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A technique using brainstorming to determine what can go wrong in specific scenarios and identify the resulting consequences.
Appropriate for both individuals and teams.
When to use
Simple research applications
Research environment, where teaching is the core mission
Assessing existing processes and experiments
Minimal. Requires someone to be familiar with the equipment, processes, etc.
What will happen if toxic gases leak into a liquid pipeline? What if tank feed is increased or decreased? What if an earthquake occurs? Such questions can be critical in reducing or eliminating risks to people working in a laboratory environment.
A What-if Analysis consists of structured brainstorming to determine what can go wrong in a given scenario; then judge the likelihood and consequences that things will go wrong.
What-if Analysis can be applied at virtually any point in the laboratory evaluation process.
Based on the answers to what-if questions, informed judgments can be made concerning the acceptability of those risks. A course of action can be outlined for risks deemed unacceptable.
How to Conduct a What-if Analysis
1. Team Kickoff
The team leader walks the team through each step of the What-if Analysis. The leader may use a detailed equipment diagram along with any prepared operating guidelines. (Include guidelines for determining acceptable level of safety.)
2. Generate What-if Questions
The team generates What-if questions relating to each step of the experimental procedure and each component to determine likely sources of errors and failures.
Things to consider when developing questions:
Potential human error
Equipment component failures
Deviations from the planned/expected critical parameters (e.g., temperature, pressure, time, flow rate)
Risk deemed unacceptable:
If the team concludes there’s a need for corrective action, a recommendation is recorded.
Risk deemed acceptable:
When probability is very low, consequences are not severe, and the action to correct the condition would involve significant cost and time, the team may note a “no recommendation” response.
5. Prioritize and Summarize Analysis
The team’s analysis is summarized and prioritized.
6. Assign Follow-up Action
Responsibilities are assigned for follow-up action(s). Consider adding a column to your What-if Analysis form to indicate the person or group responsible for each corrective action.