Managing by exception - getting it right

Paul Boughton

Prabhjit Singh explores the concept of Managing By Exception. He explains how MBE can be used to improve project management effectiveness, but only when used in the right balance

President Obama famously said: "You'll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make." In a world filled with information overload, the technology we use constantly asks us to make decisions.

From serious decisions made by medical professionals using the latest battery powered medical equipment, to more trivial decisions, including the notifications on our smartphones, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear, questions surround us.

Decisions don't just affect us on an individual level. Information overload has quickly come to affect the world of business too. To combat this, many businesses are choosing to use management by exception (MBE), a concept rooted in Prince2, the management methodology that breaks down projects from start to finish, ensuring that costs, timescales, quality, scope, risk and benefits are analysed throughout.

Once a project is underway, MBE allows managers to focus on tasks that need their immediate attention, only coming back to projects if they deviate from the plan. Even if nothing is flagged, regular reviews make sure that the business is performing within expected measures.

As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specialising in smart batteries for medical, security and military applications, Accutronics is perfectly positioned to take advantage of management by exception. Like many innovative technology companies, we're a process driven business and our products have to meet stringent regulatory and customer expectations for use in often extreme environments.

Take our recent growth for example. As we've expanded our testing and design development facilities this year, my job as production manager has meant that I'm responsible for jump starting production on our new projects, most recently in the wearable and portable smart battery medical sector. Regardless of the sector you're in, new projects always have teething problems. Whether it's customising the production planning software for your new designs, training staff on new processes or simply new testing routines, new projects are always hands-on.

Managing by exception allows our engineers to give the same care and attention to existing projects that customers have come to expect, while allowing our management team to continue working with our business development and customer facing teams to develop the next generation of innovative smart batteries and chargers.

However, it's not all plain sailing. Managing by exception needs to be used with the right balance. Used incorrectly, MBE can lead to strategic drift, where companies lose focus of their business objectives. If not properly defined, MBE can also lead to large variances in budgeted and actual project costs.

The best way to ensure that MBE works for you is to outline your company's strategic business objectives, identify specific exceptions and levels of variance that would warrant managerial intervention and choose which managers need to be notified each time.

If used properly, managing by exception can become a truly powerful technique to achieve greater productivity and time management, both critical factors for process driven OEMs looking to become more innovative and responsive. And who knows, maybe if we used MBE in our own lives we wouldn't spend so much time worrying about what to wear every day.

Prabhjit Singh is production manager at professional battery manufacturer Accutronics.