Tuesday, April 30, 2019

But What if it FAILS? Using the FMEA Tool to Analyze the Potential Effects and Impacts of Failure

You know the feeling.

You think your plan will work.
You present confidence to everyone around you.
You fire up the crowd, energize supporters, and rally the troops.
But at the same time, you're terrified you might fail.

I've spent many days hustling and nights stressing over projects that seemed just on the edge of falling apart.

Then, I went to an amazing training led by Becky Margiotta, and she introduced me to a tool that helped me focus during the day and sleep well at night.

That tool is called Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). FMEA is a quick, systematic way of analyzing:
  • which parts of your plan could fail
  • which of those potential failures are most likely
  • which of those potential failures would cause the most severe consequences 
  • which parts of your plan you should focus on strengthening to avoid likely, severe failures 
FMEA comes from the worlds of systems engineering and the military. It's used in many industries where failures can be catastrophic (i.e. hospitals, nuclear power, aeronautics). But it can also be useful in any situation where you want to get a clearer understanding of what failure might mean and how you can avoid it. For example, we share it at OF/BY/FOR ALL bootcamps to help cultural and civic professionals identify and address fault lines in their plans to involve new communities. You can use it for anything.

Here's how you do it:
  1. Make a list of all the possible ways that your plan could fail. These are your failure modes.
  2. Assign each failure mode a score from 1-10 for "likelihood" and another score from 1-10 for "severity."
  3. For each failure mode, multiply the "likelihood" score by the "severity" score to get the total score.
  4. Sort your failure modes by score. Focus your energy on finding ways to mitigate the high scoring failure modes. Don't let yourself be distracted by the low-scoring ones--they are either so improbable or so minor in impact that they are not worth sweating.
Here's a silly example we made up at the last OF/BY/FOR ALL bootcamp. The plan in question was to create a parade of 100 giraffes down the main street of a small town. As you can see, while bootcampers came up with several ways the parade could fail, there was only one ("can't get 100 giraffes") that would be both likely and severe enough to sink the project. So we focused our mitigation energy on getting the giraffes.

Here's a more serious example that our OF/BY/FOR ALL staff team created one month before we launched the Change Network program. Here, you can see that there were two failure modes we honed in on (1B and 3). Based on this analysis, we decided to focus on ensuring that videocalls would work and that we had enough staff time to support our First Wave teams. We acknowledged--but didn't sweat--the other stuff. 

I love this tool because it lets you get all your anxiety out on the table and then empowers you to realize most of your fears are either highly unlikely or do not have severe consequences. It generates clarity and confidence - fast. You can focus on what matters and put unreasonable fears in their place.

Here's a PDF template of the FMEA tool you can download and use if helpful to you. If you try it out, let me know how it goes. And if you have other tools that help you focus and remove stressful distractions, please share them in the comments.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Guest Post by Martin Djupdraet: Let the Decision Makers Do the Audience Research

This guest post is written by Martin Brandt Djupdræt, Head of research and presentation and a member of the management at the Danish open-air museum Den Gamle By (The Old Town). I met Martin last year at the MuseumNext conference. I was impressed by his commitment to putting visitors first - and his technique for inviting more of his colleagues to do so as well. In this post, Martin shares a simple yet effective way to involve staff at all levels in conducting visitor research to drive new perspectives and decisions. Note that Martin uses the word "survey" in a slightly more expansive way than is typical in the United States.

At Den Gamle By we have set ourselves a goal to broaden the perspective of those in responsibility and to ensure the management will take our audience seriously. Den Gamle By (“The Old Town” in Danish) is an open-air museum about urban life and the local museum of the city of Aarhus. It is the second most visited museum in Denmark. What we have done is quite simple, but it works: we require decision makers to do audience research themselves.

Learning experts have pointed out that when people are involved in a subject and actually experiencing it, they are likely to learn more. Interacting with visitors and engaging their emotions is a method used by many museums. But direct involvement with the audience is not necessarily a method used by museum management. Good museums listen to their audiences and the public before they make changes, but my guess is that most museum managers let others do the visitor research. Our experience now is that different lessons are learned when the management participate in collecting the data themselves.

