A Basic Overview of FMEA

Most professional project managers have at least heard of the basic FMEA principles. For those who haven’t heard of them, or aren’t sure of what they are, or need a refresher on them, here is a basic overview of the FMEA principles for project management.

So what is FMEA?

So what is FMEA exactly? FMEA stands for Failure Mode and Effect Analysis. These techniques help project managers in analyzing and identifying risk in projects. The reason why FMEA is so successful is because these tactics help prevent problems, issues, and defects in projects and even enhance customer safety and satisfaction.

FMEAs are universal because they can relate to any area of project management in any industry. They can be utilized for technical and nontechnical project managers and in such industries. According to FMEA, its important for project managers to remember that even some of the simplest and least complex projects and products can fail.

What are the three factors FMEA risk factors?

There are three factors the FMEA principles use to determine risk. These factors include:

Severity – the consequence of the failure, should it occur. This basically outlines the severity of a failure. If the product or service fails, what happens? What is the worst possible outcome? A perfect example of this would be a product or even service that causes a customer physical harm or even death such as a faulty car part, medical device, or even a medical device manual.

Occurrence – the occurrence is the probability or the frequency of the problem occurring. How likely is the problem to occur in a particular project? And ultimately, what is the impact? So let’s revisit the example mentioned in the previous factor. If a mechanic or manufacturer is putting together a car, and let’s say he or she is using a new part, what is the probability that, that part will fail?

Detection – this refers to the probability that the issue will be detected or recognized before failure occurs. What is the detection plan for the particular project? What is the likelihood that the issue will be spotted before production is complete? Are there any QA steps involved in the process that would likely detect the issue? Again, going back to the example with the car assembly. Once a product is tested, manufactured, and assembled to the vehicle, what is the detection method to be sure of the functionality and safety of this particular part? Is there a manufacturing or production QA step that would test the parts before delivery?

What are the best ways to identify FMEA?

So how do project managers go about identifying and addressing the FMEA principles in their projects? Most project managers will develop or design a flow chart or some form of assessment sheet. These methods can help determine each of the FMEA steps and risk factors and how to respond to each of them.

Most commonly, each of the risk factors are identified and later addressed in team meetings and regular planning meetings for each project. This effectively communicates the risks involved and helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Upon new project assignments, project managers can sometimes feel overwhelmed when trying to schedule, budget, and even identify, plan, and respond to risks. The FMEA principles can really help project managers identify, analyze, and determine risks in any project. Once risks are properly identified and documented, managing them, with the help of team members, is that much easier.

What Should Project Managers Do When Projects Fail?

We’ve all been there at least once. The moment you get that phone call or email, and the project first turns the corner, and starts on the downward spiral to failure. What do you do? What is the best course of action when projects start to fail?

Unfortunately professional project managers, regardless of knowledge, experience, or background, all experience failure from time to time…and we hate it. While we can’t always predict failure or avoid it, there are tactics we can do to help it. Some of these tactics include some of what we already know, such as putting together risk response and management plans, holding regular team planning meetings, and practicing good document control.

However, there are things that can come up and happen at the last minute that can send a project down hill. Here are some best courses of action on how project managers can deal with failing projects:

1. Don’t Panic. When you receive a problematic email or phone call from a customer, team member, or sales rep, the first thing you should not do is panic. This can be difficult, especially if the person on the other line or that has written the email is emotional in some way. Your response should be calm and address the situation.

If you don’t have a solution right at that moment, at least respond to the email or phone call and let him or her know that you are looking into the situation and will get back to them as soon as possible. If needed, take a time out and go for a walk to help clear your mind. While you may think it’s not the best time to take a walk, giving yourself a minute to calm down and think about the situation could be your best asset. Addressing the situation with a clear head and a fresh state of mind can really help.

2. Check the Schedule. Once you have addressed the concerns, informed the customer, sales rep, and team, the next step should be addressing the schedule. What stage is the project at? Where is the project? How will this change impact the schedule in terms of project milestones and deliverables?

3. Devise a Solution. Once you have taken care of the first two items, now it’s time to put together a solution. Again, what is the concern at hand? How will it impact the schedule? How will it impact deliverables? Sometimes a solution cannot solve all three of these items. For instance, making a change in the late stage of a project may impact the schedule and risk on time delivery of a particular product, which could lead to an angry customer. However, it is best to work with the customer to see if negotiating on any level is possible.

