“Hey, when are you going to get to your office and do some real work?” jibed Mike, as he spotted me walking past his office.
It was one of those days. I must have walked by his door at least four times that morning and the day was still young. I looked his way, just a tad irritated by his tone. He had his trademark grin on his face.
“Shouldn’t you be sorting out the problem with the web module instead of tracking me?” I retorted, continuing down the corridor.
He said something in response that I didn’t quite catch.
Despite Mike’s grin, I suspect his question was at least partially serious. So it deserves more than a flippant response.
I do spend a great deal of time away from my desk. Why?
I’ve been practising MBWA or management by wandering (or walking) around. In a nutshell, this means wandering around the office and talking to people to get a feel for how things are going.
My wanderings incorporate regular, informal, face-to-face chats with team members, to get a first hand view of their concerns and problems. There are innumerable ad-hoc tasks vying for the attention of developers in a corporate environment (2nd/3rd level support issues, just to name one). Talking to individuals regularly let’s me know if there’s something I can do to help them focus on their work. This usually boils down to helping them with non-technical tasks. Some examples include: prioritization of work; doing some admin tasks on their behalf; helping them negotiate with unreasonable customers from the business; assisting with documentation etc.
Obviously MBWA needs to be done in a non-intrusive way – the last thing one wants to do is to make people feel like they’re being spied on or micromanaged.
The technique works well with customers (end-users from the business) too. Often, when someone sends me an email requesting assistance from my team, I’ll walk over to their office and have a chat instead of responding by email or phone. Face to face communication is almost always better than a disembodied voice via a telecom device or, even worse, words on a screen.
MBWA is a great way to communicate with your team and your customers. Apart from the immediate benefit of getting a first hand view of people’s problems and needs, it helps build relationships. Which, in the end, is a large part of what management is about.