Oobeya is Japanese for "big, open office" - and it's Toyota's system for cutting costs and boosting quality. It's also the secret behind the redesign of one of history's bestselling cars.

Five years ago, Takeshi Yoshida landed a plum job: chief engineer for the 2003 Toyota Corolla and its all-new five-door version, the Matrix. The redesign of this small car involved big stakes: The Corolla is one of the bestselling automobiles in history and the heart of every other car Toyota makes. The Corolla, Yoshida says, "carries all the Toyota DNA - whether it's a Camry or a Lexus - of quality, reliability, and affordability."

Yoshida's assignment was tricky. He had to keep the price of the new Corolla under $15,000 while reinvigorating the design and adding high-tech options that would win over young drivers. Yoshida responded with a new approach to planning, one that promotes more innovation, lower costs, higher quality, and fewer last-minute changes.

That new approach is captured in one word: oobeya (ooh-bay-yuh). It's Japanese for "big, open office." The business translation? To change the way that you create a product, change when, how, and with whom you share information. For Toyota, oobeya means bringing together people from all parts of the company every month for the two years before a car goes into production."

Yoshida held his first Corolla oobeya in early 2000. The first order of business was to determine the cost of creating a single Corolla. "Cost became our universal language," says Don Esmond, senior vice president and a general manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. "We had never looked at a car that way. Each of us had a budget, and we were fine if we stayed under that."