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Flevy Management Insights Q&A
What are the common pitfalls or challenges organizations face when implementing Obeya, and how can they be overcome?


This article provides a detailed response to: What are the common pitfalls or challenges organizations face when implementing Obeya, and how can they be overcome? For a comprehensive understanding of Obeya, we also include relevant case studies for further reading and links to Obeya best practice resources.

TLDR Implementing Obeya faces challenges like lack of understanding and commitment, physical and technological barriers, and integration with existing processes, which can be overcome by leadership buy-in, leveraging digital tools for virtual collaboration, and aligning with organizational goals and workflows.

Reading time: 4 minutes


Obeya, a term originating from the Japanese word for "big room," is a Lean management approach that fosters real-time communication and decision-making. By bringing team members together in a physical or virtual space filled with visual management tools, Obeya aims to enhance alignment, transparency, and collaboration across an organization. Despite its proven effectiveness in Operational Excellence and Strategic Planning, organizations often encounter several pitfalls when implementing Obeya. Understanding these challenges and how to overcome them is crucial for businesses aiming to leverage Obeya for improved performance and innovation.

Understanding and Commitment Issues

One of the primary challenges organizations face when implementing Obeya is a lack of understanding and commitment from all levels of the organization. This approach requires a cultural shift towards transparency and open communication, which can be a significant change for many organizations. Without a clear understanding of the benefits and principles of Obeya, teams may view it as just another management fad, leading to half-hearted participation and eventual abandonment of the practice.

To overcome this challenge, it's essential to start with comprehensive training and education about the Obeya principles and benefits. Leadership must be fully committed and actively participate in the Obeya process to set an example for the rest of the organization. According to McKinsey & Co., leadership involvement in transformation initiatives can more than double the chances of success. Engaging employees through workshops and interactive sessions can help demystify Obeya and build a strong foundation for its implementation.

Real-world examples of successful Obeya implementation often highlight the importance of leadership buy-in. For instance, Toyota, where the Obeya concept originated, emphasizes the role of leaders not just as supervisors, but as active participants in problem-solving and decision-making processes. This approach ensures that the implementation of Obeya is not just a top-down directive but a shared organizational journey.

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Physical and Technological Barriers

Another significant challenge is the physical and technological barriers to implementing Obeya. In traditional office environments, finding or creating a large, dedicated space for Obeya can be difficult. Additionally, with the rise of remote work, organizations must find ways to replicate the Obeya experience in a virtual environment, which can be challenging due to technology limitations or resistance to change.

To address these challenges, organizations can start by reimagining their use of existing spaces or adopting flexible workspace solutions. For virtual teams, leveraging digital collaboration tools that offer real-time communication and visual management features is crucial. According to Gartner, by 2022, 72% of knowledge workers will be working remotely. This trend underscores the importance of investing in technology that supports virtual collaboration, making the implementation of virtual Obeya rooms not just a possibility but a necessity for future-proofing the organization.

Companies like IBM and Google have successfully implemented virtual Obeya rooms, utilizing a combination of project management software, digital whiteboards, and video conferencing tools to create an immersive and interactive environment. These examples demonstrate that with the right technology and a willingness to adapt, the benefits of Obeya can be realized in both physical and virtual settings.

Learn more about Project Management Visual Management Virtual Teams Remote Work

Integration with Existing Processes

Integrating Obeya with existing processes and systems can also pose a challenge. Many organizations have entrenched ways of working, and introducing a new approach like Obeya can disrupt these established routines. Without careful planning and integration, Obeya can become an isolated practice that fails to impact the broader organizational performance.

To ensure successful integration, organizations should conduct a thorough analysis of existing processes and identify areas where Obeya can add the most value. This might involve aligning Obeya sessions with strategic planning cycles, project management methodologies, or performance management systems. By embedding Obeya into the fabric of the organization, it becomes a natural extension of existing practices rather than a standalone initiative.

