No one wants a defective product, whether they are an end user or the company which is developing the product. Defects are costly, frustrating, and damaging to the company’s reputation.
As a project manager, you never want your company to lose money or suffer damage to its reputation. Therefore, you should use any possible technique to minimize failure or defects in the product.
One possible technique is “Failure Mode and Effect Analysis” or FMEA, also known as “Failure Modes Effects and Criticality Analysis” (FMECA) or sometimes simply “failure modes”.
This technique helps you locate potential issues with a product and allows you to take corrective action to stop this defect from occurring.
The FMEA technique can be used improve your systems, design processes, and the production processes.
Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA)
Despite its complex name, FMEA is a very simple qualitative technique which involves brainstorming with experts and listing their comments in a table format.
It is similar to the process of creating a probability and impact matrix.
In this technique, experts identify possible causes for product failure, the chances of these failures happening, the impact of these failures, how easy it is to detect failure, etc.
These opinions are noted in a table for further review.
With the use of this technique, you can identify many key failures which might affect your product.
When to Use the FMEA
FMEA is used extensively in project management. However, for the following cases, this technique is most useful for avoiding for future errors and improving the reliability of the process and the product.
- During the development of a new product or process.
- Before changes are made to the product or the process.
- After identifying an error in the process or the product.
- When receiving numerous and consistent complaints from customers.
- Sales support cost is unusually high.
- When company credibility is at stake.
You can use this technique for any process and any product. This technique is not confined to any industry or technology.
How to Use FMEA
As this technique is a qualitative analysis tool, it requires expert judgment; all relevant and available experts will need to be called in for one or more brainstorming sessions. These experts will help you postulate, collect, and evaluate the potential defects, their causes, and the impact of the defects.
The experts should belong to all functional areas of the process or product so you can cover the complete product lifecycle.
You can use the following table to record the experts’ input. Special attention is given to analyzing the cause of possible equipment failure.
As you can see from the tables, the FMEA technique uses three parameters: severity, occurrence, and detection.
Severity shows the severity of the defect on the user. It is denoted by SEV in the table. Occurrence predicts how often the issue may occur. It is denoted by OCC in the table. Detection represents how easily you can find the problem. It is denoted by DET.
The experts are asked to assign a value to each parameter, from 1 to 10, for each potential error or defect, where 1 is extremely unlikely and 10 is extremely likely. After the brainstorming session ends, you will compile the list of problems, causes, and their ratings. All this information will be entered into a table.
Finally, you multiply the severity, occurrence, and detection of each defect to generate an RPN. RPN stands for risk probability number and provides an overall risk impact score for each defect. In our example table, the RPN for the failure is 81.
After generating the RPN for all possible defects and failure you will need to decide the thresholds of each risk level: high, medium, and low. That is, what RPN number should be given a high priority, a medium, and a low-level priority?
Once these thresholds are decided and the RPNs are sorted, you will start working on the high-priority RPNs, generating detection techniques, implementing policies and procedures detailing action plans, and determining best practice for mitigating or eliminating the defect.
For example, the second table shows your recommended action for an identified failure, who will be the responsible for this action, and when you should implement it.
Once this failure happens, you will record it and the action taken on it.
How to Implement FMEA
By this stage, you have a list of possible errors and their potential corrective actions. Now you will assign responsibility to your team members to implement these corrective actions so the RPN of these errors can be reduced.
After the corrective actions have been implemented, you will revisit these issues and review them again to assess the effectiveness of your corrective action plan. If necessary, a new FMEA will be generated to re-assess risks and defects.
Do not forget the Pareto Law while using this technique. First, you should focus on the minority of causes that are creating most of the issues or defects. This provides the largest impact on the least resources. Once these high-impact issues are resolved, you can take on the other defects as resources permit.
If you see a particular issue is not being resolved with the current corrective action, you can plan a new corrective action to mitigate the problem.
Benefits of FMEA
FMEA offers many benefits by identifying errors in the very early stages of the design, production, or in the process. Some of the benefits of FMEA are:
- Improved and more reliable products
- Less after sale support
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Improved brand recognition
- Reduced failure and warranty costs
- Maximizing profits by reducing after-sales expenses
FMEA is a proactive technique which helps you identify potential defects and failures before they occur. This is a fantastic qualitative technique, and if used correctly and consistently can bring many benefits to your organization.
Though this technique may be little time consuming because of involvement of various stakeholders, if implemented proactively, it will lead your project to a successful ending.
Here is where this blog post on Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) ends. If you have something to share, you can do so through the comments section.