As you are planning your project, it is natural to imagine that things are going to go just as you expect. Most of us intellectually know this may not be the case, and depending on our personalities may fall along the spectrum of conservative planners all the way to over optimism. To make the best plan, you must utilize risk management, both identifying the risks and then planning mitigation steps to reduce the chances of downfall or recovering in the event the issue becomes reality.
A good tool to identify and prioritize risks is a “Failure Mode and Effects Analysis” or a FMEA. This is a tool I learned during my Lean Six Sigma training. When this activity is applied to a manufacturing process, you are identifying failure modes. When used with general project planning, you are identifying risks or attempting to predict what will go wrong in the future so you can prevent it if possible and head off the oncoming train at the pass.
Let’s take something simple, like mowing the lawn. In the example below, you can see we have identified some things that might go wrong and then used our experience and educated imagination to see what might then be caused by the initial failure. The rest of the columns are used to identify mitigation plans and controls that might be put into place to prevent the worst case from occurring. Once you have those in place, you can go to the severity, occurrence, and detection columns and simply give each line a number from 1-10, weighting how bad the failure will be, how likely it is to happen, and how well it can be prevented. These numbers are multiplied together and you will then get the Risk Priority Number (RPN).
severity * occurrence * detection = RPN
The highest RPNs are will show you where you can have the greatest impact reducing chance of failure. These risks are a combination of the most severe and frequent, but also the most likely to be prevented if proper controls are implemented.
While this may seem like a complicated exercise for something as simple as mowing the lawn, it does work with all projects from planning a camping trip to building the latest military aircraft. This lawn mowing FMEA took about 20 minutes to complete, so there is no reason not to do this exercise for a project of nearly any size. Planning like this in the beginning could save you days or weeks of delay at the end. So – what could go wrong? Nothing a FMEA couldn’t help with!