FMEA: Finding the fix before things go wrong

Here’s a provocative question: Are workplace accidents ever really accidents? For an equally provocative answer, watch this 30-second video from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario – though the squeamish should be warned.

cautionUnanticipated events at work occur because of a combination of multiple factors. It is a result of interaction between human beings and loosely built processes and systems. However, when errors occur, the common response from managers is to remind the employee to do better, rewrite job responsibilities or simply fire him or her. There are better ways to address errors other than blaming and shaming the people who made that error.

To understand why mistakes could occur, I introduced our Master of Business Operational Excellence students to a method called Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). FMEA helps create robust processes and systems by proactively anticipating the vulnerabilities in them, prioritizing the risk they may cause and developing an action plan to address them.

One of the outcomes of an FMEA can be standardized work that addresses the variability in the processes. Standardized work defines the best-known method to perform a particular process that provides the maximum value to the customer. When you develop the standardized work you also need to train your people to perform the work optimally. Gary Butler, an executive in residence with Fisher’s Department of Management Sciences, spoke to our students about Training Within Industry, which focuses on breaking down the work into various job elements, explaining how it is done, and why it is done until the employee internalizes it. This also involves having help available if the employee has any questions or issues when they start doing the work.

The philosophy of lean is to have clear expectations of work, reduce complexities in the processes, and build systems that are mistake-proof or make it easier to detect mistakes. This prevents catastrophic events occurring.

So go ahead and shield your organization before things go wrong!

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