Obeya Room: A Powerful Lean Management Tool for Project Collaboration

Effective teamwork and alignment are crucial for driving project success. However, traditional siloed working and scattered communication often cause delays, mixed messages, and subpar results.

This is where the Obeya Room concept comes in – a powerful lean management tool transforming how groups work together.

Obeya Rooms, or “big rooms” in Japanese, originated from Toyota’s production system and development of their iconic Prius hybrid in the 90s.

Facing the huge challenge of designing a game-changing 21st-century car, Chief Engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada realized success hinged on unprecedented cross-team collaboration and real-time info sharing.

By bringing together experts from different areas into a dedicated “war room”, Uchiyamada fostered an environment of visibility, cohesion, and fast decisions.

This innovative approach not only helped Toyota launch the Prius ahead of competitors but also paved the way for the widespread adoption of lean product development methods.

This innovative approach not only enabled Toyota to launch the Prius ahead of its competitors but also paved the way for the widespread adoption of lean product development methodologies.

Key Highlights

  • Understand the origins and principles of Obeya Rooms, tracing their roots back to the Toyota Production System and the iconic Prius development project.
  • Explore the key benefits of Obeya Rooms
  • Discover how to transition from traditional Obeya Rooms to virtual, digital Obeya Rooms (iObeya) using tools like iObeya, Miro, and Mural, overcoming distance barriers and enhancing data security.
  • Understand how Agile and Scrum methodologies can be adapted and integrated into the Obeya approach, including PI Planning, visualizing program increments, scaling Agile practices, and creating Agile Obeya boards.
  • Gain insights into the future of Obeya Rooms, with the Obeya Association advocating for elevating Obeya from a mere tool to a comprehensive collaborative workplace philosophy, promoting inclusive decision-making and aligning strategy with execution.
  • Learn practical steps for implementing Obeya Rooms in your organization, including assessing current challenges, starting with a pilot, training teams on Obeya principles, and measuring success to iterate and improve continuously.

What is an Obeya Room?

An Obeya Room is a dedicated collaborative space designed to foster cross-functional teamwork, transparency, and rapid decision-making.

The term “Obeya” translates to “big room” in Japanese, and this concept emerged from the lean manufacturing principles pioneered by Toyota.

Image: Obeya Room for Project Collaboration

Toyota Production System

The Obeya Room is an integral part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), a renowned lean manufacturing philosophy that emphasizes continuous improvement, waste reduction, and respect for people.

TPS recognizes that true operational excellence can only be achieved when teams from various disciplines work together seamlessly, sharing information and aligning their efforts toward a common goal.

Lean manufacturing and Obeya Room

Lean manufacturing methodologies have gained widespread adoption across industries, driven by their ability to streamline processes, eliminate waste, and enhance efficiency.

The Obeya Room embodies the core principles of lean thinking, serving as a physical manifestation of a lean organization’s commitment to collaboration, visual management, and continuous improvement.

War Room / Command Center

While the concept originated in manufacturing, its applications extend far beyond the factory floor. In many organizations, 

Obeya Rooms are likened to “war rooms” or “command centers”, where cross-functional teams convene to tackle complex projects, develop strategies, and coordinate their efforts in a highly focused and structured manner.

Cross-functional collaboration

One of the key strengths of this approach lies in its ability to facilitate cross-functional collaboration.

By bringing together experts from various disciplines – such as engineering, product development, marketing, and operations – into a shared physical space, organizations can break down silos, promote knowledge sharing, and foster a culture of teamwork and collective problem-solving.

The History and Origins of Obeya Room

The origins of the Obeya Room can be traced back to the groundbreaking development of the Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle.

This pioneering project not only revolutionized the automotive industry but also gave birth to a powerful collaborative management approach that has since been adopted across various sectors.

Toyota Prius development

In the early 1990s, Toyota embarked on an ambitious mission to create a next-generation vehicle that would meet the evolving needs of the 21st century. 

The development of the Prius required the integration of cutting-edge technologies and a level of cross-functional collaboration that was unprecedented at the time.

Takeshi Uchiyamada

Recognizing the immense complexity of the challenge, Toyota’s Chief Engineer, Takeshi Uchiyamada, realized that traditional siloed approaches would not suffice.

Uchiyamada understood that no single individual possessed the depth of knowledge required to bring the Prius to life successfully. It was this realization that led him to pioneer the Obeya Room concept.

Visual management

The Obeya Room has a principle of visual management.

