I am now working as an information architect getting involved in all sorts of web and intranet projects and the question I recently asked myself was ‘If I only had one tool or approach that I could use in such projects what might that be?’ Without any hesitation the answer would be FMEA.
Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is an approach that is aimed at reducing project risk and it is simple, intuitive, collaborative and team based. It has been used extensively in the defence and automotive industries for many decades and I have seen the approach prove itself time after time. So what is it and how can it be applied to web and intranet projects?
It is about getting the right people together at the right time and asking the right question. The right people are those who are going to be involved directly in the project and who have relevant experience and knowledge. The right time is before the project has kicked off and when sufficient hard information is available to enable the team to make informed judgments during the compliation of the FMEA . The right question – ‘What could possibly go wrong?’.
FMEA is simply about getting people to think about all of the things that could go wrong in a project. After brainstorming these ‘failure modes’ the team is then asked to score each mode based on the severity, frequency and how detectable the failure might be. The resulting score is called a Risk Priority Number (RPN). At the end of the exercise it will be possible to rank the failure modes by RPN with the riskiest modes being towards the top of the list.
The second part of the FMEA is then to think about ways of, at least mitigating, and at best ensuring that the failure mode cannot occur. This is usually done during the same meeting but sometimes techical issues may require that specialised staff may need to attend. A judgment is made about which failure modes need to be addressed at which time. Actions are agreed and responsibiities assigned to individuals. These actions are then tracked throughout the life of the project. If there are major changes in the project the FMEA must be reviewed so it is a live document during the life of the project.
If the project is big enough to split up into separate sub-projects each of these should raise their own FMEA focussing on the particular area the sub-project covers. For instance in automotive their will be an overall project FMEA, and one for design, materials, jigs, production processes etc.
There is also a learning aspect to FMEA as one of the first inputs into a project’s FMEA should be to review the FMEAs of previous projects and to learn what worked well and what didn’t.
All I can say is try it if you haven’t already. It really, really works!
(Thanks to ‘openDemocracy’ for the CC Flickr photo)