Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Managing By Moving About

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In their book A Passion for Excellence, Tom Peters and Nancy Austin suggest that “the number one productivity problem in America is, quite simply, managers who are out of touch with their people.” Moreover, Peters and Austin claim that the best way for management to be in touch with people is to actually see them face to face. Accordingly, it is crucial for managers to leave the confines of their office and visit with team members at their work place.1

Moving about enables the project manager not only to accomplish the guidelines highlighted in the previous two blogs—that is, to disseminate information and to respond and act with agility—but also to effectively control the progress of their projects. Indeed, when managers believe they can control performance by repeated measurements and detailed progress reports without actual contact achieved by moving about, they fail again and again to meet the projects' objectives. 

As Jerry Madden, a project manager at NASA, explains in the following story, real control comes from mobility:

“A highly regarded vendor had large manufacturing contracts with NASA. Its manufacturing reports listed the items that had been delivered to us. After going through one lengthy report, I went down to the integration floor expecting to see an assembled spacecraft. I found that many assemblies that had been listed were missing.”

Jerry immediately called the vendor to report the errors and was told that they had two sets of paperwork: manufacturing reports for delivered items and integration returns for those items that were sent back for repairs or corrections. Once the item had been shipped back from repairs, the vendor closed out the manufacturing report.

As Jerry realized, “It just goes to show that you can’t rely on the official sources. If a project manager wants effective control, he/she has to always be on the move and ask questions. Indeed, ‘things are seldom what they seem.’”2

From a management-control point of view, the fundamental question is how can such a practice go unnoticed for such a long time that it becomes routine and the entire team accepts it naturally. Yet, one can’t ignore the vast body of empirical research on the frequency and magnitude of information-filtering and distortion within organizations.3

Managers who maintain a stationary position may be forced to make complex judgments with incomplete or misleading information. The “old school” approach to planning and control, which emphasizes remote control as a way of facilitating adherence to the plan, is much like using a thermostat to maintain a predetermined temperature. But in today’s dynamic environment, a more suitable metaphor for project control would be coaching. A coach needs to see the game in order to guide the team, and would hardly be effective if forced to coach from the locker room while receiving statistics via a monitor. In fact, remote control rarely offers real control.


1.      Peters, T.J. and Austin, N. A Passion for Excellence. The Leadership Difference. 1985, New York: Random House: p. 8-9.

2.      Laufer, A. and Hoffman, E.J. Project Management Success Stories: Lessons of Project Leaders. 2000, New York: John Wiley & Sons: p. 86-8.

3.      Bardnt, S.E. Upward communication filtering in the project management environment. Project Management Quarterly 1981; 12(1): p. 39-43.

1 comment:

  1. Beverly ScheuersJuly 25, 2017 at 1:33 PM

    Coaching a game from the locker room is a very good comparison.