• FMEA ;
  • risk analysis;
  • virtual groups;
  • product design;
  • distributed product development

Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) is one of the most frequently used tools in process and product design: it is used in quality and reliability planning, and event and failure mode analysis. It has a long history of use and is a formally prescribed procedure by a number of prominent standards organizations. In addition, it's popular use has evolved as a less formal and widely interpreted tool in the area of Lean/Six Sigma (LSS) process improvement. This paper investigates one of the most important issues related to FMEA practice—the quality of individual vs. group performance in ranking failure modes. In particular, we compare FMEA rankings generated by: (i) individuals, (ii) group consensus, and (iii) non-collaborative aggregation of group input (a synthesized group ranking). We find that groups outperform individuals and that synthetic groups perform as well as group consensus. We explain the implications of this result on the coordination of the design of products and processes amongst distributed organizations. The increasing distribution of product design efforts, both in terms of geography and different organizations, presents an opportunity to improve coordination using distributed synthetic group-based FMEA.