A new approach to collaboration, communication and product development
Obeya was born in the context of complex new product design and was first applied, together with simultaneousuos engineering, to develop a new method to produce the car for the 21st century in very little time, less than half the time of conventional new product development. In fact, a new approach to collaboration and communication and a new approach to product development was invented to achieve these goals in a short time, following the ‘do more with less’ imperative.
It is often used where the complexity of a project or work processes is so high that a common vision and coordination system between multiple teams, functions and departments is needed in different application sectors: design, building constructions & housing, contract manufacturing, services, life science, mining, utilities & energy, food & beverage, customer goods, financial services & insurance, telco, cosmetics, chemicals, healthcare service, engineering, automotive, transport, rail, technology, defence, aerospace.
That said, some key steps are needed to apply Obeya Management System and they start with some key questions:
- What is the purpose of the organisation?
- What is the most important organisational problem you want to solve?
- Who is the customer?
- What is the value from the customer’s point of view?
- What are the activities and competence needed to bring value in flow to the customer?
- How are you measuring the system?
They hardly know how to answer the first question and usually the answer comes after answering the third and fourth questions. If the customer answers the first question with the classic answer I was taught during my MBA, remunerate the shareholders, hence profit; you can always observe that there will also be a customer who pays for the products/services and who will demand that they improve over time.
The second question is the key to understanding whether the customer is serious or whether they are chasing the managerial fad of Agile. If in fact he repeats that they have no problems and that they only want to become Agile, it often means that they do not want to become Agile but that the headquarter has imposed it or that they are following some neighbour. More easily, they have too many problems and do not know how to prioritise.
Usually defining who the customer is and how to define value from the customer’s point of view takes some time but once the answer is identified, the fifth question becomes easy to answer and corresponds to one of the key activities of the Obeya Management System: Value Stream Mapping. It is also the activity that allows them to see bottlenecks, interdependencies, relationships between teams, functions and departments. The last question is generally difficult because conventional organisations use output measurement criteria, how much they invoice, how long it takes them to manufacture something, how much it costs, how many pieces they sell in a given period of time.
All useful criteria but they tell us nothing about how the system is performing. Again we are helped by the Value Stream Map on which the work can be made visible and lead time and process time can be made visible. There are other criteria that must be introduced, but to start with lead time and process time allow us to see how the system is performing.
Build your teams around the value stream
This initial work allows one or more teams to be built around the value stream. At this point the start-up workshop begins. It lasts two to five days depending on the complexity of the project and the organisational complexity and serves to align the teams, obtain commitment, pool information, build the collaborative architecture and the Visual Management System, make decision on the working methods, the number and timing of meetings, at least initially, and make working agreements. The approach continues by facilitating team meetings to achieve concrete results in a short time, maximum three months, which are presented by the teams to the leadership team.
Do more with less in a short time and be very effective
The results in a short time show the teams the effectiveness of the Obeya Management System, they realise that it is possible to do more with less in a short time and be very effective.
Efficiency is achieved in the following months, usually no more than six, because it is important that teams achieve autonomy in less than a year, through the introduction of the eight disciplines that characterise the Obeya Management System:
- Discipline of respect
- Discipline of Consensus Building
- Discipline of Meetings
- Discipline of customer obsession
- Discipline of standardisation, measurement and reliance on data
- Discipline of KIS & DIY
- Discipline of continuous improvement and experimentation
- Discipline of Transparency and Obeya’s Maintenance
For more details, I refer you to the book Obeya Management System. Collaboration by Design: a different approach to Agile. Agile School Press 2023 available in Amazon.