Stop Doing FMEAs for Your Customers

My oldest bonus daughter (aka ‘step-daughter’), Ally, loves to sing the song, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now.”  It’s a fun and expressive song and we love to see her smile as she belts it out.  The first line in the song is “Stop telling me what to do!”

The song would resonate more if I sang it, but you get the idea.  Just picture a young maturing girl standing up to her mom…  Stop!  Don’t!  No!  Please!!!  Enough with your demands already!

The song came to mind last week because so many Suppliers — and I’m going to estimate 90% of them — only undertake Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (formal FMEA or something similar) because their Customers require it.  With so many other things to do and limited staffing, very few companies – if it were not a customer requirement – would analyze and then take action to control the risks in their process.  I believe this is due to a misunderstanding of what FMEA can do to make everyone’s job easier.

FMEA is More Than a Four-Letter Acronym

I’ve been learning, practicing and coaching others in Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA) for over 25 years.  I first learned FMEA early in my consulting and training career when I was assigned to an FMEA project at a General Motors Powertrain plant in Flint, Michigan.  There plant Manufacturing Engineers ignited my passion for manufacturing quality best practices.  After a few weeks, I was facilitating production teams in FMEA and we had many success stories.

I took to FMEA from the start … enjoying the ability to zoom-in and learn the details of a manufacturing operation, and then zooming-out to see the big picture and identify the weakest links in a process which needed attention to reduce risk of quality errors.

When I started The Luminous Group in 1999, it was largely based on my passion to collaborate with companies to help them see FMEA as a tool which will help them improve safety and quality, which would then reduce costs of errors and product defects.  Luminous Group developed a distinctive way to demonstrate the value of effective FMEAs to leaders and reduce the learning curve for product launch teams.  Learn more here.

I said, I’ve been ‘learning’ FMEA for many years because there are subtleties behind the steps and concepts that you only learn through practice and challenges.  Like many crafts and trades (welding, plumbing, carpentry … even quality tools like FMEA, DOE and GD&T), experience is what separates rookies from masters.

A New and Improved FMEA Methodology

In November 2019, the new AIAG & VDA FMEA Handbook was released.  At first, I resisted acceptance because only a low percentage of companies, other than their ‘Quality’ department, have understood the current, known methodology.  In many organizations, FMEA is inappropriately delegated to the Quality department.  However, without the correct cross-functional inputs, the outputs of FMEA are not seen as valuable and then the downward spiral cycle continues.

Working with Rich Nave to develop our training for the new FMEA methodology, I’ve come to understand and embrace the new 7-step approach, the new ranking scales, Action Priority vs. Risk Priority Number (RPN), and the added concept of identifying Process Inputs before documenting Failure Causes.

When done well, FMEA helps engineers prioritize and focus on preventing product and/or process problems from occurring.  When you consider the cost of poor quality, overtime wages, sorting, etc., there is a strong ROI for doing FMEA early, doing it well, and maintaining FMEAs through on-going cross-functional reviews.

Here’s the point:  FMEA is not done for your customer.  Nor is it done because a standard requires it.  FMEA is done to prevent problems under your roof, avoid the cost of scrap, rework, warranty or worse. Overall, the point of FMEA is to make our jobs easier.

Stop!   Don’t!   No!   Please!

Stop doing FMEA only as a direct request by your customers.  They don’t know right from wrong in your product design or manufacturing process.  Learn what FMEA can do for you, then give it a try.

No, don’t say it’s too much effort and has no impact.  We’ve heard that for far too long.

Please, learn why and push your team to do it for the good of your product.  Then your performance will fly.



What Does FMEA Have To Do With Ultramarathons?

One thing that we stress at the Luminous Group is that the FMEA is a way of thinking about risk.  It is not a form with rows and columns.  It is all about identifying risk early and taking steps to prevent or detect that risk so it doesn’t turn into a failure.

In my life outside of work (yes, I have one of those!!!) I have taken up extreme long-distance running.  The sport is referred to as ultramarathons, and it is any race longer than a traditional marathon of 26.2 miles.  I set my goal of running a 100k trail race (62 miles on dirt trails through the woods).

As I prepared, I realized I had no idea what could happen in a race of this distance.  So, I did what everyone does these days and started watching YouTube videos.  A few key “requirements” quickly became evident.  To finish the race, I had to maintain my hydration, keep up my nutrition, not get blisters and not chafe.

