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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is Achieving Balanced Participation in FMEA Meetings
Next month's theme will be "brainstorming"

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.



If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away. - Henry David Thoreau

par·tic·i·pate [pahr-tis-uh-peyt, verb]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "participate" as, "to be involved; take part."

Why are FMEAs performed with teams?

Quoting from Issue 168 of FMEA Corner:

One of the most important steps in preparing for an FMEA is selecting the right team because FMEA is a cross-functional team activity. Doing an FMEA by one person, or with an inadequate or incomplete team, is unacceptable and inevitably results in poor quality.

There are three primary reasons for the necessity to have the correct team when doing an FMEA.

  1. People have "blind spots." A well-defined cross-functional team minimizes the errors inherent with "blind spots."
  2. The FMEA analysis requires subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines to ensure incorporation of all necessary inputs into the exercise, and that the proper expertise is applied to the design or process being analyzed.
  3. One of the indispensable values of an FMEA is the cross talk and synergy between subject matter experts that occurs during the meetings. Well-defined groups can discover things that individuals often miss.

What is meant by "balanced participation" by FMEA team members?

Once the FMEA team is organized, and the team meetings begin, it is essential that each of the FMEA team members participates in a positive and balanced manner in the meetings. This should seem obvious; however, it is not always achieved. Assuming that the FMEA team is properly constituted with the correct representatives from the right disciplines, each member has a role to play in the FMEA. If one or more of the FMEA team members does not participate due to lack of attendance, inattentiveness, lack of participation by introverts, domination of conversation by extroverts, or for any other reasons, the team will not benefit from their knowledge and contribution.

Balanced participation means a positive and relatively equal contribution from each of the team members, at each team meeting.

What are the benefits of "balanced participation" in an FMEA?

Stated simply, FMEA results will be diminished if the team does not encourage and provide positive participation from each of the team members.

The benefits of balanced FMEA participation can be summarized as follows.

  1. Minimize the possibility that FMEAs will be compromised due to the "blind spots" of individuals on the FMEA team.
  2. Ensure that the proper expertise is applied to the design or process being analyzed.
  3. Provide synergy and ideas that go well beyond a single individual.

How can balanced participation be achieved?

The facilitator must create the environment that encourages all of the team members to express their thoughts, ideas and experiences. Assuming the FMEA team is made up of the correct team members who represent the needed disciplines, the most important skill in successful facilitation is gaining a balanced involvement and participation from each and every team member. In order to encourage participation from the entire FMEA team, it is helpful for the facilitator to understand personality types. There are many different personality types, but two of the most common types are extroverts and introverts. Extroverts are more likely to talk in team meetings than introverts are, but their contributions are no more important. Introverts tend to do less talking in team meetings, but their contributions are no less important.

When there is an imbalance in participation, it may be necessary for the FMEA facilitator to moderate the input from team participants who tend to be extroverted, if they begin to dominate the dialogue. This needs to be done in a respectful way, without discouraging their input. While moderating the input from extroverts, it may be necessary for the FMEA facilitator to draw out input from team participants who tend to be introverts, if they are not contributing sufficiently. Again, this must be done in a respectful manner. It is the challenge of the FMEA facilitator to encourage and elicit equal participation from every team member, regardless of personality type.

Extroverts process information externally (thinking out loud). They get energy from talking and interacting with the people they come in contact with. Extroverts are more comfortable in social situations (like group meetings). Introverts process information internally (by thinking privately). They are less comfortable in group settings. In a group with extroverts and introverts, such as most groups, if not skillfully facilitated, the extroverts may end up dominating the conversation. If the facilitator does not balance the contributions between extroverted group members and introverted members, the FMEA will not go as well as it could. It will be missing a significant portion of the team contribution.

What are the challenges to achieving balanced participation in FMEAs and suggested remedies?

The following are two examples of barriers to achieving balanced participation in FMEA meetings, along with suggested remedies.

  1. As covered above, most teams will have a combination of introverts and some extroverts, and if the facilitator does not control the discussion, the extroverts will end up dominating the meeting and the results will suffer. The remedy is as follows: Once the extrovert has had his or her say, ask them politely to hold off and listen. Refer to group norms as needed to elicit their support in listening. Ask the introverts for their views and contributions. For example, ask the introvert what they think about the topic being discussed or the comments from the extroverted person. Above all, ensure the contributions between all group members are balanced and positive.
  2. If teams are not well run, attendees can become distracted and inattentive. Distracted or inattentive team members do not contribute to their capability. The remedy is for the facilitator to keep control of the meeting, minimize side conversations, and keep the team members involved in the proceedings.

These remedies require good facilitation skills, which are more thoroughly covered in chapter 10 of Effective FMEAs.

How does Xfmea support FMEA team participation?

Xfmea offers tools to keep track of FMEA team composition and meeting attendance. These tools help to ensure that the correct team is in place and attending each of the meetings.

Use the "Analysis Plan" feature of Xfmea to document the FMEA team composition, and to keep track of attendance for each FMEA meeting. Management can easily review these records to ensure the FMEA team is correct and participating.

!FMEA Tip of the Month

Many facilitators keep a mental record of when and how often they hear from each of the FMEA team members, and encourage input from team members on a relatively equal basis. The job of the facilitator is not to merely listen and record what certain members of the team are saying. The job is to move the team expeditiously through the FMEA process, encouraging and receiving balanced input from each team member, and bringing the team to consensus on what to enter for each of the FMEA columns. If you haven’t heard from person "X" for a while, you might say "what is your opinion about this topic" or some other way to get contribution from person "X." The job of the facilitator is to move the team through the process, all the while getting balanced input from each and every team member. This requires keeping an informal recollection of who has been contributing, so that input can be solicited in a balanced manner.

?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.

Assuming DFMEA is created during kickoff of project, most actions will be focusing on improving design or design controls. But in case it is delayed and created near to design freeze, what shall be priority of recommended actions (design features or verification tasks)?

Carl: You are correct that most actions in a DFMEA should be focused on improving design or design controls. If the DFMEA is delayed, the focus of the DFMEA should be discussed during the "Ground Rules and Assumptions" stage of preparation of the DFMEA. My tendency is to keep the focus on improving designs along with improving design controls, although this is the province of the DFMEA team. At minimum, I would want high-risk issues that require design change brought to the attention of the project team, even if the opportunity for design change is limited. The project team is in the best position to determine if an exception can be made for design change, even though the project is running late.

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.