Former Fujitsu and Toyota veteran Toru Takagi Sensei and Yokahama National University Associate Professor Kodo Yokozawa have been conducting research on the effectiveness of a new breed of Toyota way Management System called Woven Work Design. It prominently features Obeya and helps organizations develop towards a culture of autonomous management.
We will share with you some preliminary results of the effects of a shift to Obeya-based management within the Woven Work Design structure.
First, a bit of Obeya history: the rise of Obeya and its key players
About 57 years ago, Mr. Toshio Horikiri (Founder and CEO of Toyota Engineering Corporation, TEC for short) joined Toyota Motor Corporation, where he learned and experienced several practices that were to become part of his DNA. Among them and definitely one of the most essential ones, was Obeya – back then used particularly for new product development. After retiring from Toyota in 2002, Horikiri established the TPS consulting firm, Toyota Engineering Corporation and integrated his experience into a system called Total-TPS. An essential part of this system covered in a detailed way how Toyota was able to develop new models faster than any other car manufacturer through simultaneous engineering, upstream Kaizen, and a practice of visual management, i.e. Obeya. Later, in 2008 the ideas of Total-TPS were extended to be applied throughout the whole organization, thus giving birth to the Toyota way Management System (TMS), described by Takashi Tanaka in the YouTube videos that popularized Obeya in the West.
To understand how this ball got rolling in the West, we must go back to the early 2000s when Harley Davidson was struggling with its new product development. Lean or TPS had already proven its value to make production more efficient, but there had not yet been many successes of ‘people taking improvement tools from physical work and trying to apply them to people doing intellectual work, specifically in knowledge work, executive strategy, engineering, IT, and finance’. At that time Obeya was still largely unknown in the West, whereas at Toyota it was already common practice in the 1990s and even before.
To make a long story short, Prof. Alan Ward of MIT introduced Takashi Tanaka to Harley Davidson. Tanaka then brought in Toyota Engineering Corporation CEO, Toshio Horikiri to help Don Kieffer of Harley Davidson develop engines, and later new motorcycle models, faster and better, using the Obeya methodology. This was one of the first times that Obeya was successfully applied by a western company.
In 2006 we see the beginning of another story of a western early adopter of Obeya: Boeing. Around that time Sharon Tanner joined the Boeing Product Development organization trying to get grips on how to bring lean into product development. In 2007 they also decided to bring in Takashi Tanaka, who again teamed up with the experts at Toyota Engineering Corporation to help with the product development challenges at that time. TEC sent Toshio Horikiri and a former Fujitsu and Toyota man called Toru Takagi (remember that name). And guess what they came up with to pull Boeing out of the slums? You’ve guessed it already: Obeya.
The Western world owes a lot to Takashi Tanaka’s efforts to introduce Obeya in the West, but we should not forget that we would not be here today without the wisdom and expertise of true Obeya sensei like Toshio Horikiri and Toru Takagi.
The latter, Toru Takagi, is currently taking the Toyota Way Management System to another level.
Toru Takagi introduces Woven Work Design: a new style Toyota way Management System
Have you ever heard of Woven Work Design? My guess is not, but recently in Japan, Woven Work Design is gaining attention as a newly evolving version of the Toyota way Management System. With a strong focus on people, it strives to help employees do meaningful work and not let them waste, what is most valuable to us humans, time, by having to do meaningless tasks. You may know this as MUDA.