Most product development engineers and those experienced at doing Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) have been embarrassed, criticized, or to often demoted or fired because they took too long doing FMEA or missed identifying one or more potentially critical failure modes in their FMEA.

It is not till their product or system is built and being tested or being used by customers that the failures occur, resulting in a poor reliability reputation, expensive warranty recalls, or hazardous safety lawsuits!  (Which of these three do you think would be most expensive?)

So, that’s when “heads start to roll”.  But, its not the engineer’s fault that failure modes were missed, because at the time, they were being pressed by management in three or four different ways;

1.      Pressed to complete the FMEA before the next design review,

2.      Pressed by time to complete their other duties before the next checkpoint review,

3.      Pressed to derate severity or likelihood of failure so that the RPN scores show green or yellow. (The manager says, “We don’t want any Reds showing up in the Customer’s  checkpoint review.”),

4.      Some large companies instruct their engineers, “Only put into the FMEA failures that have actually occurred in their earlier similar product.   

There is a solution to all this! But, it is NOT a matter of which spreadsheet template you use, or which FMEA software you might purchase!  The, above, problems will still plague FMEA activity. The damaging result comes back on the company and then onto those who did the FMEA.

The solution is not so much in what tool you use to do the FMEA, rather, it is in how you use the tool.  My favorite quote from Tiger Woods is when he says,

“Winning at golf is not so much in what brand of clubs you buy. It’s in your swing!”

And yes, Tiger Woods’ “swing” took some coaching and practice, to get it right. So, let me give you some free coaching, so you can win the FMEA game.

Here’s the story of how I learned to do FMEA 3X faster while not missing any critical failure modes. And, how this secured my job, made me some $10,000 more per year, made me layoff proof, and helped save our Customer, the U.S. Army, $233 million/yr. over the legacy systems they had been using.  (Read more…)

A good coaching session usually begins by visualizing the desired end result occurring. So, visualize for a moment: See yourself and your FMEA team zipping through completing your FMEA activity in 1/3rd the time, without missing any critical failure modes. This leaves you time to drive innovative improvements  or to mitigate the critical failure modes. This saves your company literally millions of dollars. And, that  positions your product or system for real success and brings higher company profits. This also results in you being given large annual bonuses or a raise in pay. You enjoy real job security and respect from your manager, director and peers.

My name is Howard Cooper. I see that vision clearly, because that’s exactly what happened to me.  

So, this may or may not help you, but let me share with you the discovery and simple procedure (the “swing”) you need, to do the same.

This could be crucial to you and your job, because back in 2012 it literally saved my job and kept me from getting laid off.

I had been a FMEA facilitator, helping engineers and development teams do their FMEAs since 2004. In 2012 engineers were, again, complaining about the time FMEA was taking away from their development work. So, the Director of Systems Engineering did an audit of the time and expense spent on doing FMEA over the past three years.

It was bad!

So, he then had an FMEA specialist spot-check several of the FMEAs, facilitated by our department of reliability engineers. Almost every FMEA had one or more potentially critical failure modes missing.  Why, he thought. Why spend all this time and money on FMEA, if we are still vulnerable to expensive warranty recalls and safety hazard lawsuits that could arise from these unseen and unmitigated failure modes? Yet, he knew we had to do the FMEAs. By specific contract language and for legal reasons we need to have these FMEAs completed and in our archives. They are required contract deliverables.   

So, the Director “laid down the law”! He told my boss, Dmitry (the Reliability Manager) that he needed to come up with;

1.      A way to reduce FMEA activity (hours) dramatically and

2.      A way to verify that we were not missing any potentially critical failure modes,

3.      Or, he would get rid of all our FMEA facilitators (me and half our reliability department) and he would contract out those FMEA services (like some other companies do).

Number “3.” might not get him “1.” and “2.”, but it could cut his costs and reduce his personal risk.

Dmitry didn’t know how to get both “1.” and “2.” either. He had previously worked for the largest and oldest automotive company in America, where “Quality is Job One”. So, he called some of his friends back at Ford, but they didn’t seem to have the solution either.

Fearing his “head might roll” too, if he lost half his department, Dmitry began pressing us all, individually. He assigned each of us to present possible solutions in a weekly group meeting. Dmitry was a fair minded Phd and reliability expert. So, he listened intently to each proposed solution we offered, as if he were the Director, himslef. “Did this proposal clearly accomplish “1.” and “2.”? Did the solution have a clear procedure or tool that could be used by others to accomplish “1.” and “2.”?  And, would the Director easily see it, once we showed it to him?

