Risk Management and Designers

Project managers, sourcing or supplier management, and business management: all of these functions look at risk management a little bit differently than product development functions. But designers have input into all of them. Also, some of the risk management methods from these other functions are inputs into the design process.  

Risk Management Associated with Design

Business management and marketing people look at risk management. They’re looking at it as risk management of public perceptions of the company. They also consider how people are interacting with products and what they’re saying about it. They look at data and information associated with public perceptions of a company, CEO, president, or product performance. How do designers fit into that? If the company’s products don’t perform well on the field, that reflects badly on the company.  

Project managers organize teams in order to meet deliverables. They manage risks associated with the project. The things they try to manage are time, resources, and money. This does affect designers and designers frequently have to communicate with project managers on those three facets.  

Sourcing or supplier management people look at risk management from a ‘stability of suppliers’ kind of viewpoint. Is the supplier going to be able to supply the product that we need long term? Are they going to be able to produce the type of volume that we need? What is the price stability going to be? Sometimes (at the beginning of the project) designers have a list of suppliers that they can choose from. They have a list of suppliers that the business has agreements with, which are preferred vendors. Designers may have to work with the supplier management person in order to draft up supplier quality agreements.  

Designer’s Risk Management includes FMEA

Finally we get to FMEA, or failure mode effects analysis. Any team should have designers most directly involved in FMEA. FMEAs are an analysis that evaluates potential failures, their effects, causes, and ways to control them. It is the main risk management tool for designers. Teams may perform different types of FMEAs depending on what’s being designed. You could have a Design FMEA that analyzes critical parts of your design. You could have a usability FMEA, that focuses on the user process. Or it could be about the manufacturing process. Regulated industries require FMEAs, like medical devices, automotive, and aeronautics. These industries have to have FMEAs on file. Third party auditors need evidence that risk management is an input into the design process. Also, auditors check that risk management files are maintained continually for post-market surveillance.  

What is interesting about all these levels of risk management is how they can work together. Supplier management can use the information from FMEA and can apply it to the risk management of suppliers. FMEA can affect the risk management that project managers are trying to control by identifying potential risks early. It can also directly affect the risk management of a business for public perceptions by capturing the potential effects. The designer uses FMEA as a major input into the design process which greatly affects product design functions. The designer can use the FMEA as an analysis to help answer questions. Is it safe, can it be easily used, and is it dependable?  

So, where does all this leave us? We can start thinking about FMEA as a holistic approach to risk management for a business. It can and should interface with risk management initiatives in other business systems. Take care to make your FMEA the best it can be. Maintain it, use it and share it with other functions because risk management matters.  

What can you do today?  

  • If you’re a designer and don’t know what an FMEA is, then I encourage you to look into it more. Ask a quality engineering professional about it or reach out to me! It is the most valuable risk management tool for designers.  
  • If you already use FMEA, then take a look at your current FMEA you may be developing. Do you see the potential risk that can affect business, marketing, project, and supplier management? If so, communicate it with your cross functional team.  

As a designer you have an important job and a unique perspective to analyze risk of your design. You also have a responsibility to communicate it so everyone can help reduce risks.  

Risk Management and Designers Info Graphic