CFT operations (Cross-Functional Teamwork) is an approach applied at Murata, which strives to solve any problems quickly or develop operations efficiently. The experts of several teams are invited to participate to gain access to the best possible know-how on how to solve the issue or develop some aspect further.  CFT operations widely utilize the different methods of daily leadership and visualization as well as inclusive team facilitation methods, for example. The CFT development topics can be larger development projects established by the management group, development projects of annual focus themes, or problem-solving for smaller groups or issues. We utilize CFT methods for many various business development needs, such as daily production management, resolving quality issues, boosting product development and other development projects and solving many minor challenges.  We have developed the methods and best practices of CFT operations for several years, and our employees have been systematically trained in them.

Now, let’s take a look at the current circumstances. In March 2020, a large part of our office staff started working remotely, suddenly moving from the office to their home offices. At the same time, some production workers still continued their work at the factory. The challenges of remote work are familiar to many: can you hear me, can you see me, am I on mute or not, the delays on the lines, etc. Last spring, we quickly learned that the previously developed CFT methods with physical war rooms, brainstorming sessions and flipboards do not work remotely quite like they should. However, the need to develop and improve has not gone anywhere, so it has been necessary to find suitable ways of applying the CFT methods to the remotely working world. We have proceeded through trial and error and found good practices for some of the methods, while best practices for other methods are still being tested and considered.

Different methods for different CFT stages

We will start with the basic principle. Bringing the experts of different matters together to solve a problem is the basis of CFT operations. In practice, this now happens in a remote conference rather than in a meeting room. Choosing the suitable people for the job can be done through smaller planning meetings held with the team leaders. Putting a CFT team together and gathering all the right people can therefore be done quite conveniently also remotely. Another cornerstone of CFT operations is to maximize the utilization of the team’s competence in solving a certain issue while keeping the focus on how to work together to utilize everyone’s competence and achieve the best ideas and solutions as quickly as possible. First, the team is given the overall view of the situation: where they are and where they should be. Then, the shortest route between these two situations is discovered and we start to move toward the goal.  However, adapting these methods to remote working is slightly more challenging.

A shared Excel file is quite okay for a brainstorming session or exchanging ideas and leads to nearly the same kind of drive than similar physical sessions, and there is plenty of space. A shared Excel has become my personal favorite in pretty much everything. It is the best way to concretize the feeling of working together in a remote world. When organizing larger brainstorming sessions, the group sizes of group discussions must be kept small enough to include everyone in active discussion. Discussions in small groups demand their own group leader, who should be agreed upon in advance. Transitioning from larger groups to smaller groups and back during meetings also takes careful planning and scheduling. But this can be done, as long as enough time and effort are put into planning ahead.

Various physical flipboards and similar have been a common tool for us when planning different actions or monitoring their progress. Turning these digital has been fairly simple in terms of technology, for example with tools such as Excel or Teams Planner. Even though doing things online is technically possible, holding a good status meeting remotely is not quite that simple, however. When we are not in the same physical place as the physical assignment notes, the facilitator will have to play a larger role in managing the situation, which is why the sense of working together as a team can easily become compromised. In more complex issues or matters that are linked to several different factors, it may also be difficult to form an adequate and yet simple overall image of the situation without a physical war room. The screens of laptops just simply do not fit as many items for viewing as a several square-meter wide wall. We are moving forward in this, too, but the biggest breakthrough for implementing an online war room is still under consideration.

In conclusion, there are several different technical solutions available. However, in my view, the challenges of CFT operations in remote working are more related to achieving and maintaining the right kind of atmosphere and activity level than the actual tools themselves. In a remote world, the facilitator is required to plan the events even more carefully, and they will also need to accept that sometimes technology fails, and patience is needed to overcome these obstacles.

Even though we have faced many challenges, the remote brainstorming sessions and flipboard meetings, while starting out a little haltingly, have still moved matters forward and have even started to progress more smoothly, thanks to repetition. We just need to determinedly continue looking for the best CFT methods and practices and then share them forward. The old saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, holds true in this, too.

Sanna Rousi, Sr. Manager, Manufacturing Management