FMEA for Use in IT Projects

Six Sigma has become a popular way to implement and roll out new IT initiatives and products, as companies have discovered that releasing products with defects is costly and destructive to their reputation. There are several tools available through Six Sigma that are geared perfectly towards IT projects.

One of the most popular tools widely used in Six Sigma projects and particularly useful for use in the IT field is the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis commonly referred to as FMEA. The FMEA is used by companies to unravel potential fault lines within the design of a product. This is particularly useful in IT as it gives software developers the opportunity to see “the future” in terms of potential failures. This gives them the ability to eliminate bugs and defects on products prior to their release date by already have anticipated what might go wrong.

While software developers use FMEA regularly, this tool is so popular for IT departments and companies as it can be used to manage nearly any kind of project, from development to maintenance.

Using FMEA requires those involved to view their product or process as pessimistically as possible. The first step in the FMEA process is finding all the different ways in which an IT product, service, or process might go wrong. When considering these options, keep in mind that no potential failure is too “out there.” After all potential defects have been identified, it’s important to review this list with others outside the immediate group to ensure nothing has been overlooked and interpreted incorrectly.

Once the list is complete and as accurate as possible, the likelihood that each of these defects might actually occur is assessed. These are known as occurrences, and some will found to be extremely rare while others altogether too common. The impact of these defects, known as the severity, is also measured. Detention is determined, based on these stats. This refers to the probability that solutions will be found to these defects before the final delivery.

The rank of all of these factors is given, and the result is a risk priority number, also known as a RPN. Once the items with the highest RPNs are identified, solutions are discovered through extensive brainstorming sessions. Solutions must be within the realm of execution for the IT Department. Instead of dreaming up “wish lists”, brainstormers must focus on the reality of their limitations.

Those in the IT Department should revisit the FMEA regularly. This is a powerful tool that doesn’t end with the completion of the Six Sigma project, but rather with the end of the product itself. By pondering all of the ways a project can go wrong before it even starts, the result is often a better project than one could have ever even imagined!

Originally developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, the Six Sigma Training program was created using some of the most innovative quality improvement methods from the preceding six decades. The term "Six Sigma" is derived from a field of statistics known as process capability. The term 6 Sigma refers to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with "six sigma quality" over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma's goal is to improve overall processes to that level of quality or better.