An example of successful integration can be seen in how the Dutch healthcare organization Buurtzorg integrated Obeya into its self-managed team structure. By using Obeya sessions to facilitate strategic discussions and decision-making, Buurtzorg enhanced its agile working model, leading to improved patient care and employee satisfaction. This case illustrates the importance of aligning Obeya with organizational goals and existing workflows to fully harness its potential.

Implementing Obeya requires a thoughtful approach that addresses cultural, physical, and procedural challenges. By ensuring leadership commitment, leveraging technology for virtual collaboration, and integrating Obeya with existing processes, organizations can overcome these pitfalls and realize the full benefits of this powerful Lean management tool.

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Best Practices in Obeya

Here are best practices relevant to Obeya from the Flevy Marketplace. View all our Obeya materials here.

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Explore all of our best practices in: Obeya

Obeya Case Studies

For a practical understanding of Obeya, take a look at these case studies.

Obeya Digital Transformation for Global E-commerce Firm

Scenario: The company is a leading e-commerce player experiencing difficulty in maintaining its Obeya—a centralized space for cross-functional teams to collaborate and monitor project progress.

Read Full Case Study

Operational Excellence for Maritime Shipping Firm in Asia-Pacific

Scenario: A maritime shipping company in the Asia-Pacific region is struggling with its Obeya room efficiency.

Read Full Case Study

Obeya Optimization for Construction Management

Scenario: The organization is a mid-sized construction company specializing in commercial real estate projects.

Read Full Case Study

Operational Excellence for Semiconductor Manufacturer in High-Tech Industry

Scenario: The semiconductor manufacturer is grappling with the challenge of integrating an Obeya approach to enhance cross-functional collaboration and decision-making speed.

Read Full Case Study

Obeya Optimization for Agritech Firm in Sustainable Agriculture

Scenario: An international agritech firm specializing in sustainable agriculture is struggling to maintain the efficacy of its Obeya room.

Read Full Case Study

Maritime Fleet Modernization & Digitalization

Scenario: The company is a mid-sized maritime shipping firm struggling with outdated fleet management systems.

Read Full Case Study

Explore all Flevy Management Case Studies

Related Questions

Here are our additional questions you may be interested in.

How does Obeya adapt to remote or hybrid work environments, ensuring inclusivity and effectiveness?
Adapting Obeya for remote and hybrid work involves leveraging digital tools for collaboration, maintaining inclusivity through structured virtual meetings, and integrating Lean Management principles for operational excellence. [Read full explanation]
What metrics or KPIs are most effective for measuring the success of an Obeya implementation?
Maximize Operational Excellence with Obeya: Measure success through Project Completion Time, Budget Adherence, Quality of Deliverables, Cycle Time reduction, and enhanced Stakeholder Satisfaction for strategic business transformation. [Read full explanation]
How does the role of leadership change in an organization that adopts Obeya principles?
Adopting Obeya principles transforms leadership roles from command-and-control to facilitative, emphasizing Collaboration, Continuous Improvement, Transparency, and Accountability, fostering a culture of Innovation and Operational Excellence. [Read full explanation]
Can Obeya principles be integrated with agile methodologies, and if so, how?
Integrating Obeya principles with Agile methodologies improves collaboration, transparency, and efficiency in project management, leveraging visual management and cross-functional teamwork for superior outcomes. [Read full explanation]
How is artificial intelligence being integrated into Obeya rooms to enhance decision-making processes?
AI integration into Obeya rooms is transforming decision-making by improving Strategic Planning, Operational Excellence, and Risk Management with advanced analytics, predictive insights, and real-time data interpretation. [Read full explanation]
What impact does the increasing emphasis on sustainability have on the principles and practices of Obeya?
The increasing emphasis on sustainability is reshaping Obeya practices to integrate ESG considerations into Strategic Planning, Performance Management, and fostering a culture of innovation and accountability through visual management and cross-functional collaboration. [Read full explanation]

Source: Executive Q&A: Obeya Questions, Flevy Management Insights, 2024


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