The Virtual Obeya

Got questions about Virtual Obeya's? We'll answer them - and a few you didn't even know you had!

June 3, 2022

As a Remote/ Hybrid (remoteish as I like to call it) environment of working has become the norm, it has exacerbated the need for organisations and their people at all levels of the organisation to have a place to absorb the information they need to best do their job. 

That in mind, we here at R:AF have evolved the physical concept of Obeya or Obeya rooms to enable the remote or digital environment by bringing together the premise of Virtual Obeya. A virtual large room if you like. 

We define the Obeya as a central radiator of information, it radiates information from the organisation to the organisation. It supports multiple organisational perspectives and adapts to the needs of the users whilst enabling that autonomy through directional alignment. 

This enables and creates the collaborative connective tissues that provides the organisation, leaders and teams with information flow in the form of lead and lag indicators of business performance as well cultural and human heuristics. All of this is essential for fact based directional decisions and ensuing interventions to the system of work to be made expediently by leadership. 

So where does it sit in R:AF framework? It exists specifically at the Enterprise and Team of Teams layer, however, it can sit at the Team layer if so desired. It can be applied either in singularity or in concert across the modules and the layers of the organisation with different granularity and focus depending on that organisation's need. 

Let's dig a little deeper into the makeup of Virtual Obeya. When we talk about the makeup of the Obeya we have defined four areas that we call “Mados”. Mado means window in Japanese, we use this because Mados should be transparent panes, windows into  the organisation's information. 

Before we look at what those Mados are in depth I would like to start with examples of the higher order of information required to enable the creation of the Obeya and it’s Mados 

Those examples would be:   

  • Strategy and its decomposition into objectives for vertical connectivity
  • Kanban systems for horizontal alignment across teams executing work
  • Measures and metrics that have been evolved for the new state of remote working and underpinned by data analysis
  • Risks, issues, progress, sequencing and dependencies for governance and delivery
  • Team and people information for engagement, cultural norms and health
  • Continuous Improvement PDCA, planning and execution

The granularity and focus will vary depending on the need, for example enterprise strategy metrics versus team performance. 

This brings us to what I like to call the Coalescence of the Obeya : The Mados. 

The Strategy Mado:

Visualises the decomposition of strategy to provide remote teams with directional alignment (the direction of travel). It is an ontology of the organisations strategy that :

  • Enables information to flow back to strategy planning teams in order to validate current strategy and formation of future strategy
  • Creates visibility that ensures everyone from the cleaner to the executive understand the strategic intent and how it links to delivery
  • Enables expedient informed and strategically aligned directional decisions/interventions and ensures teams are working on the highest priority work

Ontology of Strategy available in the Mado:

  • Beliefs - what the organisation believes in, the impact we want to have
  • Expeditions - long lived strategic themes: challenge the possible
  • Objectives - short lived, time bound, achievable, measurable
  • Work - iterative slices of value that take us there.

The following should be considered to enable this capability : 

  • Roadmaps and Strategic Compasses
  • Vertical (bi-directional) decomposition through Objectives and Key Results
  • Horizontal alignment through Kanban Systems
  • Ensuring work can be linked through the execution layers from task to strategy
  • Extend the quantitative prioritisation model to ensure work is consistently prioritised

The Work Mado:

Visualises the work portfolio across teams, multiple teams, programs or areas of the organisation. It is a concatenation of Team, Team of Teams and Enterprise information that is underpinned by data in order to:

  • Drive directional decisions, transparency and alignment
  • Provides real time lead and lag indicators of business performance
  • Enables an understanding of status, risks, issues, sequencing and dependencies of the work
  • Is used to synchronise the people around a segment of work
  • Builds collaboration and alignment across multiple teams and throughout the organisation

Ontology of Work available in the Mado:

  • Collaborative planning and progress information - Virtual boards that utilise zones containing a combination of dynamic and static information to visualise the sequencing and status of the work
  • Dependency visualisation - Visualisation of key work dependencies and their status
  • Event Cadence view - View of events that are used to support, align, prioritise the work, risks, issues, impediments and dependencies
  • Risk and Issues Visualisation - Visualisation of material risks and issues, their status and the plan for managing them
  • Impediments - Roll up of impediments that require resolution and the plan for managing them

The following should be considered to enable this capability : 

  • Remote All-hands planning in order to plan, align, prioritise and identify dependencies
  • Integrated workflow management tooling with dependency mapping capability that can be consumed by the Virtual Obeya
  • Supporting events in order to update, prioritise, sequence work as well as identify dependencies and impediments

The Data Mado:

Is an aggregation of data that has been designed purposefully for a remote environment, it represents a window into understanding the progress, performance and flow efficiency of an organisation in order to :

  • Enable fact based and data driven decision making
  • Display and consume metrics dynamically
  • Regularly tune, enhance and add as situations change
  • Dynamically roll up risks and issues, dependencies and impediments

‍Ontology of Data available in the Mado:

  • Flow efficiency
  • Risk and Issues exposure
  • Dependencies
  • Cost/benefits realisation
  • Value realisation
  • OKRS (Objectives and Key Results )
  • Organisational performance i.e. EBIT (Earnings before interest and taxes)
  • Impediments

The use of the following to enable this capability should be considered: 

  • OKRS: Outcomes set at  enterprise level and cascaded down to teams via objectives, key results
  • Inquiry and inspect & adapt processes that treat metrics as goal based and transitory in nature, adapting as the business evolves  
  • Dynamic tooling that collects source data and interrogates for key metrics and displays dynamically

The Culture Mado:

Makes visible and accessible a view of personal and team health, social connections, external interactions, working hours and working agreements at the enterprise, team of team, team and individual layers in order to enable an understanding of:

  • Personal identity
  • Team Identity
  • The behaviours that are expected, accepted and agreed
  • Team interactions internally and externally
  • How they grow, learn and maintain excellence
  • Human connection and the development of them
  • How and where they codify organisational knowledge
  • Methods of collaboration
  • Agreements that support and respect individual context and boundaries

Ontology of Culture available in the Mado:

Our team/s
  • Real time information on our team/s health well being
  • Team/s identity
  • How (and when) they can be contacted
  • Team/s and teaming models
  • Team/s agreed values and behaviours
  • Agreed working hours and interaction cadences
  • The team/s methods of collaboration
Our people
  • Individuals health
  • Personal Identity
  • Agreed values and behaviours
  • How (and when) they can be contacted/engaged
  • Agreed working hours and interaction cadences
  • How (and when) to contact each other
  • Team achievement

The following should be considered to enable this capability

  •, cards and/or other methods of recording who our people, our team/s are
  • Values statements for the organisation and amendments to them for team/s, all backed up by behavioural statements to make them real
  • Codification of centres of excellence and knowledge repositories
  • Integrations with core HR systems
  • Reflection and growth techniques and records of experiments (e.g. Retrospectives , futurespectives , introspectives)
  • Team Launch Canvas , Team of Team Launch Canvas , Team Alliance Canvas
  • Team and Personal Health check mechanisms

My final thoughts on the Virtual Obeya is to remember that each organisation is different and will want to emphasise different aspects of their culture and data in a Virtual Obeya. 

The information I have written here is only meant to be considered in order to help you reach a result. In order to represent the organisation, team/s and individuals, purposeful design within the context of the organisation's way of working is required to be applied.