What is PFMEA

Guide: Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (PFMEA)

Author's Avatar

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Process Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (PFMEA) stands as a cornerstone in the realm of proactive risk management in business processes. This analytical method is designed to forecast and preemptively address process failures, establishing a culture of foresight rather than reactive problem-solving. In scenarios like a car production plant gearing up for a transition between manufacturing different car types, the complexity and multitude of variables involved make PFMEA not just useful, but essential.

The methodology allows teams to systematically unravel and prioritize potential challenges, setting the stage for smooth transitions and efficient operations. As we delve deeper into the nuances of PFMEA, we uncover its critical role in enhancing safety, increasing efficiency, and saving valuable time across various project stages.

Table of Contents

What is Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis?

PFMEA is an analytical method used in business to predict and prevent process failures before they occur. Conducting a PFMEA about a process to understand what could go wrong is a proactive approach to risk assessment rather than being reactive to issues after they happen.

By using this approach teams can identify and resolve problems before they occur for example is a car production plant is looking to switch over car manufacturing from one car type to another there are a lot of moving parts in that process. Before they start the changeover, they could conduct a PFMEA to identify all the potential problems and prioritize them based on risk before the changeover activity happens.

DFMEA Process

In situations like this PFMEA and FMEA in general are critical tools that can reduce risk, improve safety, increase efficiency, and save time in projects. This comprehensive evaluation allows organizations to make informed decisions about where to focus their improvement efforts for the greatest impact.

When to Use Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis

PFMEA is a systematic approach used to identify and address potential failure points in a process. Determining the appropriate time to use PFMEA is important for maximizing its effectiveness. Here are several scenarios and stages in a process’s lifecycle when PFMEA is particularly beneficial:

During Process Design or Development

When designing a new process or system, PFMEA helps identify potential failure modes early. This proactive approach ensures that the process is robust and reliable from the start.

If an existing process is being significantly modified or updated, PFMEA is used to assess the impacts of these changes and identify new risks that might emerge.

Prior to Process Implementation

Implementing PFMEA before a process goes into full-scale production can identify potential issues that could lead to defects, downtime, or inefficiencies.

Conducting PFMEA during pilot runs or trial phases of a process can provide insights into potential failure modes and allow for adjustments before broader implementation.

When Quality Issues or Inefficiencies are Identified

If a process is experiencing quality problems or higher than acceptable defect rates, PFMEA can be used to systematically identify the root causes and implement corrective actions.

When inefficiencies or bottlenecks are detected in a process, PFMEA can help in pinpointing failure modes contributing to these issues.

As Part of Risk Management and Compliance

In industries where adherence to certain standards is required (e.g., automotive, aerospace, pharmaceuticals), PFMEA is often a necessary part of compliance.

For any process where risk mitigation is a priority, PFMEA is an essential tool.


Step-by-Step Guide to Performing A PFMEA (With Examples)

Step 1: Assemble a Cross-Functional Team

The complexity of most processes, products, or systems often means that no single person has a complete understanding of all aspects. Therefore, a cross-functional team brings together different perspectives and expertise, leading to a more complete analysis.

    • Identify key stakeholders and experts from various relevant departments.
    • Include representatives from design, engineering, quality assurance, operations, and any other relevant department.
    • Choose a team leader, preferably someone experienced with PFMEA, to guide the process and ensure it stays on track.
    • Ensure that team members are trained on the basics of PFMEA so everyone starts with a foundational understanding.

Team - Learnleansigma

Step 2: Define the Scope

To ensure that the PFMEA remains focused and manageable, it’s crucial to clearly define what will be analyzed. This prevents the process from becoming too broad or overlooking critical areas.

    • Determine if the PFMEA will focus on a product, a process, or an entire system.
    • Define boundaries by clarifying what is included and what isn’t. For instance, if analyzing a manufacturing process, decide which specific stages or components will be the subject of the FMEA.
    • Document any known assumptions or constraints that could influence the analysis.
Process Scope

Step 3: List Potential Failure Modes

At this stage, the goal is to identify all the potential ways the subject (be it a process, product, or system) might fail. This is the foundation of the PFMEA, as understanding these failure modes is key to addressing them.

