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What is a Visual Management System: the Lean-Agile Organization "connectome"

Picture of a team working on a paper board Visual Management System

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The Origin of Visual Management: The Obeya Room

Visual Management became prominent in the early 1990s thanks to Lean Management which stems from Toyota’s Production System. Practiced in a large room called an Obeya or oObeya, Visual Management offers each team both a place and a way to share and review plans, ideas, problems, operations and key objectives on a regular and frequent basis.

The Obeya is built by the team and for the team, a single place with whiteboards on walls enriched by hand-written sticky notes, stickers and other paper artifacts, acting as simple visual elements for planning, value stream mapping, kanban, action management, problem solving, dashboarding, team mood and vacation scheduling. This focused communication hub enables rapid participative interactions and decisions, a place for teams to share feedback on business activities, improve efficiency continuously and increase collective intelligence.

Icon of connectomes to illustrate how iObeya Visual Management System is build

How a Visual Management System is a "connectome" of the organization ?

The Obeya, also known as a visual collaborative workspace , is just the visible tip of a Visual Management System. Like neurons are connected to form the brain system (the connectome), an Obeya network, corresponding to interconnected team workspaces across different levels of the organization, is integrated and synchronized to form a real Visual Management System.

A Visual Management System visually connects all layers of an organization, encapsulating teams, managers, and executives in a single, powerful, versatile and sustainable human engine adapted to our VUCA world.

The pillars of any Management System for an organization are based on strong human culture, with the goal of continuously improving business performance and agility, and strengthening its resilience.

How to Implement Visual Management Systems in Lean and Agile Organizations

A Visual Management System is built on 2 principle dynamics.

  • Top-down: the organization collectively builds its management system by cascading strategic projects, key programs and associated KPIs throughout the different levels of the organization.
  • Bottom-up: responsibility and autonomy is given to the operational teams to monitor projects status and KPIs cascaded to them, to identify issues and correct potential deviations when possible.

This information is shared with the next level of management, during regular meetings (often daily in manufacturing or weekly in product development), with the Visual Management System consolidating project status, escalated issues and KPIs from the levels below and cross-functionally, providing overall visibility at a macro level to upper management.

The Visual Management System “runs” by repeatedly performing this routine of follow-up and continuous improvement at different levels of the organization during regular and structured meetings. These meetings are often called “rituals” in Lean and “ceremonies” in Agile.

Picture of a shop floor team using iObeya on a digital screen

Inside a bottom-up Management System

Some Manufacturing Excellence Systems can have 5 to 6 levels from shop floor to leadership, and Agile systems like SAFe® (the Scaled Agile Framework®) or LeSS designed with 3 to 5 levels depending on the size of the organization managing the release trains. All such systems require strong executive support, including trust in this new way of management based on transparency and accountability, with managers acting as enablers or coaches rather than directing or controlling activities. We talk about an “inverted pyramid” because the system runs on a high level of delegation for operational teams, empowered to steer the organization’s success. Visual Management aligns and connects the entire organization globally through a network of autonomous, integrated and synchronized visual cockpits (Obeya) designed with the right level of granularity (KPIs, problem solving, project follow-up) for each team, updated during recurring and coordinated meetings.
View of a 3D room in iObeya software with visual collaboration tools

The Future of Visual Management is digital

Digitizing Obeyas and the different collaborative flows embedded in a Visual Management System, such as cascading and escalation of information, optimizes the regular meetings of distributed teams non-disruptively, facilitating the deployment of standards and accelerating the continuous improvement cycle.

On a strategic level, a Digital Visual Management System is a catalyst for cultural change and a key enabler for boosting Industry 4.0, Agile at Scale or Lean Enterprise transformation.

Paradoxically, digitization – rejected for years for denaturing Lean and Agile practices – has become a “must have” for the future of Visual Management in our new hybrid world. Some practitioners and pioneers have paved the way. Now the question for any large and complex organization is rather when they will adopt a Digital Visual Management System for their Lean or Agile journey, and which solution will enable them to digitize their system while safeguarding human culture?

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