Technique 44

Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis

Anticipate what can go wrong with your solution before it does.


Design failure mode and effects analysis (DFMEA) is used to anticipate possible failures or problems with your new solutions before they occur, and to have a plan for what to do in response. Carmakers, for instance, anticipate what could go wrong and prevent it when they install mechanisms that don't allow a driver to shift from park into drive unless the person's foot is depressing the brake.

Use DFMEA during your preliminary, initial, and detail design reviews to uncover any potential failure modes. Then your first priority is to prevent these modes by improving the design itself (see Mistake Proofing, Technique 45). If you can't fully mistake-proof your solution (as in the foot-on-brake example), your next priority is to detect a failure mode before it occurs and prompt the user to take action. The oil warning light in a vehicle is an example of this approach.

With DFMEA, you attempt to predict future risks and mitigate or head them off in advance. Predicting what could fail, and what you will do about it, could keep you out of firefighting mode and enable you to avoid unnecessary and costly delays in getting your new solution to market. For more complex solutions, you may need the help of an expert to apply this technique.

A design FMEA focuses on the interface of a new product, service, or solution with customers. A process FMEA focuses on the behind-the-scenes ...

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