Obeya to the rescue!

The treasure that is called Obeya

Is the following situation applicable to you? Every meeting, your to-do-list becomes longer and longer. And, although it seems impossible, every new item on that list seems more important than the previous ones. What to do? Obeya might come to your rescue! 

What is an ‘Obeya’?

This Japanese word stands for ‘big space’. Sometimes, it is compared to a ‘war room’. Yes, this is a room at a military headquarters. However, this term is used for a room at business headquarters as well. In this room, conferences are held and planning is made. The main aim of Obeya is to offer time and space to solve problems and consult without experiencing organisational thresholds. It must lead to an environment open to collaboration within the company. And if all goes well, Obeya results in faster and more effective solutions to existing problems. 

The key feature of Obeya is visual support, such as tables, graphs and other tools to visualize elements of your business. These tools assist to come to a decision during meetings, instead of using opinions and estimations of data. Obeya makes sure every piece of information is analysed, prioritized and because of this, decisions can be made about further actions to take. 

What is an Obeya definitely not?

An Obeya is a space, unhidden and accessible to everyone. It is important as well to make sure your Obeya is transparent. There are no secrecies. 

The daily meetings your Obeya helds are meant to learn from the past and focus on measures that should be taken because of possible missed opportunities in the past. What should be done to meet the organisational goals? Note that these must be able to find the room! Once again, keep in mind that the Obeya focuses on the future. One rule that always applies is: if you are missing information to take a decision, you are looking at a point of improvement. 

Presenting something to the management team, although they are present in the room, is not the aim of the Obeya. Because the team is in the room, one of the risks is that the entire room will focus on them. However, a dialogue between all participants must arise, not only between the management team and other employees.

iObeya (the digital Obeya)

If your company exists of more than one location, iObeya offers the ultimate solution; it is a digital, visualised management platform, which includes the same graphs, tables etc.

There is not one format for your Obeya. Make sure it fits your organisation. To give you some ideas, many organisation choose something like this:

  • Left side: business values, strategy and plans for the entire year. Think of Hoshin Kanri, X-matrix, OGSM or a map of changes. 
  • Middle: often, this is divided in two parts. 
    • Left: CPI’s (Critical Process Indicators) and the corresponding results, e.g. dashboard or Balanced Scorecard. Information about the processes is offered as well. It can be seen as a display of the current situation the business is in. 
    • Right: all improvement projects and their progress are placed here. These plans contain information about the processes. When they are finished, information about them can be found on the left side of the part in the middle. 
  • Right side: possible thresholds and action too small to fit the Kaizen event are put here.

Another option, is to place a flip-over in the room, hang a whiteboard or place a beamer. The choice is all yours. 

One look at the Obeya and it must be clear how your company is doing. Green, orange and red must indicate if there are any improvements, or if all is fine. Graphs, progress bars and drawings are easier to read than raw data. 

Advantages of Obeya:

  1. Less meetings are scheduled, because meetings to start your day, regular meetings or discussions take place at once. 
  2. Information about the current status of the company can be considered known by everybody. This is less time-consuming for managers, because they do not need to inform each and every employee individually.
  3. Everyone is able to see the bigger picture. This may lead to more understanding and willingness to improve. 
  4. If employees are able to gain insight in the company, they will feel more involved and responsible. 
  5. Collaboration leads to your employees feeling more involved. 
  6. Thanks to wisdom of the crowd, new ideas arise and actions are taken earlier on. 
  7. Communication will be more direct and faster. This will take less time.

But, how to start using Obeya?

As just stated, there is no strict format to use for an Obeya. Once you have found one that suits your company, hang everything regarding a long term vision. This will contain plans, projects and other information. Do not get scared: obviously, this will include many projects, all encouraging you to fulfill its needs first, because they will all have high priorities. This means the projects are actually equals; which will be done firstly?

Decide a maximum regarding the number of projects your company will deal with at the same time. The rest will be finished later on. 

When your first meeting takes place in the Obeya, it is not rare this might take up some time. Everyone has to get used to the way in which the meetings will go from now on. However, the role of the leader of the process is unmissable. He or she is responsible for:

  • keeping all numbers up-to-date
  • the progress of the projects
Do not hesitate to become more familiar with the term process.

Concluding, Obeya is the place where meetings take place, plans are made, results are discussed and agreements are made. All important things can be found in the Obeya. 

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