Risk Guidance

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret

Risk Guidance is the second part of the Lighting Fast Reliability philosophy, “Robust Ready and Risk Guidance.” Robust Ready is all about failing fast so we can mature the design quickly. What is Risk Guidance? To put it simply, it’s having the needed inputs to guide program initiatives at exactly the right time.

The best source for these inputs is risk. The reason risk is so powerful is that it perfectly complements requirement-driven initiatives. Our program is primarily driven by requirements; requirements for functionality, requirements for safety, and requirements for service. However, once we get going down those paths to satisfy requirements, we need a way to navigate what is unfolding before our eyes. I like to think of it this way, as if we are setting out on a cross country journey.

Our requirements are akin to our planned destination and the planned logistics to get there. These include where we stop for things like gas and food, as well as other stops or sites we would like to see along the way. The risk guidance would be akin to everything we see through the windshield, the information from the gauges. These are all inputs for the actions we take from moment to moment.

There is no successful trip without both of these, the proactive plan and the input for reactive corrections. What does it look like only using one of these?. If we drive solely by risk guidance, we are unlikely to get to any meaningful destination, or worse, we experience something like running out of gas because stations don’t just appear when we need them.

On the other hand, if we take this journey having planned out every detail, but we have a mud-covered windshield and disconnect the instrument cluster, we will surely be in worse trouble. We’ll start out headed in the right direction and then simply be driving by sound and feel. Sounds like crunching noises and screams and feeling sudden bumps as we run over things and sudden stops as we hit things.

When our day-to-day program priorities and actions are missing risk guidance, we can’t anticipate what is going to happen and are subject to poor responses to failures or missing resources. Those are the screams, crunches, and bumps. So, we need risk assessment just as much as we need planning.

Where does our assessment of risk for risk guidance come from? More like, where doesn’t it come from! Risk is presented to us everywhere and all the time.

Here are the most common sources of risk input:

  • Design Reviews: We discuss the design functionality and progression towards goals in terms of risk through the complete design process. Not capturing this in a risk log or matrix is simply leaving little nuggets of gold on the trail as you trek towards your destination. Just reach down and pick them up as you go by. This is simply documenting them in a risk matrix or bulleted list.
  • Design Failure Mode Effects Analysis (DFMEA): The fundamental output in a DFMEA is a metric called Risk Priority Number (RPN). Risk assessment is clearly a main objective in this exercise. So how do we miss out on the benefits most often? We simply don’t let the RPN ranking guide our next actions. It’s kind of like the opposite of gold nuggets sitting on the trail. We pan the river, dig mines, and break rocks to find the gold nuggets. But then just leave a pile at the mine entrance and walk away, continuing our journey. So often in DFMEAs, we do all that work to quantitatively rank failure modes by risk, sort from greatest risk to least, and then simply check the box that we did our DFMEA and file it away. The next day we go back to reactively decide what to do based on the crunches, screams, and bumps. You must consider generating the risk ranking as part of the DFMEA process. The output has to be integrated into the program as a daily guide of what should be worked on next. Basically, for god’s sake just put the gold nuggets you dug out of the ground in your pocket, geez!
  • Fault Tree Analysis (FTA): Fault Tree Analysis can be implemented in both a reactive and proactive manner. When an FTA is used to root cause an event that has already occurred, it is considered reactive. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t providing valuable risk assessment that can be used for risk guidance in the future, thus making it proactive. If an FTA is being used to better understand a failure mode that has not occurred but is of concern, maybe a high RPN, then it is directly producing risk estimates that are ready to be used for risk guidance.
  • Risk Matrices: I find these to be, much like DFMEAs, not fully utilized in guiding programs. Often they are created to navigate a specific decision then filed away. Yet, every risk matrix has, at some time, brought to the surface valuable information beyond its primary focus that would be very helpful when assessing risk to the greater initiative. Just plug those outputs into the risk guidance dashboard and we have even more gold nuggets by doing nothing else than picking them up and dropping them in our bag.
  • Field data: We are constantly collecting field data on both legacy and new products. This data is most commonly in the form of complaints, and in field failures. It doesn’t take too much effort to use this data source to extract trends in risk. Simply create an output like a risk priority number for these issues and root causes. Failures, effects, root causes listed out sound familiar; It’s the same format DFMEAs use to quantify risk. All you are missing, in this case, is listing it out and ranking the factors.


Now that we have extracted the risk information, how do we compile and present it? This is something I can not be overly prescriptive with. It is very important that the input of risk for guiding decisions fit within your current program dashboard and program management structure. My favorite way is to wait for it… wait for it…. make an infographic! (remember my “Data is Beautiful Talk” ). Infographics can be referenced easily in design reviews, leadership meetings, or project steering meetings. Well, basically all meetings. The infographic is a very customizable way of displaying information at multiple levels. It shows a quick takeaway, a detailed update, and enough information to support a long discussion or debate.

The strength of a simple infographic is that it’s like one of those power outlet converters you get when you travel that can interface with seven different styles of outlet.

The key to creating a good infographic is to develop it around what the audience needs—and what they like to see.

The Lightning Fast Reliability motto is “Robust Ready and Risk Guidance.” It’s simple and very powerful. Fail fast and let risk be your navigator for an efficient journey.

How much does risk direct your development programs?


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