All in all, there may be many reasons to cause a project to fail. They may not even be necessarily linked to a customer, there could be internal factors as well such as staffing, technology, or even lack of resources. However, these typically can be addressed during the risk management and assessment stage at the beginning of a project.

By practicing the above steps to address a failing project, and keeping these in mind while you are working, you will be able to address the signs of project failure and respond to them immediately. The customer and your team will thank you for it, and will ultimately lead to overall project success.

Useful Questions Project Managers Should Ask

When projects are first assigned, or when hot leads then turn into contracted projects, there are some questions that project managers should analyze and ask themselves at the beginning of a project. This will help fully assess project specifications, identify risks, budget, resources, etc. and put together a plan of action.

  • What are the deadlines and what does the schedule look like? Obviously this depends on the projects that you manage or the organization or clients that you are associated with, but ultimately one of the first things project managers should assess are the deadlines. Often times this may involve reviewing and analyzing the specs before committing to a deadline or setting up a schedule.
  • What does the budget look like? The second crucial item in a project to analyze and review is the budget. What materials or resources or time does the budget allow for? Is there a little or a lot of room in the budget? Will a risk response plan need to be put in place should project specs change late in the game? Project managers, unfortunately, often have to work with condensed or limited budgets…especially today. It is important to fully assess these constraints and put together a risk response plan for any changes or issues that come up.
  • What are the risks involved? In identifying schedules, deadlines, budgets, and project specs, it’s also absolutely crucial to identify project risks. No project should be handed off to team members or vendors until all risks have been identified and addressed and documented. Putting together a risk response plan to address the risks is also a pertinent step. This should outline what the risk category, the risk facet, and the probability that risk will occur, the impact, and what a reasonable response would be. It’s also a good idea to hold regular risk planning meetings to go over these with team members, particularly prior to hand off phases and other milestones.
  • What are the customer’s needs? While it’s easy to get wrapped up in data and the details such as schedules, budgets, resources, etc., it’s always important to remember what and for whom the project is for. What is the purpose of this project? What benefits does it serve for the client? What is the client looking to get out of it?Sometimes having this frame of mind will help us to deliver successful projects to clients. It’s also a good idea that when identifying project specs and other data to question anything that doesn’t make sense. For instance, if a particular client asks for a spec that seems odd, it may be worth questioning, or at least trying to understand what he or she is looking for, and then offering a possible or easier solution that may save everyone time and money.
  • How can we contribute to the project’s overall success? In addition to the previous point, it’s also important to take a step back and think of how your team can contribute to the project’s overall success. What skills do you and your team have that would benefit this project? What can you bring to the project table that would really ensure its success? Each project manager and team has their own personality and ways of doing things that stand apart from others. While this isn’t a competition, a team should be aware and proud of their skills and put them to use in a project.

These are just several questions that project managers should ask themselves when being assigned or taking on a new project. Some of these are typical questions that we have to identify all the time, however, sometimes we may forget what and for whom the project is for. It’s easy to get stuck on the details and forget the big picture. Taking a step back and truly thinking about these items will no doubt ensure the project’s success.

How to Ensure Risk Management Success

We’ve talked many times before in this blog about projects and risk management. We’ve talked about identify and analyzing risks, the most common risks and the most common mistakes in risk management, the facets and categories of risk management, and even project management and risk management methodologies. So how do project managers tie all these together to make sure they really capture and ensure successful risk management?

This takes some experience and practice. Project managers are constantly on the go and often times doing several tasks at once. While multitasking is an excellent skill—and one that many project managers perfect over time—this can also have a negative impact.