    • Conduct brainstorming sessions with the cross-functional team to list potential failures. Encourage open communication and ensure every idea is considered without immediate judgment.
    • Review past data, including incident reports, customer feedback, or warranty claims, to identify historical failure modes.
    • For products or systems, consider using techniques like fault tree analysis or component testing to identify potential failure modes.
    • Document each failure mode with a clear description. For instance, instead of just noting “motor failure,” specify “motor overheating leading to failure.”

FMEA Step 3

Step 4: Evaluate the Potential Failure Effects, Potential Causes, and Current Controls

This step aims to further break down each identified failure mode by understanding its impact, root causes, and existing preventive measures.

    • Potential Failure Effects: Determine what the consequences of each failure mode are. This can range from minor inconveniences to safety hazards.
    • Potential Causes: Identify the root causes leading to the failure mode. This is essential for preventive action.
    • Current Controls: Determine existing processes or measures that are in place to either detect or prevent the failure mode from occurring.

FMEA Step 4

Step 5: Evaluate Severity, Occurrence, and Detection

The aim here is to quantify the risk associated with each failure mode. These three criteria help in understanding the magnitude of the problem and in prioritizing corrective actions.

    • Severity (S): Rate the seriousness of the consequences if the failure occurs. Typically rated on a scale of 1 (least severe) to 10 (most severe).
    • Occurrence (O): Assess the likelihood of the failure mode occurring. Again, this is usually on a scale of 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely).
    • Detection (D): Evaluate the likelihood that the current controls will detect the failure mode before it reaches the end customer. This is rated on a scale where 1 means it’s very likely to be detected and 10 means it’s very unlikely.
    • Note: You can find the full classification of scoring within our FMEA Template.

FMEA Step 6

Step 6: Calculate RPN and Prioritize

The Risk Priority Number (RPN) provides a numerical value that represents the overall risk of each failure mode. It helps in prioritizing which failure modes should be addressed first.

    • Calculate RPN: For each failure mode, multiply the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection ratings:


      RPN=Severity (S)×Occurrence (O)×Detection (D)


    • Prioritize: Once RPN values are calculated for all failure modes, sort them in descending order. Those with the highest RPNs should be given priority for corrective action since they represent the highest risk.

FMEA Step 6

Step 7: Develop Action Plans

The aim of this step is to design and plan corrective actions for the identified failure modes, particularly those with the highest RPN values. Addressing these failure modes will have the most significant impact on improving the process or product.

    • Prioritize Failure Modes: Start by focusing on the failure modes with the highest RPNs. These represent the highest risks and should be addressed first.
    • Brainstorm Solutions: Convene the cross-functional team to brainstorm potential solutions to the identified failure modes. Consider redesigning the process, adding inspections, or implementing new technologies.
    • Assign Responsibility: For each action item, assign a responsible person or team. This ensures accountability and clarity on who will drive the corrective action.
    • Set Deadlines: Establish a timeline for implementing the corrective actions. This helps in tracking progress and ensuring timely completion.
    • Document Everything: Maintain a detailed record of the planned actions, responsibilities, and timelines. This documentation is vital for tracking progress and future audits.

FMEA Step 7

Step 8: Implement and Monitor

After developing action plans, this step ensures that the corrective measures are put into practice and that their effectiveness is monitored over time.

    • Execute the Action Plans: Implement the corrective actions as planned. This might involve training staff, purchasing new equipment, redesigning processes, or any other required change.
    • Monitor Continuously: Regularly check the effectiveness of the implemented actions. Use metrics, inspections, or tests to evaluate whether the corrective actions are reducing or eliminating the failure modes.
    • Feedback Loop: Create a feedback mechanism where frontline staff can report on the effectiveness of the corrective actions. Their insights are invaluable as they work directly with the process or product.
    • Adjust as Necessary: If a corrective action isn’t yielding the desired results, don’t hesitate to modify it or try a different approach.
    • Update FMEA: As corrective actions are implemented and processes change, the FMEA should be updated to reflect the current state. This might lead to changes in RPN values and further refinements.
    • Celebrate Successes: Recognize and celebrate when corrective actions lead to significant improvements. This fosters a positive culture of continuous improvement.

FMEA Step 8

FMEA Template

To support you with your PFMEA implementation feel free to download our free FMEA template from the template section.

