What is Obeya?

The word Obeya means “big room” in the Japanese language. It describes a central place where both leadership and operational teams can discuss openly and leverage visual management to ensure the organization delivers maximal value to customers while minimizing waste.

Obeya was first put into practice by Toyota in 1993 when the group launched the Prius. To address high market expectations while meeting tight deadlines, leading engineers had the idea of displaying all essential product and performance information in one area and gathering a team of cross-functional key experts and workers to determine the best approach for developing the new car.

Although Obeya was initially used to develop an industrial product as part of a program, you can use the method in a wide range of situations to support the leadership function of an organization. As stated by Tim Wiegel in Leading with Obeya, “it has the potential to align strategy, sharpen focus, share meaningful context and bring about learning and improvement skills for both leadership and operational teams.”

How to create an Obeya Room?

Tim Wiegel has designed a reference model in which he recommends breaking the visual framework into five areas.

1. Lead Successful Strategies

The Lead Successful Strategies area is the starting point of your Obeya. This area highlights the project's purpose (the why), the high-level strategy, and the strategic capabilities, i.e., the resources and competencies needed to achieve the objectives (Customer Satisfaction, Product Quality, Finance, Human Resources, Risk & Compliance, etc.). It is the North Star that influences decision-making and helps the team always focus on what matters the most.

Depending on your project context, you may also remind customer and/or stakeholder needs, and share an external analysis, for example, by using the PESTLE framework.

2. Deliver Value

As Tim Wiegel formulates it, “the delivery of value is about how we spend the time and resources available to us, to maximize value for customers and our organization.” It can include up to four-part:

3. Drive Performance

The Drive Performance area displays the key metrics that enable the team to measure success. They are generally directly related to the different strategic capabilities outlined in the Lead Successful Strategies area.

Tim Wiegel separates two types of metrics: outcome metrics, which directly measure the performance of the concerned strategic capability, and supporting metrics, which measure things that impact the outcome. For example, if the outcome metric is the total production costs, the supporting metrics may be raw material, labor, non-quality, etc.

4. Act & Respond

The Act & Respond area gives the team a dedicated place to centralize requests and decisions that contribute to improving the process. Each task is tracked and assigned to someone accountable for implementing it. The objective is to quickly lift impediments by involving adequate experts or managers when necessary.

5. Solve Problems

This area is dedicated to describing problems, assessing workload and expected outcomes, prioritizing problem-solving accordingly, and logging new learnings.

What is the impact of Obeya on the leadership system?

Obeya is not only about visualizing the work and performance of the team, but it is first and foremost about setting up a practical structure for leadership activities. People involved in the project must commit to a strict rhythm and routine, leaving more time and mind space to actually do the work, prepare meetings and collect facts and data needed for making quality decisions.

Since working with Obeya means more transparency on how the team works, more transparency on results, and more accountability, it may imply a profound change compared to your current way of working and cause some resistance at the beginning amongst stakeholders. That is why you can start small and keep improving the process progressively.