Management by Wandering Around

Once you have established who the key players are that will determine success, then you initiate contact and begin to build a relationship with those players.

Once you have established who the key players are that will determine success, then you initiate contact and begin to build a relationship with those players. Building this relationship requires a management style employees at Hewlett-Packard refer to as “management by wandering around” (MBWA) to reflect that managers spend the majority of their time outside their offices. Management by Wandering Around is somewhat of a misnomer in that there is a purpose/pattern behind the “wandering.”

What is Management by Wandering Around?

Through face-to-face interactions, project managers are able to stay in touch with what is really going on in the project and build cooperation essential to project success.

Effective project managers initiate contact with key players to keep abreast of developments anticipate potential problems, provide encouragement, and reinforce the objectives and vision of the project. They are able to intervene to resolve conflicts and prevent stalemates from occurring. In essence, they “manage” the project.

By staying in touch with various aspects of the project they become the focal point for information on the project. Participants turn to them to obtain the most current and comprehensive information about the project which reinforces their central role as project manager.

We have also observed less-effective project managers who eschew Management by Wandering Around (MBVA) and attempt to manage projects from their offices and computer terminals. Such managers proudly announce an open-door policy and encourage others to see them when a problem or an issue comes up. To them no news is good news. This allows their contacts to be determined by the relative aggressiveness of others.

Those who take the initiative and seek out the project manager get too high a proportion of the project manager’s attention. Those people less readily available (physically removed) or more passive get ignored. This behavior contributes to the adage, “Only the squeaky wheel gets greased,” which breeds resentment within the project team.

Effective project managers also find the time to regularly interact with more distal stakeholders. Using the Management by Wandering Around method, they keep in touch with suppliers, vendors, top management, and other functional managers.In doing so they maintain familiarity with different parties, sustain friendships, discover opportunities to do favors, and understand the motives and needs of others. They remind people of commitments and champion the cause of their project.

They also shape people’s expectations. Through frequent communication they alleviate people’s concerns about the project, dispel rumors, warn people of potential problems, and lay the groundwork for dealing with setbacks in a more effective manner.

Unless project managers take the initiative to build a network of supportive relationships they are likely to see a manager (or other stakeholder) only when there is bad news or when they need a favor (e.g., they don’t have the data they promised or the project has slipped behind schedule).

Without prior, frequent, easy give-and-take interactions around non-decisive issues. the encounter prompted by the problem is likely to provoke excess tension. The parties are likely to act defensively, interrupt each other, and lose sight of the common problem.


Experienced project managers recognize the need to build relationships before they need them. They initiate contact with the key stakeholders at times when there are no outstanding issues or problems and therefore no anxieties and suspicions. On these social occasions, they engage in small talk and responsive banter,

They respond to others’ requests for aid, provide supportive counsel, and exchange information. In doing so they establish credit in that relationship, which will allow them to deal with more serious problems down the road.

When one person views another as pleasant, credible, and helpful based on past contact, he or she is much more likely to be responsive to requests for help and less confrontational problems arise.

This is my view on Management by Wandering Around (MBVA). Do you employ these guidelines in your organization, or you have another management style?

Picture courtesy of Freepik.

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