As each of us presented different ideas or methods, Dmitry would listen, then simply say, “No – That’s NOT it. Come back next time with something better.” Next presenter… Then we would hear, “No – That’s NOT it. Come back next time with something better.”

After my second or third time presenting and hearing, “No – That’s NOT it. Come back next time with something better,” I finally got a different response!

This time, after presenting a new FMEA preparation method and trying to answer some rather argumentative questions from the group, Dmitry spoke up, strongly, as if to say the final word and end the meeting, “Howard,” he said, “You’re Not wrong, you’re just – ‘Not quite right’”! And, the whole room broke into laughter. Maybe because, he had just expressed what they had suspected for years. This Cooper guy is usually not wrong, he’s just “Not quite right” (in the head)!

I smiled as they laughed. It didn’t hurt my feelings, because I knew this meant I was on to something.

So, over the next few days, I kept asking myself the question, “If the Director had been there, himself,  why would he say, “your just not quite right?” Or, “I just don’t quite get it.”  What was my FMEA method missing, that would make it perfectly clear to a manager or director that this FMEA preparation method would be much faster and not miss any critical failure modes?

Then, the answer popped up (epiphany!). The ‘wee small voice’ said, “Just add severity and likelihood into the FH-Decomp Table you showed them last week. And, multiply those two to show criticality! That should do it!”

I showed the idea to Dmitry, privately, before the next group meeting. “This looks good,” he said, “But, it would make even more sense to me if you moved your likelihood column over next to the hardware list and put the severity column across (horizontally) under the functions in your table. Do that and I’ll have you present again next week to the group. (I’ll show you in a few seconds what he meant by that).

The next week, after briefly summarizing my method again and explaining the new improvements, I  again opened up for comments. There were no questions, there was no laughter. The engineers just sat looking at the new FH-Decomp Table. They got it!  Then Dmitry spoke up, “Any questions?”  There was a pause. I could see in their eyes the wheels turning and churning. Then, Dmitry spoke up again, with the final word, “This is it!  “This is the way!”  If any of you have questions, going forward, ask Howard. These meetings are over!”

The final ending of that story? I didn’t get laid off. They didn’t contract out FMEA services and Dmitry got to keep his reliability engineers. After the next FMEA we completed, using this new method, I was asked to present it, with that group of product developers involved, to the Director of Systems Engineering in their Peer Review Meeting. The Director seemed pleased as we walked him through it and he was especially pleased when he saw we had finished the FMEA early, leaving us time to identify Corrective Actions and to mitigate (eliminate or avoid) the critical failure modes. 

This new method immediately cut our FMEA prep and scoring labor costs in half and as I got better at it myself, I was able to facilitate FMEA teams through the process in less than 1/3rd the time! And, yes, the FH-Decomp Table verified we had not missed any critical failure modes.

That following year we did FMEA on three large systems we were developing. We did FMEA on each of their sub-systems and on all new components. The finance department reviewed our actual savings over doing it the old way. We had saved $4,205,817 in labor hours. The hour spent by the facilitator and by the development team, in FMEA activity.

Even better, we had time to mitigate critical failures by tweaking the design and presented these improvements in CDR, Critical Design Reviews. This helped projects get adopted by our customer, which made our company many more millions.



Here is a graphic showing the four step FMEA preparation method I now use and teach to others:





Step #1: Most people use or create some kind of a ‘block diagram’ of the product or system, in preparation for conducting or filling in their FMEA. Some use an RBD, Reliability Block Diagram. Other use a FBD, Functional Block Diagram and other use their PFD, Process Flow Diagram (when doing a PFMEA). Each of these is useful for identifying what goes into the “Item” column of the FMEA.


I like the FBI, Function, Boundary and Interface Block Diagram because it provides the “Items” for the FMEA and verifies they are all there, while it also begins to identify the Failure Modes possible for each item in the system.

Step #2 Some FMEA experts, especially in the defense and medical industries, use the P-Diagram to further describe the system’s “Ideal Functions” and “Error States” which helps further structure the FMEA failure modes and “Next Level Effects”.








This also speeds up the FMEA process by helping engineers involved identify the various “Noise Factors” (Causes) of the identified potential system failures, along with “Design Controls” they have put in place to counteract these “Noise Factors”. It helps engineers quickly describe, in a logical and visual way, information that is needed in the FMEA.

Step #3 The new FH-Decomp Table quickly shows the functional relationship between Items in the system or process to the function(s) performed by each item. And it shows how those Item Functions support the final system output functions (Ideal Functions in P-Diagram).


