Obeya Room Success

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Obeya means “big room” in Japanese. The idea is for the cross-functional project team to be able to fit and participate in discussions that move the project forward. Other names for it include “war room,” “control room,” “mission control,” and other similar terms. Which term fits your organization best?

An obeya room doesn’t have to be a whole room or even a physical space. As long as it’s a dedicated space, it could be an obeya room. For example, a section of hallway that can be taken over by a project or an online platform could serve as an obeya room. The main thing is to have all the necessary information shared in a specific spot that gives the team a place to collaborate and make quick decisions so the project can continue smoothly. This also accelerates the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle, because the key people and information are all gathered together.

Key features of an obeya:

  • Focus on the customer problem the project is trying to solve
  • Project plan details (who is doing what by when)
  • Potential obstacles
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Action plans and A3s for individual team members or functions
  • Anticipated changes as a result of the project

Obeya best practices

It’s not enough to dedicate a big room to a specific project and fill it with all the necessary information. That alone would have haphazard success at best. Some people would use it and others wouldn’t. Some would collaborate there, while others would simply check the information they felt was most important to their own tasks. These differences in usage would render the obeya intermittently successful or unsuccessful. At the very least, it wouldn’t live up to its potential and the people involved wouldn’t understand the point of putting it together.

The ideal outcome would be that the obeya would become the central hub for project activity. Team members would find themselves learning from each other, hashing out differences, and making unexpected connections between ideas. They’d see why pulling together all the information and increasing transparency has made the project more successful than it ever could have been without the obeya. Let’s look at some ways you can improve the obeya’s, and your team’s, chances of truly succeeding.

  • Value vulnerability: Build a project culture that values openness and vulnerability rather than blame and hiding behind numbers. This is similar to brainstorming. In order for people to feel comfortable reporting undesirable results, concerns, or actual problems they can’t solve alone, they need to believe they are allowed to and will be supported in making improvements or finding solutions. It doesn’t take much to ensure someone won’t speak up again and others who observe a punishment or public shaming could learn the same lesson.
  • Set up a regular A3 review process: A3s do more than keep the individual on track and report on their performance. They are also meant to be communication tools. Think of all the information they include and how it could improve collaboration and teamwork during the project. Some A3s even include information about key partners to ensure success. If they aren’t currently structured in a way that facilitates collaboration, consider some revisions. This may also result in your team members finding more value in their own A3s.
  • Milestones: Include and accentuate key milestones to ensure everyone is aware and understands why they are important. This can also increase each team member’s understanding of how their own work fits with the larger project. Some teams celebrate larger milestones as a way to improve teamwork and team member engagement. Think about how this type of recognition could fit with the overall organizational culture and your specific project team. Take into account existing traditions and team member feedback on what would motivate and drive the behaviors your project will need to succeed.
  • Teambuilding: Take the time to build connections between team members and practices that will aid in idea generation, conflict resolution, and prioritization. This can build bridges between people who aren’t used to working together, dispel myths about certain people or functions, open up the lines of communication, and set clear expectations up front, which helps in any situation. When people feel valued first, see how they benefit each other, and understand what is expected of them and the team, they are much more likely to cooperate and behave in ways that will help the team succeed.

As you look to build or improve your obeya, think about what you could take from this article, get insights from people who have used an obeya, and talk with your team about what they’d like to see in the obeya. Keep in mind that some may have previous experience with obeyas that you may not already know about. It’s always worth asking. You never know who is going to spark the next invaluable idea.

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