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Agile organization

Pulse Room and Obeya

Pulse room
The Pulse Room and Obeya are similar in some respects, but differ in others.

What is a pulse room and why is it such a central part of Parmatur Pulse?

To give a comprehensive answer to that question, I would need to write a long text about the history behind modern organizations. A short answer where much has been omitted follows below.

Modern business organizations started to develop in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. Phenomena such as middle managers, organizational charts and staff functions emerge. Thereafter, the development took off. In the 1950s and 1960s, almost all companies had a substantial internal bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy made R&D work increasingly difficult. The solution was temporary projects where people were moved away from the silo mentality. Projects solved one problem but created another. The management lacked insight into what was going on because the projects were isolated from the organization.

In the early 1990s, some companies introduced more extensive and continuous strategic work to clearly define what the projects were to achieve. But there were still shortcomings in the communication between the projects and management. Establishing a silo organization for projects was not a solution since that creates bureaucracy, something that projects were supposed to avoid. Toyota therefore invented Obeya, a meeting place with visual information where management, middle managers and the project team could share information and knowledge and make joint decisions. A new kind of organizational model was born.

The traditional organizational chart shows how responsibilities and powers are inherited from the top down. There are benefits to this, but it was clear early on that a company does not at all function as the schedule predicts. What drive the work of a business forward are the informal networks. And the management has no influence over them.

The lack of influence is precisely the problem that Toyota’s corporate management wanted to address. The meetings at an Obeya functioned as a hub for the informal networks. Thus, for the first time, management gained a real influence in the development projects while the projects could continue to work in informal networks.

The pulse room in Parmatur Pulse is a further development of the Obeya, built around visual governance rather than the technology focus found in an Obeya. This has made it easier to develop a generic organizational model based on pulse meetings in pulse rooms. The Pulse Room and Obeya are similar in some respects, but differ in others.

Unlike an organizational chart, where responsibilities and authorities are central, a pulse organization is based on interaction between people. If organizational charts are assigned too much importance, information and knowledge tend to become power. In a pulse organization, influence is created when information and knowledge is shared. That creates learning, the very foundation of successful development work.

Pulse room and Obeya

To get the full picture of what happens in the business is management’s biggest challenge. Without a comprehensive understanding, they find it difficult to act. When people collaborate, new information emerges from the interaction. This emergent information will say something about what is actually going on. Because all projects and teams hold their pulse meetings in the pulse room, this emerging information will leave patterns on the pulse boards. Thanks to this, managers can quickly gain an overview of the current situation through a short visit to the pulse room.

Read more in our new book, The Principle of Agile Management.

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