Tag Archives: FMEA

Getting it right rather than ‘firefighting’…unless that’s your job!


By Elisabeth Goodman

Being a ‘farmer’ not a ‘firefighter’

Some years ago when I was first learning about Lean and Six Sigma, a colleague shared an article he’d found comparing farmers and firefighters. People in organisations are often singled out when they have worked all hours to deal with a crisis, and yet the people who have worked more quietly to anticipate those problems and put preventative measures in place (the farmers) can often go un-noticed.

Lean Six Sigma and Project Management techniques advocate just that quiet and steady farming approach (the FMEA technique described in an earlier blog is one way to do this).  Lean Six Sigma also advocates stopping and addressing problems as soon as possible after they do arise so as to prevent the same thing happening again.

What can we learn from the competitors in the Olympics at London 2012?

It’s impossible to write blogs at this time without referring to the Olympics and London 2012, which has kept many of us supporting Team GB glued to our television screens!

The competitors have been training for 4 years or more for the Olympics. ‘Firefighting’ is hardly an option when you’re up against the clock in your event, and you just have to get it right on the day.  How did the medalists and the other competitors who achieved their personal bests manage to do so?

“Hard work and grafting” was the approach described by Mo Farah after his exciting finish in the 5,000 metres: the culmination of his strategic planning and execution of the race itself.

Contrast this with Brazil’s men’s football team’s desperate attempt to equalize Mexico’s 2-point lead in their final match. In the words of the BBC commentator: they “started sloppy and underestimated Mexico”. They managed to score a goal in the 90th minute but missed scoring a second with a simple header because “it was too much” for the player involved.  Their ‘firefighting’ was just too tall an order.

The quality of the Olympic competitors’ coaches and their ability to pass on their knowledge, experience and expertise will have been a big factor in these games. It was intriguing to watch the dynamics between the pole-vaulter Holly Bleasdale and her coach as she tried to cope with a persistent breeze. She did seem to be in ‘firefighting’ mode and sadly things did not work out for her on this occasion.

Project management heroes

Coming back to the world of project management, Tony McGoldrick Opinion Piece in July’s issue of Project writes about how we can all be ‘heroes’ by doing the basics well. He also queried the all too frequent emphasis on ‘firefighters’.  For him, getting the basics right involves understanding and delivering what your stakeholders want, and getting the quality, timing and budget right.  Incidentally, the July issue of Project also carried an article by Andrew Hubbard on BT’s goal of ‘flawless delivery’ and getting it ‘right first time’ for the Olympic games!

Being the best that we can be

Amongst all the marvelous reflections and pronouncements about the Olympics, I found the following in this Sunday Observer’s ‘The farewell’ report by Tim Adams: “What these Olympics have been about, though, is not the necessity of being the best, but the pleasures of finding out the best you can be”.

Whether through “hard work and grafting”, anticipating and planning for risks, never underestimating the competition, being clear on how we can deliver value to our shareholders, and being committed to doing so, we can all not only become better farmers and heroes rather than ‘firefighters’ in our everyday lives, but enjoy the process of becoming so.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Failure modes and effect analysis (FMEA) a personal case study culminating in an aborted transatlantic flight


I have just spent a very comfortable night in a Heathrow hotel, after a 5 hour round trip spent in the air somewhere between London and Boston.  Although eating airline food, watching a (not very good) movie, and having a doze mid-air might be one way to spend an afternoon in May, it would not be my first choice!
It was the culmination of a series of misadventures that, viewed positively, provide an interesting case study on ‘Failure Modes and Effect Analysis’ (FMEA), or indeed Risk Management.

Failure Modes Effect Analysis – origins and applications

Put simply, FMEA is a technique that enables a team to identify what might go wrong and develop appropriate mitigation plans based on the probability, severity and ease of detection of the various ‘failures’.  The 3 metrics are assigned numeric values which, when multiplied, produce a Risk Priority Number (RPN).  The mitigation plans are prioritised based on the RPN of each failure.

The technique originated in the US army, and spread from there into various industries, including manufacturers such as Toyota and is now part of the American Society for Quality’s tool-kit.

