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The golden rule of a visual organization is to ensure the participation of the people who use a given location.

The visual territory is characterized by a certain dualism, existing simultaneously as a basis for the group cohesion and as a unifying link with the organization.

Michel Greif, The Visual Factory, 1991

In this post we will talk about the importance of the Big Room as a tool and a key element of Visual Management to guarantee the success in the implementation and follow up of the Last Planner System.

1. Introduction

Lean Visual Management is based on the concept of teams. To ensure its successful implementation you should carefully consider what constitutes a team regarding your specific work environment. In general, LPS meetings consider a group of individuals of the team project and subcontractors, working in close proximity, who share many of the same goals and objectives. The size of the group depends on the size and the specific phase of the project, but in general, a session of LPS could be formed by a group of 7 to 15 people. The Big Room is the unifying element where those teams generate appropriate collaboration, communication, high-quality interactions, better decision-making, and assumption of commitments.

2. The Big Room

“Obeya”, is a Japanese concept that means “Big Room” or “War Room”. It is associated with the concept of co-location, that at Toyota refers to the practice of co-locating multidisciplinary teams in the same space to improve communication and creativity in the car design process. It is a project management method used at Toyota, being an essential element of Lean Management. During the project/product development, all parties involved are brought together in a “Big Room” to facilitate fast communication and decision-making. The barriers that have been created over time, among different departments and stakeholders, are eliminated. And the concept can be understood as a strengthening of the teamwork spirit among the team members.

The “Big Room” is the visual place where people meet together to plan the project, schedule activities, analyze and discuss problems, and follow up key process indicators. It is an essential element for the Last Planner System and Lean Visual Management.

Obeya: Big Project Room. Lean Summit 2020 - Takashi Tanaka - Lean for Knowledge Work. Lean Summit 2010 - Takashi Tanaka - Lean for Knowledge Work - YouTube

One of the first things we need to consider in a Lean project is a visual and transparent communication system among the members of the project team. The space where this communication occurs among the team members is the Big Room, and it can also be supported by digital communication tools. This element is necessary to carry out the Collaborative Planning sessions for both, Last Plannerâ System (LPS) and Integrated Project Delivery System (IPD).

Last Planner System Big Room – Prototype by Juan Felipe Pons

3. An Area of Communication for the Team

The Big Room becomes the Headquarter for the group cohesion and a unifying link with the Project. The team around the Big Room becomes the first level of the organization where collaboration occurs; and by establishing an official communication area, we pursue three objectives:

1. Facilitate the teamwork and ensure the participation of the team members around the panels.
2. Share general information, performance indicators, and a continuous improvement area.
3. Have an explicit communication area that symbolically strengthens the new responsibilities and commitments for the team.


Each company has its own style, unique projects, different approaches, and space limitations, but a consistent Big Room should give us answers to the following questions:

What is the function of the work area? What activities are made in that area?

The room where regular LPS meetings and routines take place is the territory of the planning/production team. The Big Room should show a long-, medium- and short-term planning, with updated project information so that everyone knows the production plan. In addition, this planning should be based on real commitments, written on the tags by the subcontractors who carry out each task. Another information to be included should be an Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS) and a complete Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for a best understanding of the project and the tasks to be done by everyone in the Team.

Example of a Big Room by Juan Felipe Pons.

How do people know what to do? Tasks, activities, date, delivery time, etc.

Visual management boards show everyone in the room what they need to do and when they need to do it. The Pull Planning shows the project plan, and the Look Ahead Plan shows the production control. Both concepts are based on the Lean principle of Pull and Kanban.

The visual panels of the Last Planner® System exhibit a visual communication system by itself, and the Weekly meetings of Last Planner® System identify delays in the planning before they become unrecoverable.

Scheme created by Juan Felipe Pons, author of the method

Example of Visual Master Plan and Pull Planning created by Juan Felipe Pons

How do you know how to do it? Standard work instructions.

