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Setting up an Obeya Room

The Lean technique of an Obeya room is much like other Lean strategies in that it encourages collaboration, interaction, and adding a human touch to the manufacturing process for a more efficient facility. Translated from Japanese, Obeya means “the big room,” but it has also been referred to as the war room, the command center, and the brain of the facility.  This room offers a physical, visual space to problem solve and generate ideas between leadership, management, planners, and other employees. Most people are visual learners, and Obeya is a heavily-visual project management tool.

If you’ve managed projects before, you’ve probably seen your fair share of uncompleted projects. An Obeya room aims to not only ensure projects are finished, but also get leadership involved in the process, which fosters communication between departments.

The best decisions are well-thought out decisions, and a crucial component of the Obeya is displaying the right kind of information. Now, this doesn’t mean you can just throw up anything project-related onto the walls and hope decisions are made. You will want to identify what will be worked on in the room; it could be anything from product development to planning an event. The goal here is to be specific.

Think of your Obeya room like the PDCA (plan, do, check, act) cycle; information, ideas, and plans should be arranged on the wall accordingly.

Plan – Relevant information: Choosing the relevant information to display is a crucial step. All too often projects lose momentum or fail because those working on it get stuck weeding insignificant or unrelated data. It’s important to focus on relevant information to keep the project flowing and reduce the risk of a failed project.

Do – Ideas and schedule: This is where you will generate ideas and designate actions. Ideas should be created as a collaborative effort and posted on the walls for everyone to see. A plan of action based off these ideas should be enacted and can be displayed on the wall in calendars, custom tables, schedules, etc.

Check – Data: While implementing the actions from the previous step, record data that is relevant to your goal, and be creative! Be sure to emphasize the visual aspect of an Obeya and display this information in charts, bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, and more. Displaying results can help managers and leaders identify trends while keeping departments on the same page.

Act-Evaluation: This step will be an evaluation of results, feedback, and an open conversation of self-evaluation. Identify the positive outcomes and be sure to implement the steps that led to them in future projects.

Having materials arranged in a logical flow like the PDCA cycle allows information to be readily available to everyone. In the case that a new leader or team member is added into the decision-making process part way through, they can easily dive right in.

If the Obeya concept and plastering the walls with information seems way out of our league, it’s not! Here are some tips that will guide you through your first room, and will get you on track to complete another project:
• Customize your white boards: White boards really are a blank slate so consider adding vinyl chart tape to create custom tables, calendars, charts, lists, and more.
• Color code: The best part of organizing! Consider assigning colors to certain tasks, types of waste, or anything you want to categorize.
• Utilize other tools of Lean: Go on frequent Gemba walks to track your progress, create spaghetti diagrams, and value-stream maps as visual tools to hang up in the Obeya.

Setting up an Obeya can fuel a new level of creativity, and the effects of having a well-organized and visually appealing space will shift your facility to a Lean facility quickly and effectively. An Obeya is the perfect space for fostering collaboration and efficient project management and problem-solving skills.

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