This blog is written from the perspective of Lean and Six Sigma practitioners who use FMEA to evaluate current processes, and also potential solutions to the issues needing improvement.

Project Management practitioners’ Risk Management approach is also a variant of FMEAs.

My FMEA case study

I was due to catch a 3:00 pm plane from Heathrow to take me to Boston for a business assignment.  The journey involved catching a 10 o’clock train to London from my home village in Cambridgeshire, the underground to Heathrow, and then the plane.  My train and plane tickets were booked and I allowed plenty of time.  What could go wrong?  How did I end up staying in a hotel in London instead?

  1. Getting to the station.  I had to take my daughter into Cambridge, usually a 40 minute round trip which would get me home by a little after 9:00 am, so lots of time to walk to the train station.  However, there were some roadworks in Cambridge so that at 8:50 am we were still a long way from our destination.  Luckily I found an alternative route, dropped her off and was home by 9:30 am and so at the station in good time.
  2. Getting to Heathrow.  The train was on time. I picked up an underground train going to Terminal 3 straightaway. Check –in was from just after 1:00 pm, by about 12:10 we had passed Hounslow.  I could relax.  Not so: a defective train at Hatton meant that we had to go back to Hounslow and catch a bus to the airport.  By 12:40 the number of passengers waiting for the bus, and the scarcity of the bus itself, made this look impossible.  Some fellow passengers and I caught a cab, reaching the Terminal by about 1:15 pm.  No problem.
  3. Getting onto the plane.  The lady at the check-in desk patiently pointed out that I should have filled in an ‘ESTA’, the online equivalent to the ‘green form’ that I’d regularly filled in on previous flights to the US, but my last one had been about 4 years ago.  So, off to the internet lounge to fill one in.  Took me a little while due to my by then slightly agitated state, but got it done, and got checked in and to the boarding gate still in reasonable time.
  4. Flying to Boston.  We didn’t make it!  2 ½ hours into our flight time, the captain announced that a mechanical fault had been detected, and we were going back to London.  Everyone kept calm, and so after 5 hours, we landed safely, queued for our luggage, queued for our passes to local hotels, and there I am now, waiting to go back to the airport for the replacement flight.

THE FMEA ANALYSIS AND POTENTIAL PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

  1.  Getting to the station.  We do the journey into Cambridge on a daily basis, and although it can be slow, especially if it’s raining, we still manage to get home by a little after 9:00 am. However, there had been some roadworks the previous evening and if still there, they could have caused problems, which they did.  So probability high, severity medium but detection high had I thought about it!  I could have prevented the delay by listening to the radio before setting off or simply taking a different route from the start.
  2. Getting to Heathrow.  Train problems are frequent!  So high probability, high severity, medium detection capability.  I checked the train live departure information on-line before setting off and everything was fine. Underground train performance is less predictable, however the information boards and announcements also indicated the Piccadilly line was running normally. I allowed an extra half-hour before the start of check-in, in effect 1 ½ hours before the close.
  3. Getting onto the plane.  Not knowing about the ‘ESTA’ was pure negligence on my part.  Especially as my son had booked a trip to the US quite recently, and had said something about it which I’d not paid attention to.  A lesson in checking requirements before flying anywhere as a matter of course, even if I’ve flown there many times before.  Perhaps if I’d booked my own tickets I would have spotted this…
  4. Flying to Boston.  I am sure there are statistics on the likelihood of something going wrong during a flight, though most of us probably would prefer not to know.  The severity will obviously vary depending on the nature of the problem.  Luckily the in-flight detection system worked.  The cost of this incident to the airline in accommodating us all in hotels and in arranging replacement flights is very high.  From a business point of view, and from their customers’ peace of mind, let us hope that they adopt a rigorous FMEA procedure of their own when preparing for each flight.

Closing thoughts

I hope you agree that this makes for an interesting FMEA case study.  I’ve certainly learnt some lessons from it.  I’ve gone on-line already to see if my ESTA is valied for today’s flight but can’t find it on the system – so will be going to the airline’s customer desk in good time to check on this and possibly re-do it.  Hopefully by this evening I will be in Boston.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.