5 Options to Manage Risks during Product Engineering [transcript]

We’ve identified a risk with our product and new product design. Now, what do we do? Let’s talk about five different options to manage risk in new product development after this brief introduction.

Hello, and welcome to Quality during Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. My name is Dianna. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join the conversation at qualityduringdesign.com.

So, we’re doing all these risk analyses and we’re coming up with risks. Well, now what do we do about it? Let’s consider what we’re developing. Let’s think about it as a product architecture point of view. We have a system and subsystem and components, and I would even go so far as to say that you would think of our whole packaged product as its own system. So, you have the actual product, but then also it’s packaging and it’s instructions for use. These are all part of our product design that we’re intending for our customers to be able to use together to properly use the product that we’re developing. We can also think of the new product development process as a learning process: as we’re developing the product, we’re learning new things about what’s working, what’s not working, and we may have to adjust for that.

Considering product architecture and that we’re continuously learning more about it through the new product development process, what are five ways that we can manage the risks that we happen to uncover during the development?

One of the things that we can do when managing risks is to prioritize them and address the riskiest items first. That could be the subsystem that has the riskiest or the highest severity risks or the thing that happens the most often. It could be components and other submodules of things that seem to be introducing a lot of risks. If we address these risks early, then it makes our project more predictable down the line. So that’s number one: we can look at the risks and evaluate them and prioritize them based on the riskiest things first.

And then that leads into our number two, which is to test the subsystems, the components, and test them to failure. If we’ve identified some of the riskiest components or subsystems, then we can test them. We can also test to find out which components or subsystems are the riskiest. Things like HALT or ALT, which is highly accelerated life test or accelerated life test. And finite element analysis is another method that we can use to test and evaluate our components. And we want to test them to failure so that we can learn more about our product so we can fix it, make it less risky. Even though we can test those components and subsystems earlier to understand how they’ll individually fail, we don’t want to lose sight of their interface and their function in the entire system. But testing those subsystems and components and submodules earlier may lead us to understand better those individual risks that that could contribute to an overall system problem.

So number one is to prioritize risks. And number two is to test subsystems and components to failures so we learn more about them. Our third option to manage risk in new product development is to avoid it. We can reuse components or use standard parts, proven designs that we already understand the risks about or how they’ll perform or their capabilities. There is risk in the unknown, in developing something new and savvy. And it’s okay and it might be a good thing for our project. If we reuse some of the components that we already have by reusing standard parts or standard components, we avoid adding new risk to our new product development. We can also avoid risk by mistake proofing the user process. (We talked about mistake, proofing the user process and how to do that in an earlier episode of the quality during design podcast and to avoid risk.) Another way to do that is to reverse a decision that we’ve made. Maybe we have a concept design that we’ve evaluated for risk, and we’ve determined that it’s too risky. So we need to do something different.

Our fourth option for managing risks is: consider a redundancy. We can add redundancy in a couple of ways. It can be an actual part of the system design, where we have redundant components in our system in case one fails, the other one would kick in. There’s also a redundancy effort that we could do during the new product development process. We could be working on design A and in parallel be working on a backup design B. Maybe design A has some new things or nuances that we’re not quite sure how it’s going to pan out, but it’s our target design. And it’s one that we really want to pursue. If it’s a high risk design, then in parallel we may want to consider design B. Maybe it’s our second choice because it’s more expensive or maybe it wouldn’t perform as well as design A, but it has less risk. So we could consider redundancy in our design development efforts to manage the risk in new product development.

The last option to manage risk in new product development (that at least we’ll cover today in this podcast episode) is a risk or reliability apportionment. Going back to our product architecture idea of systems and subsystems and components – we may want to focus our risks on one or two subsystems or components instead of spreading the risk out over all the subsystems and components together. We can do this by our choice of components, in our concept design, too. We can choose to use components that are tried and true or very reliable, or have the least amount of risk compared to other more innovative components that we may want to do a design about that might carry more risk (it might not be as reliable). Focusing our efforts on a handful of components. We can do a deep dive during the design and its testing, and we can also more closely monitor those handful of components that are the riskiest. Considering it mathematically, if you consider a reliability block diagram, we are better off having a few components that are 99% reliable and one component that is 80% reliable than to have all of our components at 90% reliability. We’ll have a greater percent chance of achieving our design goal if we have just one component that has an 80% reliability rate.

To conclude, we talked about five options to manage risks in new product development. We can prioritize risk and address the highest risk items first. We can test the subsystems and components and test them to failures so that we can better understand their failure modes and their reliability and how we think they’ll perform. We can avoid risks together. We can reuse components and standard pars that are already proven. We can mistake proof the user process, and we can even backtrack some of the decisions that we’ve made, but throughout the new product development process, we can be mindful of the things we want to do to avoid risks in the first place. We can consider redundancy in the system and subsystems and components themselves, but also in the new product development process where maybe we develop more than one option at once. And we can evaluate the risk and reliability apportionment focusing the higher risk items on one or two components or subsystems that we can keep an eye on and monitor and work with while keeping the rest of the system at a high reliability and low risk.

These are just some ways that we can proactively manage risk within new product development and product engineering. There are previous Quality during Design podcast blog episodes that go into deeper detail about each one of these options, including walking through some examples.

What’s today’s insight to action? Identifying, analyzing, and managing risk could be a natural part of product design engineering. One of the keys of getting the best information about risk is working with your greater cross functional team and quality and reliability tools and frameworks can help product design engineers do just that. In the daily grind of making design decisions, stop and look up at the bigger picture – and I mean the big picture of the whole system, everything that a customer would receive when getting your product. Consider the architecture of the product that you’re working with now. Doing so once in a while may give you that reframe that you need to adequately assess the risk of your product.

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