Obeya means ‘big room’ in Japanese. If you translate it correctly from Japanese you write it with a double o, so ‘Oobeya’. The extra ‘o’ gives ‘grandeur’ to the room. So it is not an abbreviation and does not mean ‘war room’ or ‘control room’. Obeya Room is like saying ‘big room room’.

Toyota developed the Toyota Prius in the late 1990s with what they then called the Oobeya. A large space where all relevant information for the team that developed this successful hybrid car was visually visible so that different disciplines (engineers, marketing, finance, etc.) could make decisions simultaneously. The development of the Prius led to a revolutionary car that was not only twice more economical than conventional fuel cars, but was also developed twice as fast as the average lead time at that time.

Both Lean and Agile are based on the principles of customer value, respect for people and continuous improvement. Although Obeya has been known in the Lean world for some time (after all, the Toyota Production System has been the basis for what we now know as ‘Lean’), you can now also see the phenomenon appearing a lot in the Agile world.

You can, but it is important to realize that Obeya’s strength comes from interacting (the conversation) with the team. The visual information on the wall supports this because it is life-sized and offers a ‘flow’ of information from various information systems. You miss that life-size flow when you look at an Excel sheet on a screen, for example, and the interaction with the team online will never be as good as physically together. But sometimes you have no choice. Also read on our blog about tips for working with online or digital obeya.

It depends on how you look at it. The ‘Obeya method’ does not exist. You could say that it is a ‘tool’, but that is also too short. In fact, the Obeya is a collection of a number of techniques such as visual management and continuous improvement patterns that are visible on the wall and are practiced by the participants in the great room. The fact that this comes together very nicely in one room that we call Obeya does not mean that if we have set up the room, the team will automatically master visual management or master the improvement patterns. So to get real results from your Obeya you will need to do more than just furnish a room. In our opinion, this is more than a tool.

When you use Obeya to lead your organization, you can call it leading with Obeya. In the book of the same name, author Tim Wiegel has brought the two subjects of leadership and Obeya together into a practical way of working in an Obeya. The book deals with both the visual aspect in the room and what is expected of the thoughts and actions of the participants in the Obeya. Read more about this at leadingwithobeya.com

In the ‘Leadership with Obeya’ training we discuss the aspects of ‘Leadership’ with Obeya. You can find these aspects in the reference model on leadingwithobeya.com. In this training you will deal with the theory, but you will also practice on the basis of a practical case how you can organize an Obeya yourself. For example, we translate a purpose into strategic capabilities and create metrics and milestones on a planning wall.

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