FMEA Template - Feature Image - Learnleansigma

How does a PFMEA differ from DFMEA?

The difference between a PFMEA and a Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (DFMEA) is primarily based on their areas of focus and application within the lifecycle of a product or service. Both are systematic methodologies used for identifying, analyzing, and mitigating risks, but they apply to different aspects of production and development.

Process Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (PFMEA)

PFMEA is focused on processes used in the manufacturing or execution of a service. It examines each step in a process to identify where and how failures might occur.

The primary goal is to ensure operational efficiency and process reliability. PFMEA aims to identify potential failures that can impact the quality of the output, including production delays, inefficiencies, and defects.

PFMEA is used in analyzing manufacturing processes, assembly lines, service delivery processes, and other operational procedures.

PFMEA looks at factors such as human error, equipment failure, material quality, environmental conditions, and process variability. It assesses the potential impact of these factors on the process and the final product or service.

The outcome of PFMEA is often process improvement, through changes in procedures, quality control enhancements, training, or equipment upgrades.

Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (DFMEA)

DFMEA is concerned with the design of a product. It systematically evaluates a product’s design to identify potential failures and their causes.

The main objective is to enhance product safety, reliability, and functionality. DFMEA seeks to uncover design weaknesses that could lead to failure in the product’s use or reduce its lifespan.

DFMEA is applied during the product design phase, often in industries like automotive, aerospace, electronics, and consumer goods manufacturing.

The analysis in DFMEA includes assessing the failure modes related to materials, components, subsystems, interfaces, and overall product design. Factors like material properties, design tolerances, mechanical stress, and environmental impacts are considered.

The outcomes include design modifications, material changes, and the establishment of design standards and specifications to mitigate identified risks.

Key Differences

PFMEA is process-oriented (focusing on how a product is made or a service is provided), whereas DFMEA is design-oriented (focusing on what is being made).

PFMEA deals with the risks associated with process variables, whereas DFMEA deals with risks inherent in the design of the product itself.

PFMEA is typically performed during process development and before the full-scale production or implementation of a service, while DFMEA is conducted during the product design phase, often before a prototype is even created.

PFMEA aims at ensuring efficient and reliable processes, reducing operational failures and defects. DFMEA targets the elimination or reduction of design-related failures, improving product safety, reliability, and functionality.


The strategic application of Process Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (PFMEA) transcends mere problem-solving; it is an integral part of process optimization and risk management. From its crucial role in the design and development phases of a process to its application in existing process modification and quality control, PFMEA serves as a comprehensive tool for organizational growth and efficiency.

Its ability to adapt to different scenarios, be they in the design or operational stages, underscores its versatility. Moreover, the structured approach of PFMEA, involving cross-functional teams and systematic evaluation, ensures that every potential risk is thoroughly assessed and effectively managed. In sum, PFMEA is not just a methodological approach to risk assessment but a pathway to operational excellence and strategic foresight in business processes.


A: The Risk Priority Number (RPN) is a numerical representation of the overall risk associated with a specific failure mode. It is calculated using the formula:


Here, Severity, Occurrence, and Detection are individual ratings usually on a scale of 1 to 10, representing the impact, frequency, and detectability of a failure mode, respectively.

A: A PFMEA is a living document and should be updated regularly. Specifically, it needs to be revisited whenever there are significant changes in the process, introduction of new technologies, or after a certain period as defined by your company’s quality guidelines. Failure to update can render the PFMEA ineffective.

A: While PFMEA is commonly associated with manufacturing, its principles can be applied to services and other non-manufacturing processes as well. The goal remains the same: to identify and mitigate risks associated with failure modes in any process.

A: A cross-functional team brings together expertise from different departments like engineering, quality control, and operations. This diversity allows for a more comprehensive analysis of potential failure modes and more robust solutions, ensuring that all perspectives are considered.

A: Historical data, such as past incident reports, customer feedback, and quality audits, can provide valuable insights into potential failure modes, their effects, and occurrences. This data can inform the Severity, Occurrence, and Detection ratings, making your PFMEA more accurate and reliable.


Picture of Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

All Posts

Download Template

Free Lean Six Sigma Templates

Improve your Lean Six Sigma projects with our free templates. They're designed to make implementation and management easier, helping you achieve better results.

Other Guides