By creating a dedicated space where all relevant information – such as project timelines, milestones, technical challenges, and proposed solutions – was displayed visually on the walls, Uchiyamada fostered an environment of transparency and shared understanding.

Lean product development

The Obeya Room became a critical component of Toyota’s lean product development process, enabling the seamless integration of diverse expertise and rapid decision-making.

This approach not only ensured the successful launch of the Prius but also laid the foundation for the widespread adoption of lean principles in product development across various industries.

Bringing Visibility and Alignment to Projects

One of the primary benefits of the Obeya Room approach is its ability to break down organizational silos.

By bringing together cross-functional teams into a shared physical space, the Obeya Room fosters a collaborative environment where information flows freely, and diverse perspectives are valued and integrated.

Real-time information sharing

In traditional project management settings, information often gets siloed within individual departments or teams, leading to delays and miscommunication. 

The Obeya Room addresses this challenge by enabling real-time information sharing, and ensuring that all stakeholders have access to the latest updates, progress reports, and emerging issues.

Align cross-functional teams

Aligning cross-functional teams is a critical success factor for complex projects, and the Obeya Room serves as a powerful tool to achieve this alignment. 

By bringing together experts from various disciplines, the Obeya Room facilitates a shared understanding of project goals, dependencies, and challenges, enabling teams to work in harmony towards a common objective.

Accelerate problem-solving

When teams operate in silos, problem-solving can be a slow and arduous process, often involving multiple handoffs and communication breakdowns. 

The Obeya Room streamlines problem-solving by creating a collaborative environment where issues can be identified, analyzed, and addressed in real time, leveraging the collective expertise of the entire team.

Setting Up an Effective Obeya Room

Establishing an effective Obeya Room requires careful planning and consideration of various factors to ensure maximum impact and continuous improvement.

By following best practices and leveraging visual management tools, organizations can optimize the collaborative potential of this approach.

Define project goals and vision

Before setting up an Obeya Room, it is crucial to clearly define the project goals and vision. Having a shared understanding of the desired outcomes and success criteria is essential for aligning teams and ensuring that all efforts are focused in the right direction.

Key stakeholder involvement

The success of an Obeya Room hinges on the active involvement and commitment of key stakeholders from across the organization.

Identifying and engaging these stakeholders early on in the process is vital to ensure that their perspectives, expertise, and buy-in are incorporated into the Obeya Room setup and ongoing operations.

Visual boards and information radiators

Visual boards and information radiators are the backbone of an Obeya Room, enabling teams to visualize and comprehend complex information at a glance.

These tools can take various forms, such as whiteboards, digital displays, or physical boards, and should be tailored to the specific needs of the project and the teams involved.

SQCDP boards

One of the most commonly used visual management tools in Obeya Rooms is the SQCDP board, which stands for Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, and People.

This board provides a structured way to monitor and address issues related to these critical aspects of project management, ensuring that teams remain focused on delivering value while maintaining high standards.

Kanban boards

Kanban boards, a staple of lean and agile methodologies, can also be effectively integrated into the Obeya Room setup.

These boards provide a visual representation of work in progress, identifying bottlenecks, and facilitating continuous flow and improvement.

KPI tracking

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential for measuring progress, identifying areas for improvement, and making data-driven decisions.

In an Obeya Room, KPIs should be prominently displayed and regularly updated, allowing teams to monitor their performance and make necessary adjustments in real time.

Planning boards

Effective project planning is a critical component of successful execution, and the Obeya Room provides an ideal environment for collaborative planning. 

Planning boards can be used to visualize project timelines, milestones, dependencies, and resource allocations, ensuring that teams remain aligned and on track throughout the project lifecycle.

Team member introductions

While the Obeya Room is primarily focused on project collaboration, it is also an opportunity to foster a sense of team cohesion and understanding. 

Dedicating a section of the Obeya Room to introduce team members, their roles, and their areas of expertise can help build trust, facilitate knowledge sharing, and promote a culture of respect and inclusivity.

Transitioning to Digital Obeya Room (iObeya)

While traditional Obeya Rooms have proven their effectiveness in co-located teams, the increasing prevalence of remote and distributed work environments has necessitated the adaptation of this approach to a digital format.

Enter the iObeya, a virtual collaborative space that retains the core principles of the Obeya Room while leveraging the power of modern digital tools and technologies.

