Close Menu

By T.H.L. Gordon, CFPIM
Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

Digest

Effective methods of improvement are essential for an organization’s growth, continued competitiveness and sustainability.  The TRIZ methodology complements other tools with a structured and disciplined approach to problem solutions.  The principles and benefits of TRIZ, and its unique characteristics, are discussed in this paper.

TRIZ can be thought of as a bridge between the root cause of a problem and its effective solution, allowing management the luxury of a solution that addresses the ‘real’ issues.

The TRIZ Process

             “And when one idea fails, there’s another, better one right behind it.
              And another and another, cascading out as fast as rock albums used
              to in the sixties.” [1]

Does your organization have an intractable problem or is it difficult to see the direction your organizations should take? 

Is your organization ham-strung by the need to compromise: i.e. to accept mediocre solutions?

Many organizations face these difficulties:

  • Our product range is old fashioned or in the “cash cow” quadrant of its life cycle and something is needed to replace it. The question is “What”?
  • Our decisions do not appear to achieve the intent of management due to compromise.
  • How do we expand our business?
  • How do we fully utilize the resources that we have?
  • How do we become ‘greener’.
  • How do we get everyone on board?
  • How do we get over the ‘silo’ mentality?

The answer to these common difficulties may lie in “TRIZ”, which aims to find the Ideal Final Result [IFR] to an organization’s difficulties.

Leonardo da Vinci suggested that it’s good practice to think of the end before the beginning,[2] suggesting the definition of a target before taking aim. The TRIZ methodology proposes that you develop this target, so that you don’t find yourself randomly shooting, and then feel surprised when you don’t hit anything. From this perspective, it’s not important whether the IFR is practicably attainable; what does matter is that you release the creative process from the hold of psychological inertia, and that you accept the possibility for a perfect innovation event to occur.

TRIZ is a Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.  It was developed by Genrich Altshuller, resulting from about 30 years of research into thousands of patents.  Altshuller realized that there were some fundamental solutions to problems, which were repeated over and over again. 

Based upon his research, he defined 40 inventive principles, his laws of system evolution, an algorithm of inventive problem solving, substance field analysis and 76 standard solutions. 

Recognizing this, the value of TRIZ lies in a different approach to the problem solving methods that we have come to espouse.  There is a real danger – stated in the 8D approach as the ‘Chinese House’ problem – that we in the west have opened our minds to the ‘Japanese’ style methodologies and then promptly slammed them shut again. 

There is, therefore, a need for new tools and techniques for creativity and decision making.  Simply identifying a problem and its root cause doesn’t always give us the ideas that we need for a solution – particularly if the root cause is rather intractable, like political reasons.  In cases like this the traditional ‘brainstorming’ approach of DMAIC and PDCA does not always work.

TRIZ is a popular, scientifically based inventive problem solving process. It is based on the idea that there are universal principles of invention that are the basis for creative innovations that advance technology. Once these principles can be identified and codified, they can be used to make the process of invention more predictable.

TRIZ is widely used today to improve products, services, and systems. It fills in the gap between problem solving and decision making, thus greatly reducing the time to produce breakthrough ideas and inventions and their implementation.

TRIZ has two basic principles:

  • The problem has been solved, somewhere by someone. There is nothing new under God’s sun.
  • Eliminate compromises – don’t accept them

There are many examples of the efficacy of TRIZ.  These examples range from the processing of weapons grade plutonium through to Californian diary farmers disposing of manure. [3]

The TRIZ concept of eliminating problems rather than accepting compromises goes against the grain of many organizational practices, which emphasize tradeoffs, cost-benefit analysis and other methods of compromise. It recognizes that accepting the mediocrity of compromise does not get you teamwork, it simply gets you mediocrity.

TRIZ recognizes two types of compromise, what TRIZ terms as ‘contradictions’:

Technical contradictions. The confusion of form and function. Classic engineering and business tradeoffs – when something gets better, something else gets worse.

For example – Automobile airbags deploy quickly to protect the passenger (GOOD), but the faster they deploy the more likely they are to injure out-of-position passengers (BAD).

 Physical contradictions. Typically, inherent contradictions – situations in which one object or system has contradictory requirements. [4]

For example – Coffee should be hot enough for enjoyable drinking but cool enough to prevent burning consumers.

 Objections to TRIZ are based upon a major objection:

It is too intellectually based. TRIZ came out of the Soviet Union and thinking there was conditioned by the Marxian dialectic.  Marx based many of his ideas on Georg Wilhelm Hegel, applying them to the extremely complex and random events of history and economics.  It would seem natural that a Soviet practioneer should adopt the same approach to the analysis of patents and inventions.  In the West we tend to take the approach – “One wrong, all is wrong”.  Blinkered thinking along the lines of “not invented here”!

In conclusion, TRIZ has been adopted by many major organizations world-wide and is now filtering its way down to mid-sized and small organizations.  How do you know when TRIZ is applicable in your organization? 

When the solutions that your teams generate using ‘traditional’ methods don’t eliminate the root cause and their implementation does not achieve the managerial objectives.  This is a strong indication that unrecognized contradictions are blocking them from finding a good solution.  That is the indication that TRIZ is a tool that you might consider.

Real life case study.

My company had a problem with a significant product range – about 35% of our sales volume.  We couldn’t make these things on time but the GM on each unit was more than respectable:-  we would make buckets of money if we could make and deliver the things. 

To solve the problem we resorted to the ‘traditional’ 7 old quality tools; at the time I was a firm believer in the dictum that “if you can’t sort it out with the 7 old tools then that is the time to get out your resume”.  We gained marginal improvement and even identified the root cause – the problem was that the root cause was ‘political’, not a scheduling, marketing or engineering issue.  This made compromise the order of the day.

Things came to a head when we secured a contract to supply these units to the Canary Wharf refurbishment in the east end of London, at the time one of the biggest civil engineering projects in Europe.   It was quickly realized that we would burn up the profit on the job by penalties for late delivery and, more to the point, get me fired for messing up a great opportunity.

I was introduced to TRIZ thinking at a meeting of BPICS, the British arm of APICS.

Hiring a TRIZ practioneer, I put together a wide group of people, both factory and corporate, and we agreed upon the 4 basic TRIZ principles:

  1. The Ideal Final Result [IFR] does not introduce new harm into the system at hand.
  2. The new solution preserves all advantages of the existing system.
  3. The new solution eliminates the disadvantages of the existing system.
  4. There is no increase in complexity, simplicity was the watchword.

The advantage of establishing an IFR was that no-one could sensibly object to it, unless they were ‘double agents’. Following on from the IFR is a metric – the ideality metric.  Ideality is defined as the sum of the useful functions in the system divided by the sum of harmful functions.  Using this metric as our guide, we finally came up with a no-compromise solution to our problem and I retained my job!

This exercise taught me a number of things:

  1. Identifying the root cause is not the same as solving the problem
  2. Dogma leads to failure just as quickly as compromise
  3. The expensive way is to ‘chip’ at a problem when you should take a sledge hammer to it
  4. Throw out the baby with the bathwater if the baby is the cause of the dirty water; continually replacing the bath water does not help anyone

 

[1]  Douglas Adams, “The Salmon of Doubt”.

[2] Not only did he suggest this 300 years before Covey, he also had a full head of hair!

[3]  On a personal basis, I used TRIZ techniques to solve a simple engineering/scheduling problem that had been mired in the swamp of compromise because of company politics.

[4] ISO 9001:2000, 7.3 attempts to resolve this contradiction.