What caused the lights to go out during the Superbowl this year? I'm sure lots of work will go into investigating the root causes, as it should. But could it have been prevented?
There is a management tool called FMEA, which stands for Failure Mode Effects Analysis. It's a method used to identify, analyze, and prevent such failures. And despite the somewhat intimidating name, it's a relatively simple tool to use. Basically, you try to figure out all the ways something can fail and then come up with ways to prevent or mitigate the failures. The something can be anything... a product, service, system, or process. For each "failure mode", you identify the potential causes, along with the impact severity on the customer, hence the term "effects analysis". This helps ensure that attention is spent on the areas most likely to cause the serious problems.
A formal FMEA may have revealed potential problems in the Superdome's power supply, lighting units, or maintenance procedures, which all could have been remedied. In the big scheme of things, nobody was hurt and no lives were lost. But it did delay a live TV broadcast for over 30 minutes, which seemed to change the momentum and course of the game. It's all about reducing risk.
So the next time you need something to go off without a hitch, consider performing an FMEA. For more information on using this type of tool, check out this ASQ article on FMEA.