Adapting Agile and Scrum to Obeya

The Agile and Scrum methodologies, which emphasize iterative development, cross-functional collaboration, and continuous improvement, align seamlessly with the Obeya Room approach.

By integrating Agile and Scrum practices into the Obeya Room, organizations can unlock new levels of efficiency, adaptability, and customer-centricity.

One notable example is the concept of “PI Planning” (Program Increment Planning) in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

PI Planning events, often referred to as “Big Room Planning”, embody the principles of the Obeya Room by bringing together cross-functional teams to align on a shared vision, identify dependencies, and plan incremental deliveries.

Within the Obeya Room, Agile teams can leverage dedicated Agile boards, such as Kanban boards and burn-down charts, to visualize their workflows, track progress, and identify impediments.

By seamlessly integrating Agile and Scrum practices into the Obeya Room, organizations can harness the power of these methodologies while benefiting from the structured, visual, and collaborative environment that the Obeya Room provides.

The Future of Obeya Room: From Tool to Philosophy

As the Obeya Room concept continues to gain traction across industries, there is a growing recognition that it represents more than just a tool or a physical space.

It embodies a broader philosophy of collaborative problem-solving, inclusive decision-making, and strategic alignment – increasingly vital principles.

The Obeya Association, a global community of practitioners and advocates, has played a pivotal role in elevating the Obeya Room from a tool to a comprehensive organizational philosophy.

The association has developed the “11 Obeya Principles”, which serve as a guiding framework for organizations seeking to embrace the Obeya Room approach fully.

These principles emphasize the importance of fostering a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, promoting transparency and knowledge sharing, and aligning strategic objectives with execution.

The Obeya Room philosophy offers a compelling solution. By creating a collaborative and inclusive decision-making environment, where strategy meets execution, organizations can unlock new levels of agility, innovation, and customer-centricity, positioning themselves for sustainable success.

Implementing Obeya for Your Organization

Implementing the Obeya Room approach within your organization requires careful planning, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a commitment to continuous improvement. 

By following a structured approach and leveraging best practices, you can increase the likelihood of a successful implementation and realize the full benefits of this powerful collaborative management tool.

Assess current challenges with Obeya Room

The first step in implementing Obeya is to assess your organization’s current challenges and pain points. Identify areas where cross-functional collaboration, information sharing, or decision-making processes are hindered by siloed structures or inefficient communication channels.

Start with a pilot

Rather than attempting a large-scale, organization-wide implementation, it is often advisable to start with a pilot project. Select a high-priority initiative or a complex, cross-functional project that would benefit from the Obeya Room approach.

This pilot will serve as a proof of concept, allowing you to refine your processes, gather feedback, and build internal support and buy-in for a broader roll-out.

Train teams on Obeya principles

Effective implementation hinges on comprehensive training and knowledge transfer about the guiding principles underpinning the Obeya Room approach.

Invest in educating teams on concepts such as visual management, continuous improvement, cross-functional collaboration, and inclusive decision-making.

Emphasize the importance of fostering a culture of transparency, open communication, and collective ownership.

Equipping teams with a deep understanding of the Obeya philosophy will empower them to embrace its practices wholeheartedly, amplifying the potential for success.

Measure success and iterate with Obeya Room

As with any transformative initiative, it is imperative to establish clear metrics for evaluating the success of your Obeya Room implementation.

Define key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your organization’s strategic objectives, such as improvements in project delivery timelines, reductions in rework or defects, enhancements in cross-functional communication, or increases in customer satisfaction.

Regularly monitor these metrics, gather stakeholder feedback, and proactively identify areas for improvement.


The Obeya Room concept, born from Toyota’s pioneering days, has grown into a huge change agent.

By cultivating cross-team collaboration, real-time info-sharing, and inclusive decisions, Obeya Rooms releases new levels of streamlining, adaptability, and customer focus.

Transparency, constant refinement, and strategic alignment embodied by Obeya Rooms have become indispensable for companies wanting to stay ahead.

Whether developing groundbreaking products, executing complex strategies or optimizing workflows, the Obeya approach furnishes an organized structure. It aligns groups, smooths processes, and delivers impressive value.

With Obeya Rooms continuing to evolve beyond a mere tool into an all-encompassing organizational mindset, their potential shines as a compelling route for cultivating innovation, customer focus, and sustainable achievements.

Embrace the Obeya way. Unlock collaborative brilliance – a journey starting with breaking silos, aligning teammates, and empowering extraordinary outcomes through your teams working united.

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