Improve Your Business by Just Walking Around

Posted by Craig Thornton

It’s time to talk once again about an important severely underused quality tool.  This tool should be in every QHSE Manager’s toolbox. However, when I visit businesses and see QHSE Manager’s rushing around chasing their tails, making sure their systems remain compliant, this tool is the last thing on their minds.

This tool is called Management By Walking Around (MBWA).

The practice has been around for years. It is thought to derive from Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s.  But some trace it back to Abraham Lincoln who would informally inspect the Union Army troops in the American Civil War.

Working people at  production line in modern factory

What is MBWA?

It is defined by the Business Directory as an “Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. Also called management by wandering around.”


How Do You Do MBWA?

So let’s unpack that definition.  Because the definition tells you what to do.

It is unstructured. You should visit your sites at different times.

It is hands-on. You should get your hands dirty and do the work with your workers.

Spend time at the work site. Don’t rush around the site.  Take your time and speak to the workers about what they do. Visit often.

Listen.  This is a very important skill. Ask questions of the workers. Don’t criticise. Don’t have an opinion. Just listen to the answers and process the answers over a period of time.  Don’t jump to solutions. Just listen.

Collect Qualitative Information. Your approach is always to find out what the culture of the business. Most QHSE Managers are fixated on quantitative measures. It’s the qualitative information that will give you a measure of your culture.

Finger on the Pulse. Understand the workers. Understand their motivations.  Ask them what gets them out of bed in the morning?


Start Doing MBWA Tomorrow

So there you have it. Easy isn’t it? 

Why not start tomorrow and visit your worksite and understand your culture?  Getting a real understanding about what is happening at the worksite will give you fantastic insights in how to make improvements to the business.

Now that is what every QHSE Manager should be doing.  Stop doing compliance and start improving the business.



  1. Just visit your worksites and ask questions.
  2. You must listen and understand the culture.
  3. Visit often.
  4. Seek the truth about what is happening.
  5. Build on the truth and make improvements.


Note: I have talked about this before using the Japanese term “Going to the Gemba”. Have a read of that blog to give you more ideas about MBWA.

Tags: Quality Management, gemba