Many years ago while working my first job in advertising I was exposed to the idea of a “War Room”. This would be the place where we could focus on building our plan, getting our ideas out of our heads and sharing them with each other. If we were selling a product, it was important to have that product in the room, where we could interact with it and perhaps draw some inspiration.
It was an eye opening experience and I loved the energy in the room. It was a place of great focus and creativity.
When I took my new role here at LEI as the Customer Strategy Officer, one of my responsibilities was to lead the team building content for the 2015 Lean Transformation Summit. I can barely make dinner plans, and now I’m leading a team to build an event that has been successful year after year. Why not?
So after getting a handle on our vision for the summit (a true north), assessing the deliverables and the work to be done, and what we had or didn’t have for standard work, it was time to build a war room. In the lean world these types of rooms are called “Obeya”, roughly translated from the Japanese “big room”. Toyota uses them as a project management tool, primarily in product development to enhance communication.
One thing we never lack at LEI are ideas. Great ideas come from everywhere and capturing them all is a bit daunting. So obeya room phase one was created, built in a little conference room at LEI. The initial design was 4 large, hand-drawn boxes on whiteboard, magnetic walls. Beside the boxes we posted reflection documents and customer feedback from last year’s summit. Then we posted information about our customers and previous summit speakers/companies, and we created room where people could ask and write questions.
We invited staff to share their ideas on who/what topics we should have at the summit on note cards and post them to the wall. It was important that we do this immediately after the previous summit ended, as we wanted to capitalize on the energy/momentum we get from conducting the event and being in direct contact with our community members. After a the initial bunch of ideas were shared, we conducted a series of brainstorming sessions on possible summit topics, mostly framed around common customer challenges, and new areas lean is being applied to.
We then gathered this small group of decision makers and started narrowing the big group of ideas to a smaller group. We set up a criteria that had to be met for all speakers at the summit. We used this criteria as a filter. As we had planned to revisit some ideas for future summits, it was important to note why we made the choices we did on each card. Once we narrowed down the list of ideas we then assigned people to “reach out” to the speakers/companies, about possibly presenting at the summit and assigned deadlines.
Here is where our first issue arose. No problem is a problem, right? It turns out we didn’t post those deadlines anywhere in the obeya room and just went back to our daily work expecting to hit the target without any reminders or visual management. Why did this cause a problem? We only had a small group of people doing the majority of the contacting, which would be fine ordinarily, but these folks were out traveling for several weeks on business. I noticed we started missing deadlines on speaker engagement. And when someone missed a deadline, it snowballed into lots of other missed deadlines.
As a countermeasure we started having weekly huddles in the obeya, and added deadlines to the wall. We also took this opportunity to redistribute responsibilities. And we made everything visual, even taping staff members’ photos to idea cards for various speakers, along with the deadline as to when we needed a response. Someone’s initials are easy to miss (maybe even ignore) on a wall, but when your picture was near a deadline written in red, you tend to acknowledge it. After just a few days were back on schedule, plus two months ahead of the previous year. That’s the great thing about being willing to look at problems; sometimes you actually get to solve them.
As the person responsible for setting up the obeya room and leading the summit, what I found was that by constantly making small changes to the wall I was able to keep everyone engaged in the developments of the summit. Essentially keeping the information from turning into wallpaper.
An obeya room does next to nothing if you’re not interacting with it. We also used the room as the foundation for Summit related meetings. I noticed that staff members felt not only more inclined to contribute having the obeya room set up the way it was, for all to see, but almost everyone felt more comfortable and able to ask questions and give input.
I’ve had to honor of giving tours of the summit obeya room to visitors for workshops, our board of directors, and even some of Toyota management. It has become a source of energy and a motivator for the team.
Will the 2015 Lean Summit be a huge success? I don’t know. Have I learned how to manage the work? I’d say I’m getting better at it, and our team works hard at this every day. Will we be using the obeya to manage other projects in the future? Absolutely.
We are far from done putting together the summit, but we do have the final line up of Learning Sessions, Plenary Companies, and Keynotes, all to be announced in the upcoming weeks. We will continue creating our best summit yet, but thanks to the obeya, are already looking ahead to 2016 and 2017. Learn all about the 2015 Lean Transformation Summit here.