  • Identify Risks – As Early and as Often as Possible While we are busy multitasking, we may be forgetting to pay attention to crucial areas at crucial times, such as identifying risks. Identifying risks should occur at the very, VERY beginning of a project…even if the project isn’t technically a project yet, or is still only a lead or in the bidding stage. While it may seem like this takes more time overall, it can save project managers headaches throughout the project’s life cycle. In addition, it’s true that much of the identifying and analyzing risks should occur as early on in the project as possible, that doesn’t mean you don’t see them through. Depending on the probability and impact of the risk, it may be worth having regular risk or planning meetings with your team to monitor and analyze them through each project phase.
  • Prioritize and Analyze Once project risks have been identified, and then re-identified, it is then important to assign tasks to team members as applicable. Each risk can come with its own set of responsibilities and tasks associated with it. In addition to the project manager, of course, each team member can be responsible for a risk or tasks. These tasks will need to be prioritized, analyzed, and then re-prioritized and reanalyzed through the life of the project. Again, this can be done at weekly risk or planning meetings, through documentation methods (such as checklists), or whichever method works best for the team as a whole.
  • Communication and Project Management Communication is another big element that we’ve discussed in this blog on more than one occasion. Communication and project management, and communication and risk management go hand in hand…always. Projects will never be successful without implementing proper and open communication. Communication doesn’t even have to mean talking or conversing with one another about what’s going on, it’s about communicating risks, specifications, schedule changes, etc. Everyone should be on the same page at all times. This is of course a challenge for many teams, especially for those teams that work together on an off site or virtual basis, but closing the gap in communication will make everyone’s job easier and will ensure overall project success.
  • Engage Team Members At All Times This is somewhat of a spin off of the point on communication listed above. All team members working on any project need to be privy of the specifications, correspondence, schedules, timelines, and especially the risks. Not only will this open the doors of communication and keep everyone on the same page, but it also lets team members know they are valued in every stage of the project.

Again, the challenges teams face today is that most team members work off site, virtually, and even in different time zones. When we all rely on email technology and electronic communication today, it is very easy to miss a detail here and there. Moral of the story? Project managers should do whatever necessary in order to keep ALL team members up to date and practice open communication, no matter where they are.

All in all, while dealing with risks many not be the most exciting part about being a project manager—some may argue that it is the most challenging—it is certainly not an area that should be taken lightly. Practicing the items outlined above will ensure that the proper measures are taken to identify and deal with risks, as well as develop and design risk response plans. This will help ensure that projects transition and are completed smoothly.

Dealing with Programmatic Risks…Such as Hurricanes

Every project has its own certain levels of certain risks; risks that are analyzed and identified from the beginning of a project or during the development and submission phases. However, each project also comes with a number of uncertain risks, or even risks that project managers have no control over. Some of these uncontrollable and uncertain risks are related to weather. How many projects do you think are now suffering from a decrease in productivity due to Hurricane Sandy?

Dealing with risk management is a crucial step in every project. Project managers could spend all day putting together a risk management plan for risks that are both certain and uncertain. The truth is, project managers can’t devise a risk management plan for every risk that could occur. However, they can identify where these risks could occur. For example, each project has its own set of programmatic risks, which are basically those risks that affect project direction, but also fall outside of the project manager’s control.

Furthermore, programmatic risks also deal a lot with uncertain risks, or risks that involve environmental impacts. These could include breakdowns in communication, labor strikes, or severe, inclement weather. For example, Hurricane Sandy was a programmatic risk that many project managers face right now. Of course project managers at the start of their projects probably did not bet that a category three hurricane would put a halt to productivity or maybe even risk deadlines or project completion. This is a clear example of a risk that is out of the project manager’s, and even the organization’s, level of control.

So what can project managers do about uncertain programmatic risks?

Of course project managers at the start of their projects could not predict earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or blizzards that could result in closed offices or interruptions in communication. However, if project managers could be aware of the possibility of these environmental impacts, then perhaps schedule adjustments could be made in advance in order to accommodate the drop in productivity or the breach in deadlines. This could be as simple as messaging or emailing team members to have a back up plan in order in the event inclement weather is predicted. This will give team members the chance to tie up any loose ends, adjust schedules and deadlines as necessary and as possible, and just be ready for the impact.

Again, project managers should not waste valuable time in drafting risk management plans at the beginning of each project to include the likelihood of a hurricane. A big part of designing a risk management plan not only includes identifying the risk, but also analyzing the impact or probability of a particular risk occurring. For example, project managers that took on new projects a week ago could easily factor in the hurricane as a certain risk to the project, because it was a real possibility at the time.

