<<< Back to Index
This Month's Article >>>

FMEA Corner 
This Month's Theme is To Scribe or Not to Scribe
Next month's theme will be Pugh analysis

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.



"360 listening. This is where the magic happens. You're not only listening to what the person is saying, but how they're saying it — and, even better, what they're not saying."

Melissa Daimler, head of the Global Learning & Organizational Development team @Twitter, from article "Listening is an overlooked leadership tool," in the Harvard Business Review, May 25, 2016.

scribe [skrib, noun]
The Merriam-Webster English Dictionary defines "scribe" as "an official or public secretary or clerk."

scribe [skrib, verb]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "scribe" as "to write."

What is a scribe in an FMEA application?

In FMEA applications, a scribe is someone who is assigned the task of entering information into the FMEA worksheet. In some cases, the FMEA facilitator doubles as the scribe. In other cases, the FMEA facilitator asks one of the team members to act as scribe.

When is it useful to use a scribe in an FMEA?

The first thing to know about whether or not to use a scribe is that it is optional and up to the FMEA team. There is no FMEA standard that requires a scribe or a separate person to enter FMEA information into worksheets. This article provides information for an FMEA team to consider when making a decision about using a scribe.

Here is the key datum: The FMEA facilitator needs to have eyes on the team. He or she must above all maintain ongoing observation and interaction with each of the team members. Nothing slows or thwarts the team more than the team leader spending more time entering information into the FMEA worksheet than listening and communicating with the team.

A scribe is useful when the FMEA facilitator believes that entering information into the FMEA worksheet will distract from interacting with the team on a real-time basis.

What is the value of a scribe?

A good FMEA facilitator drives the team through the FMEA procedure and enables the team to do their best thinking. Forcing the team to wait while information is entered into the FMEA worksheet can interrupt the flow of ideas and waste valuable time of subject matter experts.

Reference the quote from Melissa Daimler at the beginning of this article. An FMEA facilitator should listen carefully to what each team member is saying, how they are saying it, and what they are not saying. Listening is one of the key FMEA facilitation skills outlined in FMEA Corner Issue 192.

What are the roles of a scribe?

Role # 1: The primary role of an FMEA scribe is to enter information from the FMEA team into the FMEA worksheet.

Role # 2: The scribe can interpret the verbal back-and-forth discussion of the FMEA team members and convert it onto the visual worksheet, thereby using the power of visuals to help the team members get to consensus. By distilling the various conversations that occur in FMEA meetings, and selecting the most important information that gets entered into the FMEA worksheet, the scribe can accelerate the pace and efficiency of the meeting. It's an interactive role.

Examples of FMEA scribe entries into an FMEA worksheet

Example # 1: An FMEA team is doing a Design FMEA on a wood pencil. The team is working on causes for the failure mode: Pencil wood shaft breaks during normal usage.

FMEA team member A: "The wood material could be too soft."

FMEA team member B: "The wood diameter could be too small."

FMEA team member C: "What if the wood was cut too long in the pencil assembly plant?"

FMEA scribe: At this point, rather than wait for the team to get consensus on which of these candidate causes are the final cause wording, the FMEA scribe enters all three candidate causes into the FMEA worksheet, preferably as they are being verbalized. The scribe has used the power of visual depiction to help the team get to consensus faster.

FMEA facilitator: The facilitator reviews each of the candidate causes with the team to get consensus on which ones remain, and the final wording. In this case, Figure 1 shows that the team slightly revised the wording of the entries from team members A and B, and decided to omit including the candidate cause from team member C, as it was not a design cause. (The team may choose to pass on this concern to the Process FMEA team.)

FMEA worksheet
Figure 1: FMEA worksheet

Example # 2: The FMEA team is working on the same Design FMEA on a wood pencil, this time on causes for the failure mode: Eraser does not erase graphite inscriptions on writing paper.

FMEA team member A: "What material is our eraser made out of?"

FMEA team member B: "It has a soy-based composition and the durability of the eraser depends on soy content."

FMEA team member C: "Where do we get our soy from?" [The team digresses into a discussion on sourcing of soy.]