Our new type of research was developed last year though workshops with museum researchers John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking. We wanted to understand the decisions visitors make while visiting and the impact of the visit. There are two elements of the research: tracking and interviewing.

Here’s how it works: a staff member from the museum meets a randomly selected person at the entrance. With the visitor’s consent, we follow and observe them during the entire, noting what parts of the museum they visit and when. The same staff member then interviews the visitor three weeks later.

Visitors are asked:

  • why they chose this museum,
  • what they noticed especially during the visit,
  • whether they interacted with anyone, and
  • whether they had talked to anyone about the museum after the visit, and what about

To make sure this knowledge is put to use in developing the museum, the management and curators are part of the team who carry out the survey. Managers have to leave their desks, and track and interview ordinary people they never would meet in their daily work or at the meetings they normally spend time on.

Before doing the survey, most of the management and curators felt they knew the museum and how visitors use it quite well, but it was an eye opener for us to spend an entire visit with one of the guests and interviewing them some weeks later.

What surprised us? The curators were surprised by how important other parts of the museum besides the historical content were for the visitor. The F&B manager and the head of HR were surprised by how many objects and stories the visitors were absorbed in. This has also given us insights into the work of our colleagues and made us appreciate their work to a larger extent. Now we all have useful and inspiring stories about visitors’ choices and the impact the museum had on them.

Another observation was the importance of food and drink. In our trackings we could see how much time the visitors spent on the museum’s eating places and the great social importance these breaks had. Something we learned about food through the interviews was that the guests consider the food at the museum as part of the museum's storytelling. This insight has encouraged us to focus on food and food history as a priority topic at the museum, and a colleague is going to work particularly with that subject.

This research has also given us confidence in choosing the core stories of the museum. For example, a woman in her 20s said that Aarhus Story, a new permanent exhibition about the city of Aarhus, had made her proud of being a citizen of Aarhus and that she developed a stronger sense of belonging to the city, because the exhibition showed her parts of the history that she could connect with. We were pleased and humbled that such an impact was possible. This observation along with other similar observations has already led to new decisions. They were part of the reason why we chose to skip the easy and light crowd-pleasers in our planning of new elements for 2019, and instead went for activities where the museum had a deeper knowledge, good exhibitions and good stories to tell. Through the research, we gained the courage to go for more difficult and ambitious activities and more profound stories.

Visitors have always been a focus for the management, but the research have personalized our audience and they are discussed differently now. As the head of finance described it: “I normally look at whether a task is well done, financially possible and efficient, but now I also consider more seriously how a visitor would feel and react to the changes we plan.”

Does it take time to do this research? Yes it does. Time which could be spent meeting with important people and dealing with important strategic considerations. But none of these worthy activities is more important that meeting the audience and taking their thoughts and actions seriously. Not one.

Is an individual observed in this way representative for all the guests? No, but the reflection shows that it gives new insight, and it certainly ignites the decision makers’ imaginations. Those who have tracked visitors up to now have spent maximum a whole working day altogether on tracking the visitor, the interview and gathering the information. That single day has been an eye-opener for the curators and other decision makers. In addition, we have made it easier for all of our staff to gain insight by meeting our visitors face-to-face by doing a half-hour shift as a welcoming host at the museum entrance. More than 20 staff member working at the offices tried this new practice last December. Most of them were thrilled about the talks they had with the visitors and back at the desk their experiences were discussed with colleagues. These efforts have taught us all through simple involvement that there are many different ways of understanding and using our museum. We have not just learned it, we have felt it.

Four other Nordic museums are now doing the same type of tracking and interviewing. In the year to come we will compare our observations, and will also be happy to share the result with you and others who might be interested. But we know already, before even looking at the collected data, that the project has been a success in Den Gamle By. It has broadened the decision makers’ perspective and made our audience even more important when new exhibitions and goals are planned.