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Working Together in the Same Direction with Obeya

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Key Takeaways

  • The Toyota Way has multiple elements, many of which are not well understood
  • Obeya is an approach that facilitates teamwork and the alignment of activities around seven panels to deliver IT or manufacturing products. 
  • The Vision panel, common to both IT product Obeya and IT department management Obeya is more than just a reminder of the North Star. It allows the alignment of the whole team while respecting the pillars of Toyota Way.
  • The vision starts from the Check phase to build the plan around an iterative process.
  • Obeya is a real product delivery management system that completely satisfies users while contributing to the success of the vision.

Obeya1 is a proven approach that facilitates teamwork and the alignment of activities around seven panels to deliver IT or manufacturing products.

One of the main reasons for its success is that it accelerates the regular resolution of good problems by breaking down barriers between teams and also because it benefits from the support of the management.

The purpose of this article is to describe the essential role of the first Obeya panel, the use of which is too often overlooked: vision. It explains three elements of the vision:

  • How to make it
  • Its appropriation
  • Coordination and steering

Illustrated by four examples, feedback loop after the field test. It is the first in a series of articles devoted to the practice of Obeya.

How to develop the Vision? From "Check" to "Plan".

To define the vision, the leader of a lean organization generally asks: "What problems do we want to solve over a three- to five-year horizon?  What do we want to change to be even more competitive? »

At the end of each annual cycle, the manager starts by checking whether the strategic objectives of the previous year are being achieved.  Strange as it may be, the "Check" of PDCA2  (see fig.1 ), the foundation of continuous improvement, is the starting point of the future.  The wheel of the PDCA spins endlessly.

Based, for example, on the SWOT3 analysis, the manager then asks: "What are our weaknesses? What are the threats? What are our opportunities?" and also refers to the strengths.

In his never-ending quest for Kaizen4, the Lean decision-maker, seasoned of  Hansei5 (see fig.1), then reflects about his activities, the previous pitfalls and what can be learned from them. Hansei is a commonly adopted attitude in Japanese culture. This practice is also part of the retrospective phase "Act" of the  PDCA  in order to prevent a problem from reappearing. As presented in the third part (see fig.5) of this article, Hoshin Kanri6 bottom-up learning loop then allows employees to submit their ideas for improvement and see some of them fuel the company's goals and sometimes even vision (see fig.5).

Example #1: How the vision and IT TFS7 challenges Europe and Africa is created every year in two days?

In 2007, Edmond participated in his first two-days IT workshop bringing together TFS's Europe and Africa IS directors. The objective was: "Effective IT and Business Alignment -Execution: IT contribution to TFSC's 8 strategic objectives." Vision is an ideal and challenges are the measure of it.

The agenda stated: "It is quite clear that there is an increased focus on IT throughout Toyota, not just TFS. This provides us with a tremendous opportunity to work together to find even more effective ways of delivering business solutions that will make a real difference.” IT plays an increasing role in the success of a company's strategic objectives. It is advisable to explore several alternatives and to prioritize the highest IT strategic axes that most reduce the gap with strategic objectives.

Twenty-one presentations and five workshops followed each other to establish TFS's vision for the year. For example, one group focused on "what will IT deliver to the cash flow in accordance with TFS's eight strategic objectives?"

Overall, it is the standard described above (fig.1) that is applied to decline the vision into strategic IT objectives on each TFS entity. The important thing for a team is to work together in the same direction.

The guideline is: "challenge, speed and unity of purpose"! Doesn't that ring a bell? These are some of the profound values of the Toyota Way.

How do teams take ownership of challenges? Embarking on the path of the PDCA 'Do' by the Obeya

The visual management is at the foundation of the TPS8 house and its use allows to cover all sections of it.

The power of visual management for a team lies mainly in defining and coordinating around the same cross-functional priorities: sharing the same topics, aligning employees around a "common dictionary". This materializes in the Obeya as follows:

Example #2: let's discover visual management by accompanying a newcomer to TMC

In 2000, Reynald entered Toyota's industrial world as well as a factory of the group for the first time. The highest priority of management is the safety of the employees, as shown by the arch of security, the visual symbol.

His visit begins with an introduction to the principles and objectives of safety.

Then he went through the communication area or the Obeya of the factory where all of the company's activities are visible.

The Mission/Vision display clarifies the level of improvement to be achieved, the present status and the date on which employees must have improved the value of the products for customers and services generated by the processes in the medium and long term.

This vision takes up the history of previous years' achievements and the goals to be achieved in future years.

His interlocutors explained that this vision, supporting the company's mission, is developed from:

  • benchmark, a real set of activities that allow to discover and understand "what are excellent results and what processes lead to these results"
  • and the thinking plan of previous years.

He discovered the visual management in this area dedicated to communication, called the Obeya.

After this introduction, he started practicing visual management. Whatever divisions he worked in, he used it and disseminated it to all his teams.

Example #3: how to visualize a plan for the deployment of strategic objectives applied to the packaging section of the automotive sector? Your discerning eye does not fail to note the color used in PDCA progress.

How one’s operational objectives contribute to the vision, to the improvement of customer value and to process reliability? Why is one’s work important to the company? How do people at all levels of the company focus and align themselves with the challenge?

According to Shigeo Shingo10 ‘s adage: "People don't care what until they understand why." Reconnecting IT Tech teams and the management is one of the goals of the vision panel.

The way the vision on the one hand and the operational objectives on the other articulate, gives a meaning to the commitment and accountability of employees to act.

Hoshin Kanri11 is the discipline that creates alignment of activities with collective or individual goals, and vision. The Obeya makes it possible to visualize Hoshin Kanri and creates a collaborative environment for effective and cross-functional problem sharing. Nemawashi12 in Obeya speeds up the decisions during Ringi13 process.

