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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is Common Facilitation Problems
Next month's theme will be application tips - begin with concerns

Every month in FMEA Corner, join Carl Carlson, a noted expert in the field of FMEAs and facilitation, as he addresses a different FMEA theme (based on his book Effective FMEAs) and also answers your questions.

Questions and answers are a great way to learn about FMEAs, for both experienced and less experienced FMEA practitioners. Please feel free to ask any question about any aspect of FMEAs. Send your questions to Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com, and your contact information will be kept anonymous. All questions will be answered, even if they are not featured in the FMEA Corner.



fa·cil·i·ta·tor [fuh-sil-i-tey-ter, noun]
A facilitator is "one who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high quality decisions; a helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they achieve exceptional performance." - according to Ingrid Bens in her book, Facilitating With Ease! (Jossey-Bass, 2012)

FMEA Facilitation

One of the main factors for successful application of FMEAs is proper facilitation of the FMEA process, including FMEA team meetings. The skills associated with excellent facilitation are different from the skills associated with participating in FMEAs as a team member.

The facilitator is not a passive position but a proactive role, encompassing general leadership skills.

FMEA Facilitation Skills

"Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success." - Stephen Covey

There are specific facilitation skills for any aspiring facilitator to learn. The following are some of the primary facilitation skills he or she should master in order to effectively facilitate FMEA meetings to the desired results.

Each of these skills is taught and exercised in FMEA facilitation training.

Common Facilitation Problems

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions and training, facilitators run into difficulty getting the team on the right track. Two of the more troubling facilitation problems follow, with brief advice on how to remedy. Other common facilitation problems are covered in the book.

Someone dominating the meetings

During FMEA team meetings, sometimes there is one person who continues to dominate the discussion. If the problem persists, here are a few possible remedies.

  1. Ensure that every effort has been made to balance discussion according to the principles of "encouraging participation" and "controlling discussion," and referring to meeting norms.
  2. As facilitator, make sure that you understand the most recent point made by the person who is dominating the meeting discussion. Tell this person that you understand the point they are making and ask them to listen while other team members provide their input to the discussion.
  3. If this does not remedy the situation, take a break and talk over the problem with the person. Make sure they understand the need for balanced input from all meeting participants.
  4. If all else fails, the person dominating the discussion will need to be replaced. The success of the FMEA depends on balanced input from all team members.

Ineffective or weak facilitation

Learning facilitation skills requires a combination of learning the various facilitation techniques and learning how to lead groups of people. Group leadership skills can be learned; however, the path for someone who has difficulty being assertive in front of a group of people is more challenging. Assertiveness and leadership skills take time to develop. Where facilitation students have difficulty leading FMEA teams, the following are suggestions to enhance their group leadership skills.

  1. Review each of the facilitation techniques to be sure they are well internalized and can be applied in theory.
  2. Request help from fellow students or practitioners to role-play each of the facilitation techniques. The facilitation student needs to practice leading groups with various scenarios role-played by colleagues.
  3. Identify which scenarios are most challenging to the facilitation student; those specific techniques should be further drilled and practiced.
  4. Assign an experienced FMEA facilitator to team up with the facilitation student to co-lead a series of FMEA projects. Feedback will be important to identify areas of weakness for further practice.

Continue this process until the facilitation student gains confidence and is able to assertively and successfully lead FMEA teams and apply each of the facilitation techniques without difficulty.

!FMEA Tip of the Month

Good team facilitation requires "eyes on the team" to see who is participating and to work with the team to encourage participation. It is often helpful to use a "scribe" to enter FMEA information into the FMEA software. This allows the facilitator to focus on the team members, rather than on the FMEA entries. If you use a "scribe," be sure the person understands FMEA basics to avoid wrong information being entered into FMEA columns.


Scenario: You are facilitating an FMEA meeting and the group is having trouble developing effective recommended actions for a known cause. The best facilitation tool to address this scenario is ... (Select all that apply.) [Show/Hide Answers]

1. Use conflict management techniques to find and address the obvious conflict that is holding up the group.

2. Use active listening to try to understand better what the group is saying.

3. Use brainstorming to open up the flow of ideas.

4. Use probing questions to solicit more participation from everyone in the group.

?Something I’ve always wanted to know about FMEAs
The important thing is not to stop questioning. - Albert Einstein

A HotWire reader submitted the following question to Carl Carlson. To submit your own question about any aspect of FMEA theory or application, e-mail Carl at Carl.Carlson@EffectiveFMEAs.com.

