Looking to improve? Try a little MBWA*

*Management By Wandering Around. Workers know that much of the plant manager’s workday is spent trying to correct the past and fix the future, but they appreciate managers taking time to see what’s happening now.


If there’s one constant in manufacturing, it’s the quest for continuous improvement. Even at a time when manufacturing is showing its strength as an economic force, no one is suggesting all the work is done. Manufacturers constantly look for all the small things that can take just a few cents or a few minutes out of the process.

To help us on that quest, there are dozens of different systems and strategies and processes and procedures designed to take us down the Yellow Brick Road to greater productivity. Whether you lean toward Lean or believe in the Toyota Way, or whether you like one of the various (Insert Name Here) manufacturing systems currently in vogue, everyone, it seems, has a solution.

One of the more famous of these was Management By Objectives, or MBO. It was popularized by management consultancy guru Peter Drucker in the 1950s, and it is built around the idea of giving employees a clear understanding of their jobs, and how those jobs fit in with the rest of the company structure.

If it doesn’t sound too complicated a concept, well, you’re just wrong, because everyone who has a concept like this also has a book to accompany it. I think there must be some sort of federal law that all management strategists must have a book or their strategy will not be taken seriously. After all, if there were no management books, the few bookstores still left in existence would have one fewer set of shelves and aisles.

A former editor of mine used another management system: MBWA, or Management By Wandering Around. It turns out MBWA has its own Wikipedia page and other Web references, although, as yet, there is no book on the topic.

Even so, it’s a management style that has its appeal for workers and managers alike. Catching manufacturing workers in the act of working can give a manager greater insight into what’s actually happening on the plant floor. It can provide workers with a one-on-one chance to show the manager a specific issue or showcase a specific way a worker is getting around a process bottleneck.

I don’t think MBWA replaces Lean or Six Sigma or any of the other management systems. As we’ve added to our digital factory and gained a greater insight into our equipment, we’ve also created a system where we can better analyze operational output and act decisively before issues arise. These are all huge steps forward that people like Drucker and Edward Deming couldn’t imagine 50 years ago. While their principles are in place in much of the technology we use today, the speed at which we identify issues and solve problems has made manufacturing better. And yet I think there’s still room for a slower, more deliberate analysis of our operations. It’s good to get out on the plant floor and see and listen and observe. I think workers know that much of the plant manager’s workday is spent trying to correct the past and fix the future, but they appreciate managers taking time to see what’s happening now.

There’s one often untapped opportunity for plant managers to expand on the benefits of MBWA. It’s called MBWAWNOIA: Management By Wandering Around When No One Is Around. Mib-Waw-Noia. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Even if the acronym never catches on, the concept is a good one. Find a quiet Sunday morning and just walk through your plant. Listen for the sounds of the escaping compressed air. Get up close to your machines. Put yourself in the place of your workers, even if just for a little while, to see how to see how the work cell is set up.

We’ve created a world of dashboards and sensors, or HMIs and apps, and they’re all designed to give us all the knowledge we could need about all the inanimate objects in our plant. MBWA is designed to bring us a little closer to the humans who act and react to all that data. A little human-human interface always is a good thing.

While we have come to depend on this rush of data—even trust this data—it shouldn’t be our only source of knowledge. A little MBWA, whether anyone is around or not, is a fine tool that should be in every manager’s arsenal.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me