Being able to predict and prevent crises is a critical skill for anyone undertaking a serious project. To be as successful as possible, you want to know what you might be facing and assess the potential consequences.
Outlining a plan for the most likely issues ahead of time will save a great deal of time and money. It will also ensure the stability of your reputation among customers. Customers want to know that your company has tested and accounted for problems in advance so that they aren’t left in the lurch while you rush to correct mistakes.
An organization that can extensively plan for possible defects and challenges at the very beginning of a process will be way ahead of the game. Testing in the end stages should not be the first resort for identifying potential problems. All issues should be accounted for ahead of time so that late-stage testing reveals no problems.
The best way to do this is to implement a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) at the beginning of your project. In this article, the word ‘project’ will be used to represent the process, product, or service being designed or implemented by your organization.
FMEA is a tool used by project managers in a wide range of industries to categorically outline potential wrong-turns in an upcoming process or product. The goal is to document what might go wrong, what the impact will be, and what the causes of that failure might have been. Identifying these things in advance is the best way to prevent their actual occurrence.
You should be using an FMEA any time you begin a commercial or industrial project. You want to begin the FMEA process as early as possible, and you could even use it to an extent to fine-tune different parameters of your concept.
Primarily, you will use an FMEA when you are designing a project or redesigning it for some reason. You will use an FMEA if you want a new application for your project, when determining why your project failed certain benchmarks, or as a routine part of the quality improvement process during the life of your project.
Use an FMEA template to guide your brainstorming session and to keep track of your failure risks during the life of your project. You will also use it to monitor corrective actions as needed.
There are many FMEA templates out there, and they should cover roughly the same standard topics. An FMEA template will help you describe the goal of your project, the potential failures, the RPN, the fixes, and the potential causes. You can find many examples of FMEA templates and case examples online.
Failure modes are the potential failures that may occur in your project. This is the foundation of the FMEA process. The goal is to identify as many as possible and assign them a risk priority number (RPN).
Before you begin, you should include all invested stakeholders and decision-makers. This includes managers, designers, potential customers or suppliers, engineers, and so on. This team will look different for each organization but should be very comprehensive to avoid oversight.
Participants then begin brainstorming all the things that could possibly go wrong during design, launch, and eventual use of a product or process. The FMEA template helps organize the brainstorming session by category so you can make sure you have considered all possible ramifications of a failure mode.
Once you have your FMEA template, you can get to work. Here is a general description of how you go about using your FMEA template for your project. This is not meant to be prescriptive, as your specific project will contain different details and requirements.
Once your team feels confident that all potentialities have been addressed and accounted for, write out any plans that may need to be carried out. Assign these plans to specific team members and document them on the FMEA template.
For the high-risk failure modes, usually those in the top 20% of the RPN scores, you want to create actionable plans as quickly as possible. Those should be your high priority items. Figure out which team members will be more effective or deal most directly with those issues and assign them to corrective action planning. They should have a specific plan and due date so that their progress can be monitored.
It would be easy to rush through the FMEA process. If you think your project is low-risk or if you think it is more important to get the project done quickly, you might be tempted to cut corners on this step. However, FMEAs are designed to save you time, money, and frustration down the road. If you take the time to do it correctly and thoroughly, you won’t be disappointed.
When reviewing the causes of each failure mode, make sure your team is in agreement. There is potential for conflict during this stage, as no individual wants to feel that their team or department was at fault for a particular failure (if you are reviewing actual project failures, for instance).
Input from a wide variety of perspectives is helpful here. Whether or not it is uncomfortable, you need to be able to accurately identify failure mechanisms and know how to take action. Otherwise, it is a futile process.
Make sure that you are also regularly reviewing your FMEA. You want to watch for different potential failures at different stages of the process. The RPN may also change as the project progresses. Changes in any stage can affect the potential severity or occurrence likelihood of an event, making the subsequent RPN change as well. Follow-up routinely with your team to ensure that everyone is completing their assignments, especially if they are for high-risk modes.
The FMEA process is simple yet crucial. Do not underestimate the importance of a strategic and detailed plan to prevent and correct potential project failures. You will save yourself a headache and potential public embarrassment by making failure as unlikely as possible.
Process mapping is extremely important as a lack of mapping leads to confusion. The process map can allow an organization to view areas of a process that can potentially improve. In terms of FMEA, process mapping can allow for the identification of risks that need to be mitigated. The redesign of a product is going to need a process map due to the complexity of a project.
The flow of work is outlined by a process map and can help identify where a backlog could occur. The comprehension of workflow is imperative for management in order to potentially optimize a specific area. The identification of a process that needs improvement or a risk that needs a change to be eliminated is the first step. Below are tips to combine a company's process mapping and FMEA.
Porter’s Five Forces identify competing forces whether it is customers that are negotiating or establishing a direct rival. FMEA can incorporate the Five Forces as competition can be seen as a risk. A supplier that suddenly increases pricing can directly impact product prices/sales and result in a competitor gaining the business. The competition differs immensely with new products even potentially being identified as a risk for a business.
Below are the Five Forces that Porter had identified and can be considered risks in terms of FMEA:
The business landscape in the digital age has resulted in immense competition and risks. One small setback can completely change the trajectory of a business. The identification of competition cannot be stressed enough as it can directly change the way a company does business. Businesses can thrive and improve once they understand the various competition/risks being faced.
Employee onboarding is extremely important as during the first few months with a company an employee is most likely to leave. In terms of FMEA, reducing employee turnover needs to be a priority. There are other risks associated with employee onboarding which can be remedied in the following ways:
Reducing the risks during employee onboarding is imperative. The right paperwork combined with a welcoming attitude of management can allow an employee to feel comfortable and stick with a company long-term.