As you know, there are many different versions of FMEA forms circulating in the world. For DFMEA, the one that I like is from the AIAG book (FMEA 4th edition, page 24), and orders the following columns in this fashion:

… / Potential Causes of Failure / Controls (prevention) / Occurrence score / Controls (detection) / Detection score / …

This appeals to me because the prevention controls that are currently in place are taken into consideration when assigning the Occurrence score and that makes eminent sense.

Then we move on the listing the detection controls, and assigning the Detection score. Would you say that the detection score should be based on the detection controls only? Or should it also give consideration to the prevention controls already listed? Suppose that I already have what are deemed as acceptable prevention controls in place. They may not be perfect in completely preventing the failure from occurring, but are deemed good enough from a risk perspective. Then I may choose not to have any sort of detection control in place, which would force a high detection score. This could lead to a high RPN, and ultimately to the misappropriation of resources to work on reducing that high RPN when it is not really necessary.

In short, I think what I want is a Detection scoring system that allows for entering a low detection score due to acceptable (but maybe not perfect) prevention controls that are already in place, thus precluding the need for any further detection controls.

Reading the standard AIAG "Detection by Design Control" scores, there is a hint of that in the very lowest score (i.e., 1) which says that you don’t need detection controls because your prevention controls are perfect, and the failure mode cannot occur because it has been completely designed out of the system. Would it be reasonable to modify the lower detection scores (say the 2 and the 3 levels) to say, in addition to their current wording, something like "… or prevention controls have been reviewed and deemed to have managed the risk to an acceptably low level that further detection controls are not needed."

I hope all of this makes sense, and as usual, I would value your thoughts when you have a spare moment.

Carl: Thanks for your well thought out question.

As you point out, the AIAG v4 Detection scale says the following for rank # 1: "Failure cause or failure mode cannot occur because it is fully prevented through design solutions (e.g., proven design standard, best practice or common material, etc.)." If you are using that scale, then you take into consideration whether the criterion for rank # 1 is met when evaluating the detection ranking. Other than that circumstance, when using the AIAG v4 detection scale, the detection ranking is assessed without regard to occurrence or severity.

The question you pose is whether some of the lower detection ranking criteria should be modified to take into account prevention controls that reduce risk substantially. Your concern is the misappropriation of resources to work on reducing high RPNs when it is not necessary. I understand the concern; although as you will see, I believe we can address your concern without modifying the detection criteria.

This topic has been debated by many experienced FMEA professionals. My personal view is that such modification of the detection scale is not needed. My first concern is always for high-severity issues, regardless of RPN. For high-severity issues, the FMEA team should first attempt to reduce the severity level. If severity cannot be reduced, the FMEA team should take action to reduce occurrence and detection to very low levels. If prevention controls are very good, the occurrence ranking will be low. However, for high-severity issues, detection controls may still be needed even if occurrence is low. If, on the other hand, severity is low, the team may decide no action is needed regardless of likelihood of detection. These are team decisions.

This is why I do not advise using RPN as the single numerical value for identifying risk-reduction actions. RPN has limitations. FMEA teams need to understand these limitations, and always address high-severity first, regardless of RPN value.

About the Author

Carl S. CarlsonCarl S. Carlson is a consultant and instructor in the areas of FMEA, reliability program planning and other reliability engineering disciplines. He has 35 years of experience in reliability testing, engineering and management positions, and is currently supporting clients from a wide variety of industries, including clients of HBM Prenscia. Previously, he worked at General Motors, most recently senior manager for the Advanced Reliability Group. His responsibilities included FMEAs for North American operations, developing and implementing advanced reliability methods and managing teams of reliability engineers. Previous to General Motors, he worked as a Research and Development Engineer for Litton Systems, Inertial Navigation Division. Mr. Carlson co-chaired the cross-industry team that developed the commercial FMEA standard (SAE J1739, 2002 version), participated in the development of SAE JA 1000/1 Reliability Program Standard Implementation Guide, served for five years as Vice Chair for the SAE's G-11 Reliability Division and was a four-year member of the Reliability and Maintainability Symposium (RAMS) Advisory Board. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and completed the 2-course Reliability Engineering sequence from the University of Maryland's Masters in Reliability Engineering program. He is a Senior Member of ASQ and a Certified Reliability Engineer.

Effective FMEAsSelected material for FMEA Corner articles is excerpted from the book Effective FMEAs, published by John Wiley & Sons, ©2012. Information about the book Effective FMEAs, along with useful FMEA aids, links and checklists can be found on www.effectivefmeas.com. Carl Carlson can be reached at carl.carlson@effectivefmeas.com.