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Managing Project Portfolios with Obeya Rooms

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Obeya is a management approach that uses war rooms and visualization for managing projects. Malika Mir will talk about using Obeya as a management system for CIOs at the Lean IT Summit 2015. InfoQ will be covering this event.

InfoQ did an interview with Mir about why she decided to implement Obeya, how they are using Obeya to manage project portfolios, their experiences with Obeya and the benefits that they have got from it.

InfoQ: Can you briefly explain how Obeya works?

Mir: The basis is visual management, so we have a very large piece of paper on the wall with the weeks and months printed, and each Domain Manager is facilitating a weekly meeting with his/her team to review the project status based on our top 3 criteria and aligned with the IT strategy. We made the decision to focus on 3 criteria to start with: Voice Of Customer target rate is 9 out of 10, Quality defined by zero bugs at project launch in a period of 3 months and On Time delivery according to initial delivery time agree with the business. The document is updated during the weekly meeting with achieved milestones in black and delays in red.

InfoQ: What made you decide to implement Obeya to lead your department?

Mir: I found Obeya to be an easy to use and implement system, which does not required to learn a new methodology. In addition, because it is visual, the teams are viewing the results immediately and specifically improvements can be noticed quite quickly. This is also helping the team to get together and use a short format, the team leaders can be missed in the organized weekly meetings if their workload doesn’t allow them to attend. Obeya is making the team meetings mandatory, and as a group you can also share best practices and give advice to your colleagues. In just 1 hour the team meeting becomes far more efficient by standing up and sharing feedback and experiences.

InfoQ: Can you elaborate how you implemented Obeya? How did the transition to Obeya go?

Mir: We have been supported by an external consulting firm, Operae, because you need a real expertise to implement it properly. They started to assess the current situation and how we were delivering against our strategic objectives. This assessment was then presented to the whole project management team during an offsite seminar. After this presentation, the project teams started to organize weekly team meeting in a dedicated room, this is a 1 hour meeting, where each project manager is sharing his progress, issues and KPIs on his project. Progress is reported on a large piece of paper on the wall of the meeting room. We use color codes, a design codification to ensure that we all speak the same language and understand the project status.

InfoQ: Can you give some examples that show how Obeya helps you to manage portfolios?

Mir: On a monthly basis I’m requesting my N-1 direct reports to present me the consolidated view of their portfolio with our criteria and we also discuss problem management, how to improve overall processes.

InfoQ: How are your first line managers experiencing Obeya? What do they think of it?

Mir: My first line is now fully on board, they understand the value of being able to better control their activities, and are going beyond project portfolio management by having a source for best practice sharing within their teams.

Mir: Which benefits has Obeya brought for you. Can you give some examples?

Mir: I gained clarity on where we stand as everyone is using the same approach, I can better assess that the team is focused on client satisfaction and we can deliver for their satisfaction. The Voice Of the Customer rating is a key indicator; we’ve started last year with an average of 6 out of 10, today we are around 8 out of 10 in 1 year. This is a major improvement. We are now in control of our portfolio which was not the case previously. My team is also focused on problem management to ensure final resolution of recurring incidents which is a great business value. We have created Obeya rooms in our major sites and the next step for the Project Manager is to review the project status in the Obeya room with their customers.

InfoQ: If other organizations would like to use Obeya, can you give them some advice?

Mir: You need a strong leadership from the CIO to implement it. I’m still visiting the domain Obeya to ensure that we keep a strong discipline and stay focused on our KPIs. In my personal office I have a wall with an Obeya: the paper copy of the projects KPIs by domains. I would advice CIOs to do the same as it give a great opportunity to discuss about the portfolio and just deep dive in the details when specific questions or challenges are raised. Leading project reviews in the same format helps to keep raising interest, and to support and coach your first line managers.

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