W. Edwards Deming, credited with launching the Total Quality Management movement, wasn’t a fan of Management by Walking Around.
This is what Deming (2013) had to say about Management by Walking Around:
Management by walking around is hardly ever effective either. The reason is that someone in management, walking around, has little idea about what questions to ask, and usually does not pause long enough at any spot to get the right answer.
Deming’s view is entrenched in Lean management practice in the form of “Genchi Genbutsu”, literally “go and see” at the “real place”. Where practitioners of Management by Walking Around merely visit the workers for a chat, practitioners of Genchi Genbutsu stay with the workers to understanding what is going on.
Personally I favour Manage on the Ground. Getting the information first hand and providing a morale effect of having a leader nearby.
Deming, W. E. (2013). “The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father”. McGraw-Hill Professional.
True, and the details you provide are important. It wasn’t managers going to the gemba Deming was against. What mattered is the system. Some people did MBWA (even decades ago) in a useful way – with understanding. But most did not.
Gemba walks are much more likely to be useful (because the expectations are for a more engaged leader) but there are plenty of times those are not done well, and are no better than MBWA.
Jim Womack has a book out on Gemba Walks which provides good details to managers on what they should do (and what Deming wanted them to do).