What Is Management By Wandering Around? Management By Wandering Around In A Nutshell

Management by wandering around describes a style of business management where superiors wander about the workplace at random to check on employees and the status of ongoing work. Management by wandering around (MBWA) emphasizes the word wandering to describe the way managers move around the workplace in an unplanned or unpredictable fashion. This approach is in stark contrast to more structured management approaches, where managers visit employees at systematic, scheduled, or pre-approved times.

Understanding management by wandering around 

Though the approach is frequently used by political or military leaders, Hewlett-Packard was the first company to implement MBWA as a formal management technique.

In his 1995 book The HP Way, co-founder David Packard attributed the success of Hewlett-Packard to a culture where employees felt comfortable raising concerns to managers who listened attentively. 

This culture is fundamental to management by wandering around because it promotes collaborative, two-way communication and problem-solving.

In this way, MBWA is quite similar to the Gemba walks of the Toyota Production System – where managers visit work locations, observe processes, and liaise with employees to solve problems.

Whatever the moniker given, however, the strategy enables leaders to closely engage with their subordinates and model acceptable standards of behavior.

For employees, the MBWA approach helps them view their superiors as real people and not distant authority figures.

Key characteristics of management by wandering around

There are three key characteristics of the MBDA approach:


Like any action, management by wandering around is only effective if it is sincere.

Managers will not be able to foster relationships if their visit to a worksite is forced, hurried, or half-hearted.

The same can be said for managers who travel with an entourage, which only seeks to alienate or intimidate workers.

Employees who have become accustomed to mistreatment from management are highly adept at recognizing insincerity.


As we noted earlier, engagement of the employees is also key.

While small talk serves a purpose, the manager must use their time wisely by actively observing their workers in action and asking important follow-up questions.

They must also actively listen to employee concerns and express appreciation for the meaningful contributions they make to the company.


This means the manager makes an effort to communicate with all employees, regardless of department or whether they report to a different superior.

Inclusiveness is also linked with consistency.

For example, a regional manufacturing manager should make the effort to visit every factory under their jurisdiction and not just those that are nearby.

Strengths of management by wandering around


Through fear or a general belief their concerns won’t be addressed, most employees are reluctant to speak to management directly.

However, the MBWA approach creates leaders who are open, honest, and approachable.

Increased cohesiveness

Over time, two-way communication can be infectious and encourage people to work cohesively as a team.

This has significant positive implications for problem detection or avoidance and company culture.

Holistic knowledge

Hierarchical managers are often disconnected from the very people and processes that power the company.

Managers who regularly liaise with frontline workers improve their own working knowledge and understanding of the business.

Weaknesses of management by wandering around

Geographical constraints

Managers tasked with overseeing large geographic areas may find the logistics of working with frontline employees difficult.

Time and financial constraints may also exacerbate this issue and lead to the manager neglecting other facets of their role.

Lack of insight

Some believe employees expecting a visit from management will not provide an accurate representation of reality.

While management by wandering around does facilitate meaningful conversations, the reality is many employees will refrain from providing honest feedback if it may be construed as criticizing the boss.

Reliance on subordinates

While low-level employees are the most qualified to comment on daily operations, the MBWA approach can cause some businesses to place too much importance on their input.

In the process, equally valuable customer or other stakeholder input is not taken into account.

Key takeaways

  • Management by wandering around is a business management approach where superiors wander about the workplace at random to check on employees and the status of ongoing work
  • Management by wandering around is underpinned by three key characteristics: authenticity, engagement, and inclusiveness.
  • Management by wandering around increases team cohesiveness, company culture, and broadens manager knowledge. However, its effectiveness may be limited by geographical constraints and an overreliance on the opinion of low-level employees.

Connected Business Concepts

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The Amazon Working Backwards Method is a product development methodology that advocates building a product based on customer needs. The Amazon Working Backwards Method gained traction after notable Amazon employee Ian McAllister shared the company’s product development approach on Quora. McAllister noted that the method seeks “to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.”

Amazon Flywheel

The Amazon Flywheel or Amazon Virtuous Cycle is a strategy that leverages on customer experience to drive traffic to the platform and third-party sellers. That improves the selections of goods, and Amazon further improves its cost structure so it can decrease prices which spins the flywheel.

Amazon Business Model

Amazon has a diversified business model. In 2021 Amazon posted over $469 billion in revenues and over $33 billion in net profits. Online stores contributed to over 47% of Amazon revenues, Third-party Seller Services,  Amazon AWS, Subscription Services, Advertising revenues and Physical Stores.

Jeff Bezos Day One

In the letter to shareholders in 2016, Jeff Bezos addressed a topic he had been thinking about quite profoundly in the last decades as he led Amazon: Day 1. As Jeff Bezos put it “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

Amazon Cash Conversion Cycle

The cash conversion cycle (CCC) is a metric that shows how long it takes for an organization to convert its resources into cash. In short, this metric shows how many days it takes to sell an item, get paid, and pay suppliers. When the CCC is negative, it means a company is generating short-term liquidity.

Amazon Mission Statement

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Amazon’s mission statement is to “serve consumers through online and physical stores and focus on selection, price, and convenience.” Amazon’s vision statement is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” 

Amazon AWS

Amazon AWS follows a platform business model, that gains traction by tapping into network effects. Born as an infrastructure built on top of Amazon’s infrastructure, AWS has become a company offering cloud services to thousands of clients from the enterprise level, to startups. And its marketplace enables companies to connect to other service providers to build integrated solutions for their organizations.

Amazon Organizational Culture

Amazon’s organizational culture is characterized by four key ingredients: pride in operational excellence, an obsession with customers, long-term thinking, and an eagerness to invent.

Amazon Organizational Structure

The Amazon organizational structure is predominantly hierarchical with elements of function-based structure and geographic divisions. While Amazon started as a lean, flat organization in its early years, it transitioned into a hierarchical organization with its jobs and functions clearly defined as it scaled.

Customer Obsession

Customer obsession goes beyond quantitative and qualitative data about customers, and it moves around customers’ feedback to gather valuable insights. Those insights start by the entrepreneur’s wandering process, driven by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and a builder mindset. The product discovery moves around a building, reworking, experimenting, and iterating loop.

Virtuous Cycle

The virtuous cycle is a positive loop or a set of positive loops that trigger a non-linear growth. Indeed, in the context of digital platforms, virtuous cycles – also defined as flywheel models – help companies capture more market shares by accelerating growth. The classic example is Amazon’s lower prices driving more consumers, driving more sellers, thus improving variety and convenience, thus accelerating growth.

Growth Hacking

The growth hacking canvas is a tool and framework to have a set of processes that allow you to ask the right questions to generate growth ideas, consistently. 

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