I will leave it to you to watch the videos, but suffice it to say you can see what happens to runners when they get dehydrated, “bonk” from lack of calories, experience wrecked feet and bleed from chafing – all images that are not for the faint of heart!  These became my “failure modes.”

Each of these failure modes had slightly different “effects.”  It might seem obvious that the effect would be not finishing the race; however, dehydration is more serious.  It can lead to a condition known as rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo for short).  This is when your muscles start to break down and the contents reach your kidneys causing lasting damage.  This was the most serious effect because it was safety related and could last a lifetime.  The next most serious is nutrition.  When you fall behind in calories you begin to hallucinate.  This can lead to tripping and falling.  Again, safety related. This left blisters and chafing which lead to discomfort, but no lasting effects.

By looking at my “effects” I was able to rate my “severity.”  This helped me decide what I would focus on first, and where I would spend money on special gear, etc.

With the possible effects defined and the severity ranked, I began to consider what would “cause” each of the “failure modes.”  Taking dehydration as an example, possible “causes” are not drinking enough, running out of water and water bottle failure.  The “failure mode” of chafing could be “caused” by poor fitting clothing, skin reaction to clothing material, moisture build up, not enough lubricant and deteriorating stride mechanics.  I went through each “failure mode” and tried to look at all the possible causes using fishbone thinking (man, material, method, machine, measurement, environment).

The next step – preventing and detecting failures and causes – was the hardest part for me because of my lack of experience.  How could I ensure the failures and causes didn’t jeopardized my race or worse –  my health?  I once again relied on the internet and consulted with the few people I knew who had run ultramarathons.  For not drinking enough “causing” dehydration, I ran the Gatorade Test to determine the amount of water I needed to consume each hour.  I then set up a plan for how much I should drink by certain mile marks based on the test.  To prevent dehydration, I bought water bottles that matched my necessary consumption for each hour.  This meant I needed to finish one bottle each hour.  I also downloaded and provided my crew team with a pamphlet on signs of dehydration so they could detect it early. Going through each “cause,” I listed ways I would “prevent” the cause and then ways that I or my team could detect the cause or the failure.

The last step of this was to test my systems. This was a “short” race to prototype all my plans.  It was a 50-mile race requiring you to run 6.4-mile loops.  The race went very well.  I finished in my goal time, and I learned a ton.  I found out you want to have a second pair of shoes to change into part-way through the race.  I also chafed in a completely unexpected place.  The vest I wore to carry my water bottles rubbed my back so much it began bleeding.  I invested in a new vest to try to fix this problem; however, it is still an on-going issue.

On the day of my big race I was relaxed and confident.  Not that it would be easy, but that I had done everything I could to set myself up for success.  I ran too fast early.  I did see stuffed polar bears with red ribbons by the side of the course (which were not there), and I fell once.  However, I finished and beat my goal time.  I ran 100K in 15:53:27.

This may not have been what they were thinking of when they came up with FMEA as a risk analysis tool, but it sure helped me reach a goal of mine!!!!


20 Years of Tailored Improvement Solutions

Twenty years ago, I started a training and consulting company called The Luminous Group.  It was 1999. I was married with two young daughters, ages 5 and 2.  It was a scary move, but I was passionate about seeing clients make improvements in their businesses using strategies, methods and tools in which I had a great deal of confidence.

Before starting The Luminous Group, I worked extensively with FMEA doing work with General Motors Powertrain Division and saw it as an amazing technique to look deep into the process and learn from Operators and Skilled Trades. By looking at the big picture (risk profile) through the lens of FMEA, I could help managers and leaders see where to invest resources and controls to prevent problems. Additionally, in my experience with Quality System compliance requirements, I felt there was greater value in knowing and understanding the ‘why’ rather than just checking off the compliance box.

As I started The Luminous Group 20 years ago and grew my team, my goal was to make accessible the quality tools and methods that I had a passion for so managers, engineers and other professionals could get more things done ‘right the first time.’  I believed showing those tools in a different light could help clients improve productivity and quality both short-term and long-term and get more net income for their companies.

Today, my girls are 25 and 22, college graduates, starting off in their own careers.  And I’m slightly older, engaged to be married next month.  I’ve had the pleasure of running and growing The Luminous Group for two decades and am proud to say, we’ve helped hundreds of companies improve their bottom-line.

Client Relationships and Results

Looking back, I’m most proud of the relationships and the results.  We’ve had great employees and contractors who have been fun to collaborate with toward the goal of serving our clients.  Many of those clients have become professional friends and a few have become personal friends.  And the work of helping more teams and companies get more things ‘right the first time’ has been very rewarding.  These results have been achieved through training workshops with applications to current problems, as well as through customized and facilitated consulting solutions to high-visibility issues.

