Obeya

Learning about Obeya concepts can be a difficult task. However, we have curated some Obeya resources for you to get started with this lean thinking concept.

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What is Obeya?

Obeya is a method of communication, cross-functional cooperation, and decision-making. An obeya process specifies the space, time, and visual organization of information. While the official definition for Obeya is “large room,” the “room” is often compared to a control center or even a brain. In Lean thinking, Obeya can encompass a physical space, a visual management tool, and a methodology designed to improve accountability, decision-making, and problem-solving.

The primary goal of Obeya is to build an internal culture where stakeholders at all levels can identify and understand all aspects of a project, then reflect on areas that need improvement.

This process establishes a sense of ownership among all workers and improves visibility into project statuses. This allows organizations to identify and fix problems as they emerge and stay focused on a singular vision.

As with other Lean fundamentals, Obeya can trace its roots back to the Toyota factory, and was rediscovered by researchers in the 1990s. Since then, the Obeya methodology has become a popular visual management system that can be implemented in just about any work environment, regardless of industry.

Below, we’ll explain how Obeya is so much more than a conference room—it's a powerful tool for getting stuff done.

What is an Obeya Room?

An Obeya room is a dedicated space for team-based work designed to remove the barriers that prevent the knowledge-sharing and collaboration that enables effective planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Done right, the Obeya room contains everything the team needs to complete a task efficiently and effectively. While every Obeya room is different, one of its defining features is a visual display that acts as the focal point for your team’s project.

Done right, Obeyas provide the following benefits:

  • Cross-departmental collaboration. Obeya is designed to create an environment that makes it easy for employees at all levels to work together in real-time. The benefit here is that, instead of relying on email chains and phone calls, teams can work through issues together and avoid the bottlenecks that come from approval chains and miscommunications.
  • Focused problem-solving. By bringing everyone together for real-time discussions, teams can stay focused on the right issues.
  • Fast decision-making. With helpful visuals and the right materials together in one place, team leaders can identify and implement a solution quickly.

Obeya Meaning

As mentioned above, the word Obeya is Japanese for "big room." However, in Lean, Obeya takes on a new meaning as both a room and a management tool designed to improve team communication, collaboration, and performance while carrying out large, complex projects.

Obeya Essentials Online Video Training

If you want to learn even more about Obeya concepts, you will want to take our Obeya Essentials training course. After taking the course, you will have an even better understanding of how implementing Obeya will benefit your projects and initiatives.

Obeya Project Management

Many experts consider Obeya to be a discovery tool, used for big-picture discussions and establishing cross-departmental alignment around the same goals. It’s also an effective tool for project management, as it helps employees stay laser-focused on the right goals and information while working on complex projects.

Obeya project management is especially useful for product development, as it enables employees to come together to discuss product design, address engineering concerns, track progress toward milestones, and stay focused on ensuring that every decision is made with the customer in mind.

How to Practice the Obeya Process

Obeya rooms are only as effective as the culture that supports them. It's hard to succeed with the Obeya method without mutual respect, open communication, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

With that in mind, you’ll want to ensure that your team is familiar with Lean fundamentals before you invest in a new space or implement a new meeting structure.

For those ready to embrace Obeya in the workplace, the rollout process should look something like this:

  • Establish a purpose. The first step in setting up an Obeya system is defining your purpose for it (general or project management). We recommend focusing on a few priorities instead of trying to do too much at a time. Otherwise, you’ll overload the agenda and end up wasting time and resources.
  • Select an Obeya room. Once you’ve determined what you’re using an Obeya for, then you’ll want to determine where to set it up. Most experts recommend choosing a centrally-located room where any employee can arrive within minutes. For remote teams, there are many online programs that allow you to create a virtual Obeya room—in which case, you’ll want to evaluate solutions that integrate with the project management tools, content, and applications you use each day.
  • Decide what to display. Visuals can include whatever you like—interactive screens, charts, graphs, Kanban boards, schedules, and any relevant data. You’ll want to avoid including too much information so that employees stay focused on the main objective. The goal here is to create a display that immediately communicates the current state of the situation.

Remember, Obeya is much more than a meeting room or collaboration space. Business leaders must create a safe space for making problems visible, and be prepared to have assumptions proven wrong by data. Ultimately, your goal is to create a blame-free environment where people learn from mistakes, explore solutions, and address the root cause of a problem head-on.

Learn how to successfully implement the Obeya process in your organization in Gemba Academy's Obeya online training course.

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