Lacking a vision to follow is perhaps the most common mistake we make when we engage in improvement work, urban development or cultural change. We see that the media is constantly concerned with projects and initiatives. At the national level, we call it reforms and locally we call it issues. Residents are asked if they agree or disagree with a case. Central offices draw up huge plans and communities must have action plans for everything. But these issues and action plans do not bring society forward unless they are sprung out of a common vision.

A vision is a direction to steer by. It is not a goal, we do not know if we will ever get there, or when. Of course, we have a vision, everyone says when we ask them. We have prepared a brilliant document with vision, mission, values and strategies. We have used a reputable consulting firm and we are incredibly pleased with the result. But where are all these visions and superiors? A vision is not a great worded slogan that everyone should learn and remember. The vision is a simple statement that shows which direction we want developments to go and what main strategy we will base our development on. The vision is also not a summary of what everyone is doing in the organization, it is the direction we shall go. Someone said that the acid test on any problem-solving was whether the solution brought us a step nearer to our Vision. If you are going to build a new bridge, it must be because it takes us a step in the direction of our Vision, and solves a central challenge, not because some people think it is a fantastic idea.

Breaking down the Vision

If one has decided on a common direction, a key step forward is to break down the vision into goals that the organization can engage with. It is often natural to set a main goal, for example one or two years ahead, list the key challenges one sees in achieving this main goal, and then set a short-term goal, or a target condition for a chosen challenge.

Takashi Tanaka describes this as Oobeya, a Japanese word meaning a large room and used because one traditionally had large operational rooms where one met to communicate about daily progress. Today we have good digital aids and can, if necessary, meet in virtual arenas, where visualization of vision, main objectives, short-term goals and ongoing activity is central to effective development work.

Strategic continuous improvement

Once we have set a short-term goal, or a target condition, the steps forward towards that target condition begin. This is not about random brainstorming or suggestion boxes, but about purposeful problem solving in everyday life, where everyone participates. Strategic continuous improvement is not an exercise for consultants or staffs, it is part of the daily tasks of all employees of an organization.

In other words, an innovative process for developing or improving the way we work is a strategic process where we steer toward a Vision and a common goal in daily initiatives, not fix ideas that some believe are important to implement. The strategic continuous improvement is based on the experts in any process, and these experts are the people who work in the process on a daily basis. As a leader, you are the driver of your organization. You are the one in charge, but it is your employees who are the engine of the propulsion.


Oobeya is the term Takashi Tanaka uses about his practical approach to Policy Deployment or Hoshin Kanri, by introduction to Lean in Toyota's new factories, including in the United States, in the period 2001-2010, although this term is also used in other contexts related to different arenas of a Lean organization. With an Oobeya Arena, we ensure visibility and common understanding of the few key challenges that the organization will focus on. Oobeya is the first step in the process OKTAV as described in the book of the same name, showing a way through a Lean transformation.

Start with a Vision. It does not tell us what to do or how to do it, but it inspires us to do the right things every day.

Do you want to read more about this? The book OKTAV is a practical book about how you as an organization become Lean and what steps you must go through in the first phase to build a Lean culture, and mobilize the organization to start its own Lean journey with all employees involved.

Read more about the book