A staple in our industry is training, and we have facilitated several hundred training workshops in the past twenty years.  Most popular have been:  FMEA, Root Cause Problem Solving, Project Management, Layered Process Verification (aka: LPA) and Internal Auditing (QMS and EMS).  We’ve also provided personalized training for GD&T, DOE, Jump-starting Projects, Leadership Development, Microsoft Excel, SharePoint and MS Project and a few specialized quality software tools.

High-Impact Tailored Solutions

The most interesting and rewarding projects for me have been our customized solutions that take a problem or a need and tailor a facilitated approach that best fits the team or company’s culture.  Clients have ranged from a few that were less than 50 employees, to many who are multi-plant enterprises with 1,000s of employees.

I think this portfolio of projects, like facets of a gem, defines The Luminous Group.  Here are some highlights that come to mind:

  • Provided our facilitators for the rollout of problem-solving training to a Tier One supplier’s plants
  • Led a two-pronged intervention to bail-out a vehicle manufacturer’s supplier after a poor new product launch, reducing defective parts per million from double digits to low single digits.
  • Facilitated component engineering teams responsible for developing Process-FMEAs for a new engine program.
  • Facilitated development of Bill of Process, including best-practice Process-FMEA for a vehicle final assembly, that was leveraged to future programs.
  • Undertook a project to train hundreds of an OEM’s North American Supply based in Layered Process Auditing. We rented a large conference facility and facilitated four ½-day sessions of up to 25 participants in each, running four consecutive days.
  • We ‘thought out of the box’ and innovated and published a training product called “LPA-in-a-Box” to give companies a jump-start in their implementation of LPA.
  • As a catalyst for an OEM’s quality requirements for Suppliers, we customized training to not only convey the what and how, but also to illuminate the ‘why’, and help top management through front-line work understand not only the task requirements, but why it’s important to them and to their team and organization.
  • Brought insights and knowledge of FMEA to a major lighting company ramping up the complexity of their product design and certified their Process and Design FMEA trainers.
  • We developed a replicable Kaizen-like program focused on improving outcomes and reducing cycle time for tooling/equipment changeover between jobs.
  • I served as a volunteer on the AIAG committee to revise the Automotive industry guidebook for planning and conducting Layered Process Audits (which I still prefer to call “Layered Process Verifications”!).

And more recently,

  • Documented key processes that were haphazard and then helped the HR department of a global financial services company improve their recruiting and employee development functions.
  • Worked with a distribution company to refine their process flow and incorporate techniques to minimize problems and streamline workflow.
  • We continue to service as an OEM approved auditor, trainer and coach to help their suppliers develop effective Process-FMEA and Control Plans early in their APQP cycle.
  • We helped a rapidly growing company that designs, builds and tests equipment used for oil extraction from hemp; to have a consistent, repeatable, efficient process for design of new equipment.
  • We developed and facilitated a customized PDCA workshop and job aid for sales managers to monitor and improve KPIs in a more consistent and effective fashion.
  • We served as the subject matter expert and designer for a global engineering professional society’s eLearning course for structured problem solving.
  • Several times a year we run an open-enrollment live-web seminar in 8-Step Problem Solving, for individuals or departments.

All of these were a lot of fun, even under sometimes tight deadlines and client pressure – and resulted in The Luminous Group growing our capabilities and our reputation.

Looking toward 2020

In this past year, we’ve had the opportunity to work with new clients in industries that are new to us, and that’s been great.  That includes: a national airline, two property and casualty insurance companies, a designer of extraction equipment used by hemp processors, an aftermarket parts sales organization, a local college and a non-profit job placement community organization.

All these organizations want to get more things right the first time, and every time, and we’re glad to help.

As The Luminous Group starts our third decade, I want to thank our many clients over the years (and our fans that read this far down in my blogs) for trusting us to provide solutions, insights and our own experience to help them see a clearer path to process excellence.

Preventive Thinking is What FMEA is All About

I’ve seen a lot of Failure Mode and Effects Analysis over my career.  Many are done only for show.  Others – that have high-fidelity with the product or process it covers – enable problem prevention.  With the cost of customer problems being so high, wouldn’t you rather ensure your FMEAs reflect real life and prevent problems?