Fig. 5: Hoshin Hoshin Establishment, Deployment and Review

Through the Hoshin Kanri cascading mechanism, employees can come up with their ideas for improvement and best proposals are selected.

If the progress is visualized, it is easily shared between employees and managers. Decision-makers validate the means by which employees can succeed in their improvement efforts.

Clearly displaying the company's vision, co-constructing objectives and their links to strategic axes help each employee understand the meaning of their job.

Example #4: the vision in an IT project for the automation of continuous deployment of 253 IT apps.

The approach brings together employees and managers around the vision of this company, one of the axes being: "Feel good: well-being for all employees".The manager quantified a related goal: "100% of IT deployments must take place on business days by the end of the year."

What is the situation today?  Only 1 out of 19 deployments is carried out on a weekday and the remaining 18 take place during week-ends."The team reflects, gets involved and coordinates: What's stopping us from deploying on a weekday? The time for manual deployments is currently between 45 minutes and 4 hours.

What would be the ideal time to go into production? What for? The team sets an operational goal: "100% of IT production deployments should be completed end-to-end in less than 30 minutes from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. and on weekdays."  In case of problems, a roll-back in 30 minutes will be launched. The internal customer who attended the meeting gave his approval.

The team began its transition from a "corporate" vision to a "products and services" vision.

3) How to manage that in order to succeed? Return to the PDCA Check.

Driving this strategic vision is key to keep every employee focused on the Hoshin.

The conduct of this strategy and the review of progress are based on two modes of operation:

  • Managing activities on a day-to-day basis
  • Managing weekly results, those of a sprint and the monthly results.

The main management of the strategic plan is through the review of results indicators and activity indicators. The achievement of the vision objectives is measured by results indicators: Safety, Customer Satisfaction, Quality, Production, Human Resources, Finance,...

Figure 7: Results Indicators

Here are some examples from a management Obeya: market share, turnover, customer satisfaction rate, operational efficiency rate, accident rate... Chief Officers lead the monthly reviews, the PDCA "Check", usually scheduled on the first Thursday of the month for "Factory" reviews. They consist on an analysis of the results and contributions of the various activities to the Vision and deciding the necessary directions or/and investments in the management Obeya.


With the help of the Obeya, a Lean team creates "Wow" products step by step, and at the same time contributes to the company's vision.

As previously developed, each of the three steps, the development, appropriation and review of the vision is also based on the two fundamental principles of the Toyota Way:

  • « Respect for people » 
  • Continuous improvement.

The Toyota philosophy, summarised in the Toyota Way house, contributes greatly to the success of an Obeya. The successful examples of Obeya lead to synthetically classifying these major correlations in the House of the Toyota Way (see Fig.10):

The quality of a goal review at each level of the company is based on the entanglement of two management systems that cannot be taken separately from each other: the Toyota Way and the Obeya.

About the Authors

Edmond Nguyen is a Lean IT coach and a Partner at Operae Partners. At the French Lean Institute, in 2016 he launched the "Lean IT Academy" bringing together IT managers, IT directors, production managers, project managers, developers, POs to understand and apply the Lean approach to product development or IT production in the field. He coaches IT leaders and IT project teams in setting up and using Obeya to deliver the right IT and digital products on time, on budget and at the expected quality level. With a strong CIO experience both in Japan and France, particularly at Toyota Financial Services, Edmond successfully combines the best of Lean IT, Agile and DevSecOps in an efficient approach to product development for the user.

Reynald Debaut-Henocque is an expert in manufacturing. From 1981 to 1999, he forged a career as a Quality Director in the automotive industry accompanying the revolution of Quality Procedures at the OEMs. His experience was built not only with European manufacturers but also with North Americans. In 1993, he implemented the Continuous Improvement at BTR Europe. In 1999, he joined the Toyota Group as a Quality Director and managed to win the 1st Warranty Awards at the launch of the Yaris "Made in France". He broadened his Manufacturing horizon by holding the positions of Production Director and then Supply Chain and participated in the success of an industrial site that took up the challenge of producing B-segment vehicles in France, more than 3 millions in 20 years. As a Vice President of Production, he prepared the site to produce 3 million vehicles in 10 years.


1 Obeya: Japanese word 大部屋 meaning large room, new type of visual management created by Takeshi Uchiyamada, Chief Engineer of the Toyota Prius. It consists of 7 panels, the first of which is vision.

2 PDCA: Scientific method of problem solving (Plan, Do, Check, Act) used in the Lean approach.

3 SWOT Matrix: "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats" helps develop a strategy.

4 Kaizen: Japanese word 改善 - innovative thinking to continuously improve the operation.

5 Hansei: Japanese word  反省 meaning deep reflection on oneself and my past activities so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

6 Hoshin Kanri:  方針管理a top-down and bottom-up management process that aligns functional organization and activities with strategic objectives.

7TFS : Toyota Financial Services

8 TPS: Toyota Production System or Toyota Production System formalized by Taiichi Ohno

9 TMC : Toyota Motor Corporation

10 Shingo sensei, consultant who worked with Taichi Ohno in the development of the GST

11 Hoshin Kanri: steering a company's objectives combining a top-down process allowing management to deploy its strategy and a bottom-up process allowing employees to propose ideas for improvement and integrate them into the organization's objectives through a Nemawashi process.

12 Nemawashi: Japanese word  根回しused when atree is transplanted with its roots surrounded by enough soil to survive more easily. From this image was born the Lean process: explain an idea to each indispensable stakeholder so that it can be implemented with the support of the interlocutors.

13 Ringi: Japanese word 稟議 - investment decision made after a Nemawashi process and often viewed as A3

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