Monday, December 3, 2012

Oobeya: The Project Control Room in a Virtual World

Oobeya literally means "Big Room" and is used to mean "Project Control Room". The basic concept of Oobeya of bringing visualization to knowledge work to shorten project cycle time and increase quality is not a new concept. But putting that capability in one room for all functions and using that room as the SSOT (Single Source of Truth) is rare.

The room's walls include Boards set up in cascading order for: Corporate or Project Objective--> Target or Expected Output--> Metrics--> Action Board or Concurrent Schedule Board--> Decomposition Area--> Issues (includes Potential Issues).   All of these are clustered in clockwise order around the prototype or end state.

Some of the most compelling concepts in Oobeya are:
  1. At the center of all of the big room is a visual representation of the goal, the end state, the output that the team is responsible for.
  2. The concurrent schedule board fosters concurrency similar to that of APEX, a project management collaboration tool used to develop cross-functional schedules for acquisitions at Cisco.
  3. The Decomposition Board show hot items (things that were coded red on the Action or Schedule Board) that need attention.
  4. The Issue Board shows the types of critical problems that can only be resolved by higher level management.  The person referred to must respond within 48 hours.
While this method is easy to use at home or in business settings where all team members are on-site, is this concept relevant in an age of projects that are distributed globally?  The same needs that an Oobeya satisfies exist, but they may need to be met in different ways.  With certain modifications for working from home, working remotely and global workers, it may be possible to leverage this project control concept to a virtual environment.

For example, APEX is a concurrent scheduling tool that allows all functions to create a project schedule in the same place and view it together.  It may also be possible to create an Oobeya at each site.  Signage Tools could be used to remotely refresh the board in rooms across the globe.  If collaboration portals were organized according to the Board Flow above, it may also be possible to use them to re-create this flow.

A virtual work environment certainly adds a layer of complexity or implementation difficulty to the concept but it doesn't take away the need for a project control room and for shorter project cycle times.

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