Preventive Thinking is a critical element to drive down the cost of problems, both before and after product launch. For those companies using FMEA well, congratulations and thank you for encouraging Preventive Thinking in your supply base.

Here are three things you can do to make sure FMEAs drive maximum cost savings. (More detail about each of these three points can be found in the “Bringing FMEA to Life” videos at the end of this post.)

1 – Provide appropriate training and technical knowledge

Knowledge of FMEA terminology and the interaction between the columns in an FMEA form is necessary to complete an FMEA properly. Without that, you risk producing a document that is not respected by peers or your customers.

“FMEA thinking” requires an alignment in how employees identify requirements, and enter failure modes, effects, causes, preventive controls and detection controls. When team members have a shared understanding, the resulting conversations lead to improvement.

Teams should have the correct FMEA Standard document and any relevant handbooks. There are many ways to obtain the right training, including eLearning or training workshops from our company.

2 – Do it early

When the design of a product or process is young, you are able to find opportunities to prevent problems with lower incremental costs. After the design is completed, the process is defined, and tooling is set; costs of change rise significantly.

Starting the Design and Process FMEA early allows the team to think creatively and ultimately save your organization money by reducing or eliminating changes later in the product life-cycle.

3- Keep it real

Tie the FMEA to reality.  Look at physical models and digital simulations. Go to the plant floor; go to the Gemba (Japanese term that means “the actual place”) and see how the part is made, and how errors occur. Develop your FMEA to reflect the actual preventive and detection controls that are in your design process or on the plant floor.

Looking at real-world data (internal ppm as well as your customer incidents and problem reports) will ensure that known problems are included – with their relative likelihood of occurrence – and dealt with in your FMEA to lower risk of recurrence.

Taking the next step

If you’re ready to shake things up, to think differently about using FMEA, The Luminous Group can help.

Our “Bringing FMEA to Life” video series includes three videos that focus on Preventive Thinking. Rich Nave and I share our insights on how your organization can better implement and benefit from FMEA. Other themes in the 10-video series deal with the People Side of FMEA, and Making FMEA the Hub of your Quality Documents.

The Luminous Group wants to make it easier for companies to start this change in thinking. If you want other ideas to drive Preventive Thinking across your company, contact us to set up a time for a call or in-person meeting. After learning about your current approach, goals and challenges, we’d be glad to shed some light on using your FMEA to achieve real and sustained improvement on your journey to excellence.


When Management Elevates the Importance of FMEA, People Do the Right Things

Is your Failure Mode & Effects Analysis a document that you spend time crafting but then only file it away? Or is it something that really impacts a product design or improves what’s happening on your plant floor? In other words, does your organization treat the FMEA as a noun – a thing that is complete and saved – or as a verb – an ongoing reflection of risks and countermeasures?

We want you to think about FMEA the way we do, somewhat like a cardiac EKG: it is most useful when it functions as a real-time monitor, reflecting the actual controls and risks in your product design or manufacturing line. When thought of this way, it has the greatest chance of making your business better.

Why is this shift in thinking important?

When you find yourself burdened by problems that could have been prevented, it is an indication that you need to examine how FMEAs are developed and updated. These problems might include customer complaints, excessive scrap, or poor first-time quality. Perhaps you wonder “Why aren’t we getting it right? We hire great people; we invest in the right infrastructure!” But do you use that talent to ensure no defects can get to your customer?

On a very bad day, your boss (or customer) might ask you “what is it in your quality system that allows you to ship junk?!!!” That sure would be disturbing!

If you’ve been in or close to that situation, I suggest that you change the way your organization perceives the FMEA. Move from a compliance mindset (having the perfect document), to an action mindset (driving a quality system that prevents problems). By bringing the FMEA to life, you can improve the ways team members experience planning and execution, so all feel good about the business results.

Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Demand sincere management involvement. Actions speak louder than words and your team will do what you value. Demonstrate that you value FMEA by not just managing milestones, but also by looking at elements in the FMEA that deal with new features, or new technologies, or things you worry about.
  2. When an internal or external quality issue comes up, ask to see what the FMEA said about it. You might find that it was not considered in the FMEA, or planned controls were too optimistic, or even that recommended actions were not completed. Reviewing this sends a clear message that FMEAs should be used proactively and continually to reduce risk.
  3. Encourage team input. Improve your FMEAs by gaining inputs from people with different points of view. Their knowledge makes your product or process better, and involving them creates the buy-in needed to implement change. Help them block out time to focus on FMEA because, without focus, there are bound to be countless interruptions.