In conclusion, every project comes long with its own set of risks that can be analyzed and identified by the five facets of risk management. Designing an effective risk management plan in the beginning is one sure way to make sure your projects go smoothly. In the future, how can you hurricane proof your projects?

How to Make Sure Your Project is a Success

So while this my seem like next to impossible, there are certain steps that a project manager can take to make sure his or her project is a success. Sure there are always challenges or obstacles to avoid and leap over, but if project managers follow these steps, the project’s outcome is bound to be positive.

  • Decision making – Decision making is always a crucial time for any project manager at any stage or milestone of a project. However, project managers know that most of the time they are responsible for everything but have none of the authority. While this may be true in many organizations, project managers do have the authority to make decisions…most of the time. Before making crucial project decisions, weigh all the pros and cons as well as the risks and potential consequences before making a decision. Project managers should ask themselves, “what are the risks involved?” “What are the consequences?” “How will this decision impact the project as a whole or the customer?”
  • Assessing risks – While this may seem self-explanatory and not necessarily a pertinent step in project success, think again. Although it takes time and planning up front and may not seem worth it, in the end it will be. Taking the time at the beginning of a project to assess risks will often times save time in the long run. While designing an entire risk management plan may be out of the question because scheduling is so tight, taking the time to acknowledge and assess the risks is incredibly beneficial and will save time and headaches throughout the project.
  • Communication – This is a biggie. They say that communication is one of the most important things in a relationship. The same goes for projects. Consider your project and the team members or vendors associated or working with you on your project a relationship. Open communication is the best policy because this will avoid problems down the line. There must be trust among team members and an open dialogue on all concerns, issues that arise, or anything else that should be addressed as a team on the project or to the customer.

While many may argue what the most important steps to a project may be, these three are definitely within the top ten. Of course successful project management steps greatly depend on the project, the product or service, and the organization, these items are beneficial to almost any project. These are also good methods and policies to implement regardless of how large or small the project or team is. Ensuring project success is an investment every project manager should make.

The Four Categories of Risk Management

As professional project managers, we all know that each project comes with its own set of risks. Those risks depend on the project specifications and scope, and no two projects are alike. Each project’s risks can be categorized into specific risk response categories in order for project managers to effectively address and respond to each of these risks and track their progress accordingly.

Avoidance – Avoidance doesn’t necessarily mean that project managers should avoid or ignore the risk, but that the risk itself should be avoided at all costs. Examples of such risks to a project that absolutely must be avoided clearly depends on the organization, but can include late product delivery to the customer, or the severe injury or even death of a customer.

Mitigation – This is one of the most popular risk response methods in project management. Although it can be an expensive measure, it is extremely effective and a popular approach. Mitigation is the category that risks fall into but aren’t extremely critical. All risks are critical and should be dealt with, but mitigation allows for project managers to address the risk and reduce the probability or impact of a risk actually occurring.

Transference – Transference is the method in which project manager can take a risk—or the consequences of a risk—in a project and transfer it to a third party or a party outside of the organization. A common example is when an organization works with insurers, such as warranties on particular products or machinery, subcontractors, or vendors. Transference is also known as “deflection” in project management.

Acceptance – Finally, acceptance is the risk response category in which project managers have addressed certain risks and have accepted the consequences of those risks. For example, if a project is submitted late and ultimately will incur late product delivery. Typically the customer is informed of this ahead of time and everyone accepts that the risk will most likely occur.

In addition, there are two types of acceptance: passive and active. Passive acceptance is when project managers don’t take any action in managing the particular risk. On the other hand, active is when project managers do in fact take action in preventing a risk for occurring or even developing fallback plans or contingency plans for if the risk occurs.

So what are some basic actions project managers can take when developing risk response plans? Communication is one of the biggest areas where project managers can identify each of the risks, develop risk response plans, and address each of the risks. Some communication methods can include holding planning or team meetings on a regular basis, or develop a project risk register to document each of the risks, the plans of attack, and address each of them with the team members.

The Best Ways to Make Sure Projects Go Smoothly

As professional project managers we’ve worked on a number of different projects all with different specifications and unique cases. We’ve also seen our fair share of challenges, risks, and inadvertent schedule delays. As project managers, we’ve seen it all. Here are some of the best ways to make sure projects go smoothly.

