One of the areas where I find there is a lot of growth and a high demand for leadership tools like Obeya is organizations that seek to work in an Agile way. There’s no doubt Lean and Agile are related and Obeya originates from the foundation of Lean, the Toyota Production System. Hence, there is sense in examining the relationship between Agile and Obeya.
One of the areas where I find there is a lot of growth and a high demand for leadership tools like Obeya is organizations that seek to work in an Agile way. The Agile Manifesto defines Agile as the four values and twelve principles (http://agilemanifesto.org/). They came about by the need to find and define the underlaying elements and goals of software development methods in the end of the 90’s, like Scrum, XP and RAD. Many of which apply find their roots and apply Lean thinking to software development (https://www.scruminc.com/is-it-scrum-or-lean/). There’s no doubt Lean and Agile are related and Obeya originates from the foundation of Lean, the Toyota Production System. Hence, there is sense in examining the relationship between Agile and Obeya.
The definition of Agile in the form of principles and values is stated in a fairly generic but useful way and as such is not limited to the application in software development, but also has value when applied in other branches like financial services, marketing services, etc. Replacing the word ‘software’ in the values with ‘system’ or ‘product/service’ still makes a lot of sense when reading it. Particularly because a lot of the values and principles are not necessarily focused on the product but rather the organization, people and way of thinking around it.
Obeya – if used well – helps align strategy, brings focus, helps sharing context and brings about learning and improvement for both leadership and front-line teams. The clue is to cater for (the limitation of) our cognitive senses and introduce a way of working that forms new and desired behaviours through repetition and practice (kata).
When working with or transforming into a way of working in which we apply Agile, we should expect leaders will apply the same principles themselves. That means a little more than merely pushing the use of those principles onto their teams (as still happens every day unfortunately). We can see if leaders are able to truly transform themselves and not only their teams by looking at the visualizations and interactions in the Obeya. After all, these display the effect of their actual thinking and behavior.
Here are a few examples of how one might apply the Agile values in the Obeya, and should provide with a few clues to look for the next time you walk into your Obeya.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
The interaction and the discussion between team members is most important in Obeya. Introduction of digital solutions or information systems on screens reduces the quality of human to human interaction, often without / the participants realizing it. People simply spend more time looking and interacting with the screen than with eachother. That’s not to say you should never use any digital tools by the way, just be very mindful of how you use them and how it affects the participants.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
The team must focus on what is valuable for the customer and learn how to visualize it to support its delivery. The Prius team had the actual prototype right there in their area. Avoid looking at administrative project portfolio systems with metrics and milestones of which no one is really sure what their value is, or even whether they will actually be delivered. Focus also means avoiding huge numbers of reports on walls that consist of information that isn’t actually used in the routine nor leads to meaningful actions or decisions.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Alignment with strategy and real-life customer needs is more important than sticking to KPI’s and service levels on the wall that are not having a positive impact on the first. Avoid the green ‘watermelon’ reports where the contractual definitions show a green outside, but the customer is in agony because of the poor service experience. That’s probably a good time to start talking and working with your customer on how you can truly and honestly talk about quality of your services, rather than contract penalties.
Responding to change over following a plan
Agreeing on ambitions is great, but avoid detailed plans on the wall that take a lot of time to update (re-plan) and maintain. Focus on flow and predictability of the system and facilitate the teams that must produce the actual value. Look at what’s right in front of you and enable a system of learning and adaption for improvement. A few Agile methods have some great examples of just how to organise and plan your backlog or portfolio, why not apply them in your Obeya?
These are just some quick examples and I’m sure there are many more you can come up with. The goal here: challenge teams to live up to their commitment and push beyond using Obeya as a traditional reporting tool towards a space where they see, learn and start acting towards their committed challenges on personal, team and business aspects.