How To Design an Obeya For Lean Performance Management

Wed Jun 14 2017
By: Mike P

Obeya’s have taken over the manufacturing landscape over the course of the past few years. This spin on the traditional war room emphasizes the importance of breaking down communication barriers that typically arise from a disconnect between workforce and upper-management. Derived from the Japanese term for “big room,” an Obeya is a dedicated space that uses visual communication tools to provide teams with a dedicated space to address problem-solving issues and present a big picture look and the status of an entire facility. Originally designed as an isolated space away from the production, manufacturers have increasingly begun implementing the concept onto the shop floor. For manufacturers that have done their homework, an Obeya is a powerful resource the gels seamlessly with process improvement, but manufacturers that believe an Obeya is just a set of walls and some whiteboards will be sadly mistaken; there’s more to an Obeya than just creating a room. Luckily, if you don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find a list of some essential practices that manufacturers should be sure to follow when designing an Obeya for their factory. covered. Below you’ll find a list of some essential practices that manufacturers should be sure to follow when designing an Obeya for their factory.

Determine Your Intention
Before building an Obyea of your own, the first thing any manufacturer has to be able to identify is the purpose of the room itself. In a general sense, the purpose of an Obeya will always be to enhance communication, but manufacturers have to get into specifics of the problem itself. Whiteboards and charts can only get you so far without context and intent. Is your Obeya going to be used for problem solving on a specific process in your supply-chain, or used as a centralized hub for shipping and receiving? Ideally, you want to be able to walk into an Obeya and instantly understand what is being tracked and measured.

Keep It Close To Home
An Obeya should be as close as possible to the project or process that is of focus. It’s all a part of adding a sense of relevancy to your workspace. The last thin you want to do is to confuse your team and lose focus on the project at hand—after all, the entire point of an Obeya is to maintain and improve focus.

Think About Utility
People—myself included—often refer to an Obeya as a room, but in actuality, an Obeya can take the shape of any location. Rather than focus on the shape or location of an Obeya, adopters should be more concerned with making sure the environment can facilitate the entirety of your team. The focus of building an Obeya should be on three things: tools, people, and space. Without the proper visuals, your Obeya will be unable to reflect the focus of your project—not to mention your team will be left entirely in the dark. You want to be sure to incorporate tools that encourage communication, track changes as they happen, and highlight areas of improvement when possible. Above everything else that goes into designing an Obeya, consideration should primarily focus on how the room will fulfill its intended purpose. No one Obeya is the same; when it comes to creating an Obeya for your factory, it’s important to keep in mind that design and utility will vary based on your team needs.

Use a Customer-First Approach
There’s a fine line of distinction when it comes to what exactly classifies as an Obeya. You can’t just find yourself an empty room, throw in a few whiteboards and then: voilà, you’ve created an Obeya. Sure, at the very least, an Obeya can be interpreted as an open room that’s purpose is to improve communication, but even then it depends upon the context of how it’s being used to solve problems. If the room you’re using for an Obeya has all the necessary tools in place but is mainly used for internal communication problems, then that’s not an Obeya. An Obeya should be used for solving issues that affect the customer. The room itself should encompass a problem and its components while providing individuals with milestones and solutions to help remedy the situation. An Obeya is not just a room guided by conversation; instead, an Obeya is a room and materials that start a conversation.


Looking to build an Obeya of your own? We've got a collection of factory-oriented whiteboards and accessories that are designed to aid in the development of your manufacturing efforts. Check them out here!


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