  • Know Your Clients and Customers. Knowing and establishing relationships with clients and customers is half the battle. This can help you immensely in determining schedules, budgets, and deliverables. This may be more difficult for less experienced project managers to grasp at first, but each detail-oriented project manager should be able to get to know the organization’s clients or customers after some time, or at least understand what their goals are. Knowing these goals can make all the difference in how effectively you project manage that particular client’s projects.
  • Recruit a Great Team. The other key are in effective project management has to do with the team. Recruiting and managing a good team can make all the difference in how a project is managed and carried out. Team members should all be working to one common goal: serving the client. Remember that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. In addition, project managers should keep in mind that they aren’t “managers” but rather “leaders”. This is vital to remember when leading teams and projects. The difference between a manager and a leader lies with the project manager. He or she should encourage team member success rather than solely delegating tasks.
  • Identify Risks and Establish Risk Response Plans. One of the most crucial points in project management is identifying project risks. Each project has its own set of challenges and risks that come along with it. A project manager should spend time at the beginning and identify any and all certain and uncertain risks and the probability and impact levels for each. Then, the project manager should design risk response plans for each of the risks. This way if and when each risk comes about the project manager and team can address them according to the plan that was put into place. Some of the best ways to address these as a group is hold planning meetings on a regular basis and keep all team members informed as to the project status and progress of each risk and how each is being addressed.
  • Archiving and Documentation. Another key area of project management—before, during, and even after the project life cycle—is documenting each step and archiving the project properly so that other project managers or team members can resurrect the documentation or information on a particular project should it be needed for future projects. One of the great benefits to doing this is a lot of time and effort can be saved on the part of the project manager if he or she has another similar project to reference to, to see how the completed project was carried out.

Of course these are only some of the ways that professional project managers can make sure projects go smoothly. Each project has its own unique cases and specs attached to it, so you may need to get creative in how to deal with certain challenges and risks.

Risk Management: How to Identify Project Risks

One of the most important tasks in project management is the ability to identify risks. Identifying the probability and impact of project risks as well as potential risks is crucial. Identifying risks in the beginning of a project can impact – either positively or negatively – in the overall process and outcome quality right down to customer deliverables. At the beginning of each project, project managers should analyze each project for the certain and uncertain risks, the impact and probability of each, as well as risk plans for each.

Typical risks include budgets, scheduling and timing, resource availability, and data resources and availability. Budgets are an area where many companies and organizations struggle with today. Many project managers feel the pressure to put projects together and make them happen on small budgets. Unfortunately, projects that have limited budgets are also the high risk projects since it typically means that resources will be limited throughout the duration of that project. Limited resources can range from personnel to physical project materials.

Scheduling and timing is another common risk area. In addition to limited budgets, project managers often find themselves trying to make projects work in what seems like an impossible amount of time. This could be directly related to the budget risk. Tight project milestones and deadlines can be extremely problematic. This may mean risking the project’s overall outcome quality as well as delivery time to the customer or client. It is always a good idea to risk plan this portion up front that way team members and/or resources are aware of tight delivery times and project milestones.

Resource availability is another risk area that requires thorough analysis and planning. As mentioned briefly above, resources can relate to personnel, physical project materials, technology, or even project documentation. Resource availability is another area that can also tie into limited scheduling and budgets. For example, if you have a rush project that you need to recruit staff for, availability may pose a risk if you are unable to find resources available to meet tight deadlines. In addition, limited budgets may also hinder project managers from hiring resources and the ability to pay rush fees.

Data resources and availability can pose another risk. Sometimes project managers are faced with projects where experience, knowledge, or data is lacking. For example, a construction company that specializes in building houses or office buildings may not have any knowledge or experience in constructing a ski complex. In these cases it may be necessary to consult expert interviews in order to gain knowledge on how to go about the project efficiently. Furthermore, it is important that once a new project is complete to properly document and archive the project so that should another similar project come up in the future the project manager will have something to reference.

It is true that project managers encounter many risks when managing various projects. Most of the risks can be categorized in one or several of the areas mentioned above. Once a project manager has identified where the project’s risks fall under, he or she must then calculate the probability of the risk as well as the impact that it can have on the particular project. Finally, the project manager will need to analyze the risks and put together a plan of action as well as discuss them with essential team members. Risk planning is a portion of risk management that should not be overlooked.