FMEA scribe: At this point, rather than wait for the FMEA team to discuss this potential cause much further, the FMEA scribe selects the wording he/she is hearing that fits the definition of cause, and decides to enter draft verbiage into the FMEA worksheet as "Excessive eraser wear due to insufficient soy-based composition in eraser material." Once again, the scribe has used the power of visual depiction to help the team get to consensus.

FMEA facilitator: The facilitator reviews the draft verbiage with the FMEA team to get consensus. Figure 2 shows the final wording of the cause entry.

FMEA worksheet
Figure 2: FMEA worksheet

Can a scribe also maintain their FMEA team member role?

Yes. Most FMEA teams do not have the luxury of a single-focused scribe. Therefore, the scribe maintains his or her role as an FMEA team member, in addition to entering information into the FMEA worksheet.

Xfmea entries using a scribe

Xfmea is neutral regarding who enters the information. It is very user friendly, so whether the team decides to use a scribe or have the facilitator enter the information, it should be fast and easy.

I recommend keeping the FMEA visually displayed on a screen, within easy viewing of the entire FMEA team, at all times.


FMEAs will get faster and better results if the facilitator keeps most of his or her attention on the team. A good scribe not only helps the facilitator keep eyes on the team, he or she can speed up the meeting by using the power of visual depiction.

The scribe can rotate between team members, meeting by meeting.

?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.

Thanks for your book and all your online podcast discussions with Fred Schenkelberg.

Wondering how to handle (if it's even possible) with the FMEA case where one has an effect level mitigation for most failure modes.

Per page 167 in your book, "Effective FMEAs" you advise to change the severity when fail-safe mode kicks in. That approach works well, if we are doing a DFMEA and one does not have an effect changing mitigation "currently planned," then one is added as a "new action" and it is clear in the DFMEA form what happened by examining the pre vs. post RPN. Also it is clear this way to see the risk reduction value of the mitigation. But for many of new products such an effect mitigation action is not a "new action" thing. Some products are designed from the beginning with mitigations in place for most hardware failure modes. Therefore, I am wondering what is best to put in such cases as a starting case severity. Should one use the severity of the unmitigated effect or should one use the severity of the mitigated effect for the "pre" severity in cases where mitigations are "currently planned?"

Carl: Thank you for the kind words about my book and the podcasts with Fred Schenkelberg.

I'll reply to your question about how to perform FMEAs, where a system is designed with fail-safe, fault-tolerance or other failure mitigation strategies already in place. You ask specifically: "Should one use the severity of the unmitigated effect or should one use the severity of the mitigated effect for the pre severity in cases where mitigations are currently planned?"

My answer to this question has two parts. First, questions about high-severity application should always be addressed within a properly constituted FMEA team, made up of the correct cross-section of subject-matter experts, and coordinated with management. I can make general comments, but the specific answer lies within the unique FMEA team, and corresponding management.

Second, we'll examine a generic example. Let's say we have equipment "A" where failure mode "A1" can have an effect with potential for injury (high severity). The manufacturer designs a module "B" that will detect and mitigate the consequence of failure mode "A1" to a lesser severity. Equipment "A" works together with module "B" in the system. That is a common application in medical and other fields. So, if module "B" works as designed, the effect of failure mode "A1" will be mitigated.

If we perform a System FMEA on equipment "A" (including module "B"), the question becomes how to assess the severity of the effect of failure mode A1. Does the FMEA team assume the mitigation works and assess the severity lower? Or does the FMEA team take into consideration the possibility of both the failure mode A1 and the failure of module B both occurring at the same time?

This is up to the FMEA team. One suggestion is as follows. When performing the System FMEA on equipment A (including module B), the FMEA team can consider the mitigation strategy as one of the functions in the System FMEA, and analyze all the ways in which the mitigation function does not perform properly. This should result in a robust mitigation strategy.

It is also possible to perform a Fault Tree Analysis, and analyze the unwanted event where the mitigation strategy does not work. This is especially useful where two or more failures occur in tandem. If done properly, FTA can estimate the probability of the unwanted event, something which is not possible with traditional FMEA.

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.