I had to create this FH-Decomp Table in order to identify ALL potential failure modes and to help management, or show attorney’s, latter on, how we derived potential failure modes that we may never have seen before (since the product isn’t even built yet). And, show that we have identified all of them.

These three tools; FBI-Block Diagram, P-Diagram and FH-Decomp Table are extremely useful to help  structural architects, functional designers, system analysts and lead engineers or project leads to describe and verify the completeness of their system or device, in peer reviews and customer check point reviews.

All three tools provide reference and structure to quickly and completely fill in the FMEA for final engineering review and risk priority scoring. This can save hundreds of man-hours in FMEA preparation time.  

The FH-Decomp Table does one more powerful thing to speed FMEA and shorten the FMEA, while still identifying and analyzing all critical failure modes. What?

Yes, FH-Decomp Table is the only way I have seen to identify the ‘potential maximum severity’ and relative ‘likelihood of failure’ and see ‘maximum potential criticality’ of each item or component in the system, before doing the FMEA. In fact with the FH-Decomp Table, which engineers find very easy to fill in, you could skip doing the FMEA all together (if you simply didn’t have time) and go directly to either the P-Diagram or IfX tools to mitigate the causal “noise factors” or come up with simple innovative improvements to get ride of the potentially critical concerns in the system! This may be up to 80% as effective as doing  the FMEA and then focusing on mitigation, design controls and corrective actions.

However, in most instances in; defense, automotive or medical industries, delivering the FMEA is still required in the contract and it can give better resolution on potential failures and their root cause (physics of failure) to aid in faster, less expensive and more sure mitigation.  

Regardless, “This is the way.” With FH-Decomp you can predict and report how many failure modes will be in your FMEA, therefore how long it will take, for management budgeting and planning. You can now verify that all critical failure modes have been identified, analyzed and documented. And, you gain the time to address mitigation and innovative improvements that can be made before the next check point review or before the product is released, to improve product value and gain Customer acceptance and adoption. “This is the way.”

However, this four-step method and the tools mentioned, above, have remained pretty much a secret. Even though we used the method for years after, while I worked there and we wrote the procedures into company’s ISO-9001 quality and DfR FMEA process. Even though I presented the method and tools at local and national systems engineering, six sigma and reliability seminars and annual symposiums. Even though I helped 26 different development teams use these tools to mitigate or eliminate critical failure modes which they were saying, “could not be mitigated,” “there is nothing we can do,” or “we just have to move forward without improving that reliability risk.” And, even though using these tools all 26 teams did solve their “unsolvable problem” and improved their design. And, all 26 improved projects were then accepted and adopted by our Customer, the U.S. Army. Even though these 26 improved systems are now “in the field” saving the U.S. Army $233 million, over the legacy systems they had been using.  Why does this FMEA preparation method still remain a secret?

I recently realized the reason. Each of the four tools takes 1 or 2 hours of coaching to learn how to “swing”, how to execute with each tool to quickly fill in different parts of the FMEA and then take the FMEA to completion and how to best mitigate or innovate to eliminate the failure mode. That’s at least 4-8 hours of training and coaching I have never offered before, except to the engineers at General Dynamics Land Systems where I facilitated FMEA activities.

So, now, I am asking for your help, to do something crazy.

Let’s open up “pandora’s box” and let this secret out into the world. This might not help your current situation, or company, or it might make all the difference for your career and your company’s success, like it did for mine!

I’ve decided to open up a single standing private FaceBook Group of no more than 50 engineers and FMEA specialist and provide live, interactive Zoom trainings. Both of these, to help you do your FMEAs in 1/3rd the time, while not missing any critical failure modes. And, to make quick innovative improvements during your development process.

Click Here, to apply to become an participating member of this group.

The workshop is titled:

“How to Complete Your FMEA in 1/3rd the Time, While NOT Missing Any Critical Failure Modes”

For only $300 per attendee, make sure all your FMEA specialists attend, so you can start to;

o   Complete your FMEAs in 1/3rd the time,

o   Get the time and tools to mitigate critical failure modes, to

o   Improve the reliability, safety, maintainability, producibility and quality of your products

o   Improve the value and marketability of your product or system

o   Use FMEA to drive innovative improvements (now and in the future)

o   Gain recognition as a problem solver and key player on your product development team

Click here: to Get our Free FMEA Template (and future updates)


Click to Register for this (one-time only) Hobbs 3-Hour FMEA Workshop