The Top 10 Traits of a Successful Project Manager

Being a project manager is not easy. Not only do you have to be the most organized and put together individual on your team, you also have to worry about your job being on the line if a project is not finished successfully. While managing projects for Victory Productions, a small book and learning materials publisher, it was imperative that the projects I was managing were finished on time and within budget – after all, the education organizations we worked with were not known for being forgiving to those that squandered their very limited budgets.

Along with all that stress we face in managing projects, we also benefit from getting to collaborate with role-model team members (though they may be few and far between) and other project managers. In all these collaborations, I’ve put together my own list of traits I need to gain in order to better manage my projects:

  1. Organized One of the top key traits of being a successful project manager is organization. You must be organized as a project manager. You must have the ability to keep track of tasks, budgets, deadlines, and follow ups as necessary. In addition, being organized will show team members that you are on top of things which will alleviate any stress or concerns about assigning or getting tasks done and done on time.
  2. Detail-Oriented It is important for project managers to be able to sift through details. Some details may include minor specifications, deadlines, or other specific customer notes that should be considered during a project. As a project manager you will be given a lot of information and it is important for you to sort through and recognize errors or red flags or analyze schedules or deadlines accordingly.
  3. Resourceful Project managers are resourceful. They utilize their skills and training and experience to sort out details and make decisions accordingly. They make do with the information and resources that are available to them, but they also know when to step in and ask questions.
  4. Problem Solving Expert A big part of a project manager’s job is problem solving. In many project management roles you deal with conflict. Conflict is unavoidable, but you do have the power to find and reach a reasonable and rational resolution that is in everyone’s best interest, including the customer. You should not try to make this an exercise in power control but a chance to settle areas of conflict and allow compromise and a speedy resolution.
  5. The Ability to Strategize The ability to strategize is also key to successful project management. Project managers must look at details, instructions, specifications, issues, etc. objectively and strategize a plan or solution from there. It is important to look at an issue from all angles to determine which plan or solution would work best for production, for the company, and for the customer.
  6. Practice Effective Communication Practicing effective communication is an area in project management that cannot be overlooked. Communication can relate to the way you speak or write to someone or how a project or instructions are directed. When speaking or writing to someone, it is important to think about your words or wording beforehand. Remember that communication can be very easily misinterpreted, especially today when most correspondence is recorded in email. It is also important to think about your words and instructions before assigning or handing off a project to a team member or another department. Think of how someone will interpret your instructions or if they are clear.
  7. Be Proactive Project managers are also proactive. Being proactive can sometimes go hand in hand with being resourceful. As a project manager you need to be proactive and understand the projects, tasks or assignments that land on your lap. Project managers that are proactive will recognize problematic areas in a project before it begins, address any issues or concerns before they become real fires, and ask questions and follow up when necessary.
  8. Be Timely Remember that information should be given at the earliest possible time upon embarking on a new project or challenge. You should plan out your project and the tasks that each individual employee will need to accomplish and schedule accordingly. Remember that since each project has its own schedule and that the sooner you assign or hand off to someone, the sooner that person can do his or her job.
  9. Training Training is another element of project management which shouldn’t be taken lightly. You will need to constantly provide information and training to your team members. By giving your team members the tools they need to succeed, you will also succeed as a project manager as your team’s efforts will result in high quality projects and happy customers. In addition, providing effective training will also reduce the amount of errors, miscommunications, and the need to continuously retrain.
  10. Be Enthusiastic Show your enthusiasm. You should be excited about the tasks or projects you are about to take on. You should know that attitude is an element of success. Remember also that enthusiasm and positive attitudes are contagious. The more positivity you display the more your team members and coworkers will pick up on it. You should look forward to all the training and education you can receive. Make this a career rather than just a job. Love the challenge and rise up to it.

To summarize, in order to be a great project manager you should be able to plan out your tasks, organize, and plan accordingly. You should be able to manage your teams effectively and manage the distribution of important tasks. You should be able to sort through the details and information in projects and prioritize essential information and relay that information to your coworkers.