Takashi Tanaka is a Senior Business Consultant, ENOVIA, at Dassault Systèmes K.K. in Japan. Over the course of his career, he has worked with companies in automotive, aerospace, medical equipment and apparel. Before joining Dassault Systèmes, he was a consultant at JMA Consultants Inc. and Toyota Engineering Corporation. Here he speaks with Roberto Priolo about the Oobeya room and introduces an IT solution that makes it digital.

Roberto Priolo: The Oobeya is an important element within Toyota’s management system. When was the “great room” first developed and why?

Takashi Tanaka: Oobeya, a Japanese term, can be translated as “a big project room” in English. Many Japanese manufacturers, especially automotive companies, have commonly used this project management approach for many decades. In the 1990s it has become quite popular on the manufacturing floor, while recently we have started to see a tendency to use the Oobeya outside of production as well, namely in the planning, design, engineering, sales and service and back office departments in order to increase their competitiveness.

RP: How can the Oobeya help a company to visually manage complex scenarios and to streamline product development?

TT: Through the process of Mieru-ka, or visual management, using the Oobeya, companies can expect to see their activities with more clarity, and coordination becomes smoother and simpler to achieve. As a consequence, they see a reduction in the amount of time spent at the front-end phase of product development.

RP: How does the Oobeya work and what does an Oobeya look like?

TT: The Oobeya room should be kept in place from the moment a project is launched to the moment it is completed. Figure 1 shows an example of Oobeya for product development purposes. You will notice that, from left to right on one of the walls, three different types of boards are placed in an order that replicates the sequence of the workflow, from set objectives to more specific and precise anticipated outputs to the metrics used.

RP: How can we make sure that visual management is used effectively and what results can a company hope to achieve by using it?

TT: Mieru-ka, or visual management, accelerates the decision-making process as all the team members are simultaneously aware of the current situation regardless of their position if the company’s hierarchy. A good example of work with the Oobeya is Harley Davidson’s, which can be found in The Lean Machine (for a unique account of Harley Davidson’s experience with product development read the next issue of Lean Management Journal). To make visuality effective, it is critical that all members of the team make remarks, share their opinions and suggestions.

RP: The Oobeya is clearly a very effective technique that companies on a lean transformation can leverage. How is it evolving?

TT: Just think of how it can work in today’s business environment. As we see multi-national development as well as cross-organisational collaboration becoming new trends, the Oobeya no longer stays in a physical project room. It will evolve into a virtual project roomlike space: the Digital Oobeya.

RP: Can you tell LMJ a bit more about this solution and explain how it works?

TT: Within a big, multi-national product development initiative, the deployment of IT tools is critical to enable all the members of a team to have the same level of knowledge of the status of the project. At Dassault Systèmes, we have developed a virtual product that brings the Oobeya concept online, by means of the ENOVIA V6 collaborative innovation application, which comes with design, engineering and analysis solutions. We optimised the solution for web access. It provides up to 1,000 users with secure on-line access, from anywhere in the world, to ENOVIA’s centralised data repository. More importantly, it delivers cross-discipline product development (design, simulation and manufacturing) capabilities. The Digital Oobeya can boost idea-sharing by giving people the opportunity to visualise the same context in real time. It also provides end-to-end support to change management by offering full visibility of the product development process. In other words, this solution uses the power of IT to produce an Oobeya on our computer screens – a virtual big project management room. Over the decades, I have been involved in several physical Oobeya projects. The Digital Oobeya is the result of this experience. By using the 3DExperience platform, we can identify and solve not only technical but also human (people management) issues. This in turn will help us to achieve our customers’ goals. A nice way to use lean and IT capabilities together.