These three simple actions are an investment in excellence and have a high payback, but that’s only possible when you treat the FMEA as a verb… a real-time monitor and guide to action, not just a document completed for your customer.

Taking the next step

If you’re ready to shake things up, to think differently about using the FMEA, The Luminous Group has a few ways that you can start.

We’ve created a video series called Bringing FMEA to Life. Two of those videos deal with the people side of FMEA. Rich Nave and I share our insights on how your organization can better implement and benefit from the FMEA. Upcoming installments to this series will focus on Applying Preventive Thinking to FMEA and Making FMEA the Hub of your Quality Documents.

The Luminous Group also wants to make it easier for companies to start this change in thinking. Contact us to set up a time for a call or in-person meeting to talk through your goals and challenges. After learning about your current approach, we’d be glad to shed some light on using your FMEA to achieve real and lasting improvement on your journey to excellence.

When did FMEAs get so FISHY

Working with a maturing automotive Supplier, I realized that FMEAs have gotten fishy. Actually, some are truly suspicious and ugly. And others are looking a little odd… but in a very good way.

I know most reading this will be familiar with FMEA. For those who are not, FMEA is Failure Mode and Effect Analysis – a valuable proactive tool to improve quality – or really the output from any process or system.

FMEAs that look Fishy

The suspicious, ugly ones are only ‘deliverables’ – NOT the result of thinking, anticipating and controlling potential problems. With so much talk about Lean, eliminating waste, and moving toward preventing product failures and recalls, it’s so strange that some companies still think FMEA is only a required deliverable to their customer. This is an opportunity to educate.

It’s not as likely today, but for years companies (individuals?) created Design-FMEAs that were one or two-page documents, and Process-FMEAs that mirrored the Process Flow, showed a few Failure Modes, one cause per Failure Mode… Boom! Done!

Unfortunately, there is still too much focus on getting low Risk Priority Numbers (RPN) – intentionally to stay under the radar. While RPN is easy to calculate, people forget that the three input numbers should reflect reality:

  • How significant is the effect to the end-user? (Severity)
  • On a relative scale, how likely does that cause occur? (Occurrence)
  • Given a spectrum of detection methods and devices, how effective is the selected method for preventing escape? (Detection)

Fortunately, there is another school of thought that prevents problems and avoidable costs by taking a different approach to FMEA.

“Go Fish” – These FMEAs are a great catch!

While some FMEAs are fishy, I’ve amused myself seeing how fishing analogies actually help prepare better FMEA. Maybe you’ll be entertained too:

  • Know what you’re fishing for – if you want to identify and prevent potential problems, start with the Design or Process requirements. Then generate Failure Modes systematically by taking the opposite of each requirement. Best practice FMEAs emphasize this method by breaking out ‘Requirements’ into a separate column.
  • Don’t scare away the fish – everything has a cause and effect relationship. Throw a stone… scare the fish. If you want to prevent severe problems, you have to identify the potential causes and take action. Not making cause analysis a priority will eventually ruin you day.
  • Fishbones make good soup – When doing FMEAs, don’t forget about the other tools in your tackle box. To help teams thoroughly consider all potential causes… we have them utilize Fishbone (Cause-Effect) diagrams – or at least ‘fishbone-thinking’. This helps them ‘see’ if they’ve considered all prevalent categories of potential cause mechanisms and variation that ‘could’ lead to the Failure Mode under review.
  • Use an appropriate fishing net — We certainly prefer to prevent causes but think about what happens after a Failure Mode or nonconformance occurs. Once the cause or failure mode appears, you likely have a few chances to detect and contain the issue before you ship it to your customer. Think of each chance or method as a fishing net. Are your nets too open (visual inspection) or are they watertight (poke-yoke)?
  • Good Fish’n is fun … and productive! — Like a good hour or three of fishing, FMEAs can be fun and productive. Don’t do FMEAs alone… bring along others who have more and less knowledge than you. Focus on the system: look, listen and enjoy a beverage while you’re at it. Don’t get so caught up in the rules and guidelines that you lose sight of the fact that you’re doing it to make your life easier down the road.

Here in Michigan Spring is here (with some day-to-day variation). As you prepare for a little time off this summer, make sure your FMEAs are working for you so you don’t get those emergency calls and texts while you’re on vacation… maybe even while you’re out fishing!

If you’re not sure your FMEAs are as good as they could be, give us a call. I’d be glad to point you to some practical resources or share some insights with your peers who are responsible for preventing problems.