The power of Obeyas and Visual Management for Project Management

Jul 27, 2018

I have been working with a team who have made real improvements to their Project Management through the implementation of some simple visual management structured in an Obeya.

In many organisations you will find that there are Project Managers whose role it is to coordinate projects. They find themselves trying to get all the departments and silos in the organisation to pull in the same direction to deliver a larger project. Often however they have limited success as they have little recognised authority and don’t have enough technical and functional knowledge to help make speedy decisions; this leads to frustrations and slow progress. We have seen that working collaboratively in an Obeya can break down the silos to overcome these day to day problems.

So how can you use an Obeya for project management and what is the simplest way of setting one up? Sadly, there is not a single answer, it will be different for each project type and the industry you are in. However there are some common characteristics that you may see in an Obeya:

  • Visual Management – making the plan and the current status visible so that problems can be identified as soon as they occur. The team can then tackle the right problem at the right time.
  • Collaboration – solving problems at the Obeya based around A3 Thinking obliges the team to resolve a problem collaboratively, rather than passing it onto someone else because “it’s their job”.
  • Flow – the structure of the Obeya should promote one piece flow of work and information for the project. This will ensure that the correct item is being worked on, at the correct time, in line with customer demand, be that an internal or external customer.
  • Vision and Direction – who the end user is and their requirements. All too often you will see people working on projects where they don’t really know who the customer is.

An established Obeya with these characteristics in place should enable the teams to experience the following benefits:

  • It provides an environment for the team to drive their project collaboratively, efficiently and in a way that will reduce waste and the time to completion.
  • It can help develop the people within the team by empowering them to carry out real time problem solving, improving their work day after day. Not just using their brain power on constant firefighting.
  • It provides an environment to keep the team’s energy and focus on delivering top-quality products and services when pulled on by the customer.

You can see that an Obeya is much more than just a room with visuals, it should be used as a project management method based on lean principles.