LPS is a methodology as well as a system that if followed in a disciplined way is given excellent results. Its implementation requires standards, routines, periodic planning meetings and management tools. Some standards to be considered are the routines for each one of the different kinds of LPS meetings: Quick off Meeting, Pull Session, Weekly Meeting, etc.

Weekly meeting routine created by Juan Felipe Pons.

How do you know how you are doing it? A follow-up of key process indicators.

In the Big Room, some indicators are measured periodically, the root causes of the problems are analyzed and actions are taken when the results are not good enough as expected. Key LPS indicators like PPC show how the team is fulfilling commitments on a regular basis, and everyone knows the current status and issues in real time.

Examples of Key Process Indicators by Juan Felipe Pons.

What do you do if the expected performance is not achieved? Plan-Do-Check-Act.

We use continuous improvement tools such as the PDCA cycles and the 5 “whys” to react when the problems emerge. The Deming Cycle or PDCA is supported by Visual Management, and the Big Room is also the place where problems must be solved by the team. PDCA Cycle is part of Visual Management:

  • Planning implies the evaluation of the current state. Unless you measure, you will not have a basis for improvement. Every week, the team must evaluate and plan.
  • Doing involves applying discipline to achieve a new result, performing the planned actions.
  • Checking consists of using indicators to determine if the control changed the result. Is the team achieving the goals?
  • Acting is to apply a successful control to the overall project. It consists of applying immediate action based on the results.

Example of PDCA by Juan Felipe Pons.

4. The appearance of the Big Room

Visual devices are great central communication areas focused on keeping updated team specific information and continuous improvement activities. They provide the ideal conditions for a greater collaboration, communication, and sharing of information, which have a deep impact on the efficiency and productivity of the project.

The location of the Big Room must be as close as possible to the construction site. That ensures that new information is updated and communicated in the most efficient way and helps the team to create a sense of ownership. The Team must turn the Big Room into a strategic place where weekly production control is carried out, and the continuous improvement occurs.

Visual devices into the Big Room must be created by the project team, for the team. And the information displayed should be relevant, accurate, and pertinent. Visual devices must be maintained so that the information available is up to date as possible. And a person in charge must be appointed for updating the information and the logistics of the Big Room.

5. Recommendations for maintenance of the Big Room

  1. Do not neglect the appearance of the room.
  2. Do everything possible to make the environment as pleasant as possible.
  3. The room can take a huge variety of sizes, shapes, and technification.
  4. In general, the room should have the capacity to hold 8 to 20 people.
  5. Long table in the center or a set of U-shaped tables.
  6. Install an Air conditioning system (Cold/Heat).
  7. Healthy cleanliness and ventilation conditions.
  8. Keep an adequate lighting.
  9. The walls will be smooth and free of obstacles to place the panels.
  10. The room may change its configuration and location as the construction goes on.
  11. Co-location or time spent in the Big Room should not be seen as a waste of time.
  12. Call the right people for each meeting (the decision makers).
  13. Give everyone the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns.
  14. Respect the rules and be punctual.
  15. Use the “Parking Lot” for topics that are not on the meeting agenda.
  16. Choose a day and a time for the weekly meeting and try not to change it.
  17. When possible, use BIM models for a better understanding.
  18. Verify the effectiveness of the meeting by doing a Pluses and Deltas.

Visual management is the confirmation that Lean management is being implemented. Each new Lean tool that we implement in a project or company begins and ends with Visual Management, since the installation of visual devices to control production and the organization of regular team meetings to monitor and analyze problems, til the end the cycle, solving the root cause of the problems and moving towards a new and improved standard. In the following posts, we will continue talking about specific tools related to visual management.

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Juan Felipe Pons has worked as a building engineer since 1998. He has a MSc in Construction Management and PgCert in Lean Manufacturing (Polytechnic University of Valencia). Currently, JFP is working as a Lean construction trainer and consultant for several companies and organizations. He has written two books and has been invited as a speaker in several MSc of Project Management, MBA programs, and international conferences.