When visual management turns into useless wallpaper
Having an Obeya is the latest – fashionable – sign an organization takes Lean seriously. The name itself sounds performing as is it is so strongly related to Lean.
Obeya may sound both exotic and performing, but is nothing more than a “big room”.
(I assume the perplexed Japanese are too polite to ask why so many westerners get jumpy when getting a big room.)
The bigger the room the longer the walls that call for something to display. And in order to make the obeya impressive, especially to visitors, lots of graphs, figures, tables, drawings, photos and maps must be displayed. So shall it be.
As a matter of fact, many companies display impressive walls clad of the previously mentioned printed material, plus sticky notes and hand colored symbols.
Well, many and most of the obeyas I’ve seen fail to turn to the war room where smart decisions are made to win the never ending battle against the empire of waste and its dreaded sneaky saboteurs named muda, mura and muri.
Getting closer to the display, it takes the outsider a while to find out the meaning of what is shown. I didn’t expect the pride about achievements to be that discreet, but it turns out, once the code for reading the charts has been broken, that the pride and achievement are still to come. Anytime soon suggests the presenter.
Not seldom are the prints totally outdated, and latest manual inputs (a place is left for them) missing. Key performance indicators graphs are plotted without any mention of unit nor indication of the target. Some data tables or audit sheets show the period between two events, confirming the lack of cadence.
Actions plans are anything but that. Fluffy wording is used to describe problems and even more fuzzy ones to describe the actions to take. The department in charge are mentioned together with a date (never know if it is the date the information is pushed to this department or the expected date of problem resolution), but nothing to track the actor’s acknowledgment, results nor to check off the action as successful.
The latest obeya with long walls full of complicated looking graphs and lots of other information turned out to be a kind of wall of shame, bluntly displaying and confirming what was happening on the nearby shopfloor. With time lag though.
Nevertheless, those obeyas just as the successful ones, set the scene for ritual meetings where the poor performances are “discussed” without many convincing decisions taken. My colleague describes those rooms as places where people shout at each other, standing.
Now, when I am invited to visit the Obeya, I expect to see visual management turned into useless wallpaper and the dedicated war room turned into a pathetic wallpaper showroom.
To end this post with a more optimistic tone, I assume I am only called to places in trouble and those working well simply do not need me.
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