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FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is Brainstorming
Next month's theme will be "conflict management"

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.



The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science. - Albert Einstein

brain·storm ['brān-storm, noun]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "brainstorm" as, "a spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems."

What is "brainstorming" and when is it used in an FMEA?

Brainstorming is a technique for getting a flow of ideas on the table before making decisions. This technique is most useful when a decision or solution is not easily forthcoming. The purpose of brainstorming is to allow people to "put ideas on the table without fear of being corrected or challenged. It separates the creation of ideas from the evaluation activity." The outcome of brainstorming is a list of creative ideas involving the entire team.

Brainstorming is best used when there is a specific question that needs answering, and the facilitator would like to open up the flow of ideas. For example, if the team is working on identifying "Recommended Actions" for a difficult issue, it may be helpful to use brainstorming to open up the flow of ideas before working towards consensus on the specific recommendations.

What are the "rules" of brainstorming?

The rules of brainstorming include:

  1. Let ideas flow freely.
  2. Defer evaluation of ideas until later.
  3. Build on ideas of others.
  4. Nurture creativity.
  5. Defer debates.
  6. Everyone participates.
  7. Think "out of the box."
  8. Keep discussions moving.

How should brainstorming be used in FMEA applications?

When the FMEA facilitator observes the need for brainstorming to support the FMEA, he or she should let the team know that they will begin a brainstorming session and inform them of the rules. Ideas generated are recorded temporarily. The brainstorming session ends when the ideas are no longer forthcoming, and the facilitator lets the team know that the brainstorming session has ended. The ideas are then critiqued, and appropriate entries are made to the FMEA.

There are many variations of brainstorming. A number of useful variations are covered in chapter 10 of Effective FMEAs.

Why does brainstorming work?

People sometimes hold back on ideas for fear of criticism. This is a form of self-censoring. If you ask a team if they have ideas on how to solve a problem, they may hold back ideas that are open to criticism.

When a team is allowed to generate ideas without criticism, some of the ideas are silly or not useful. However, once the flow of ideas begins, there are times when a real gem of an idea is brought forward. That is the purpose of brainstorming.

How does Xfmea support brainstorming?

Xfmea provides users with a host of attachment features. The FMEA facilitator can conduct a brainstorming session and attach the information to the corresponding portion of the FMEA, either by attaching the document or a photo of the easel or marker board.

!FMEA Tip of the Month

It is natural and healthy for engineers to critique ideas. That is important in an FMEA. For this reason, brainstorming sessions have a beginning and an end. Always say to the FMEA team, "start of brainstorming" (to highlight the lack of critique) and "end of brainstorming" (to resume normal critiquing).

?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.

When assigning two actions for the same line in a Design FMEA (1. design improvement, 2. control improvement), how shall we define owner and target date for same line? Which date shall rule action is complete? Design feature improvement or detection control?

Carl: In an FMEA, each recommended action should have its own person responsible and target completion date. This is key to using FMEA to reduce risk. High-risk issues usually require more than one action. As you point out, one action might improve the product design. This action has a person assigned and a target completion date. Another action might improve the design control. This action has its own person assigned and target completion date. The FMEA is completed when all the recommended actions are completed and risk is reduced to an acceptable level.

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.