An Obeya (大部屋 – “large room” in Japanese) is a room where a team regularly meets following a standard agenda with all relevant information adequately displayed on the walls.
In our company (a global tech leader, editor’s note), we have deployed this methodology across various manufacturing sites to boost the teamwork between various organizations on Quality improvement projects and to increase the visibility on these activities toward the management. The use of digital collaborative tools for visual management allowed us not only to extend the teamwork across various locations (for example enabling strong team building between the remote manufacturing and the R&D teams) but also to guarantee the continuity of this process during the COVID-19 lock-down.
As a result, the Obeya not only contributed to the recovery of our Quality main indicators but it also drove our operations toward more preventive activities, leading the way to sustainable Quality performances.
I would like to share 3 important lessons that I’ve learned from this experience.
1. The process must be designed based on the problem which must be solved
For the Quality improvement projects, we identified teamwork and transparency as the main levers to work on to ensure that they delivered the expected level of results on the field. We’ve designed the new process accordingly, having not only the Obeya as a standard methodology to collaborate but introducing as well an “Obeya of the Obeya” to gather all the key information from all the Obeya at a higher level, in order to make sure that the management was able to properly challenge and support these activities. This methodology also enabled the systematic cross-fertilization of solutions among the manufacturing plants.
2. Careful observation of the process real application on the field and unbiased assessment of what is not working is key
The behavior of the management and the main stakeholders is probably the most important success factor for this Obeya process. The lack of appropriate local leaders, for example can really ruin the effort put into the process, discrediting the methodology and jeopardizing the change that you want to implement. Therefore, rather than trying to minimize the issue, it has to be acknowledged as soon as possible and solved or mitigated with the appropriate level of management.
3. Management must be involved early
Getting the buy-in of the key manager on the approach was necessary to start-up the process and trigger the mindset shift in terms of teamwork and transparency that we wanted. Once the process was established, visiting the Obeya was an unique opportunity for the management to have a direct observation of the problems and the behavior of the teams (Gemba walk) leading to a virtual circle of more sponsorship from the top and more engagement of the operational teams.
My conclusion from this experience is that the Obeya is really a fantastic tool which can really bring significant transformation on the way people work together at literally no cost. However, it is not a plug-and-play approach and its application has to be carefully planned taking into account the characteristics of your organization and your challenges.