Potential Problem Analysis


A potential problem analysis (PPA) is a systematic method for determining what could go wrong in a plan under development. The problem causes are rated according to their likelihood of occurrence and the severity of their consequences. Preventive actions are taken and contingency plans are developed. The process helps to create a smooth, streamlined implementation process.


Prior to the implementation of a plan.

When a problem may occur.

When the schedule for the plan's completion is significant.

When there is a high cost of failure.

When working with a large or complicated plan.

How do I use this tool?

1. IDENTIFY BROAD ASPECTS of the plan that may be prone to failure.

2. IDENTIFY SPECIFIC PROBLEMS that could occur and record them in the first column of a table.

3. ESTIMATE THE RISK of each problem by assigning it a high, medium, or low rating for both its likelihood and the severity of its consequences.

4. IDENTIFY POSSIBLE CAUSES and record them in the second column.

5. (Optional) For each cause, RATE AS HIGH, MEDIUM, OR LOW its likelihood and the severity of its occurrence in a column headed P (probability) and S, respectively.

6. For each cause IDENTIFY PREVENTATIVE ACTIONS to prevent or reduce the likelihood that the cause will occur. Record it in the fifth column and rate the residual risk, the likelihood, and severity of the cause with the preventive action in place. Record this data in the next column.

7. DEVELOP A CONTINGENCY PLAN to minimize the consequences of causes with unacceptable residual risk, should the preventive action fail to work. Write this plan in the final column.

Expertise Required
This tool is easy to use and requires little or no training.

Addresses causes, evaluates risk, and keeps preventive actions and contingency plans separate.


Only identifies and addresses transparent problems.

Where can I go to learn more?

Tague N. The tools. In: O'Mara P, editor. The quality toolbox. 2nd ed. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press; 2005. p. 93-521.