone who lived through the Tom Peters’ MBWA era, I think the intepretation of MBWA here is incorrect. MBWA was described to me in the 1980s much like genchi genbutsu – as a method to find out what is truly happening for oneself in the workplace instead of relying on reports, numbers and other indirect observations

  2. John Santomer

    October 26, 2009 - 9:26 am

    Dear Jon,
    In the new world of Management – yes walking around aimlessly is “muda”. The difference lies within the purpose of walking around or the subtle difference of walking a “round”. Another important thing I think we should consider is how the individual treats the findings from walking the rounds. A number of managers tend to be reactive and misses the chance to be pro-active. Genchi genbutsu, on the other hand aims to collect all the necessary information from the actual location where kaizen opportunities can be found. These would either support or disprove the hypothesis attained from the 5 Whys thereby clearly outlining the Kaizen approach that can be set up as a procedure to address the current situation bringing it closer to the ideal situation sought after.

  3. Jon

    October 26, 2009 - 12:09 pm

    Hi FJ
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that MBWA based on how you explain it / how you had it explained to you would be very close to genchi genbutsu. The emphasis needs to be not on walking around but on observing with purpose. To many people who have become successful by “sitting around” and managing from board rooms “walking around” seems unproductive, wasteful or silly. Hopefully MBWA comes back into fashion in the way it was intended.

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