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Getting Started in TRIZ

Contributor: Tom Kling
Posted: 06/21/2009
Tom Kling
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What is TRIZ?

In today's competitive world, innovation is necessary if your organization is to survive, much less thrive. TRIZ has been adopted by many to meet this survival imperative.

TRIZ is the Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. It is not just a theory, but a complete invention methodology and way of thinking. Its originator, Genrich Altshuller, founded it upon an empirical basis: By studying how technology extends itself, he extracted fundamental ways of analyzing and solving problems.

Watching a practitioner with TRIZ mastery and an enthusiastic team generate a seemingly unending string of mostly viable ideas with ease is fascinating. But as a TRIZ novice, selecting among the many tools and knowing how to start can be daunting. So how can people new to TRIZ go about tapping this source of new ideas for my business?

Start TRIZ on My Own, or Use a Consultant?

It is not necessary to use TRIZ wholesale to get benefits. You can start with already-familiar brainstorming methods and enhance them stepwise with TRIZ tools and philosophy, learning along the way.

Conversely, a fast start is possible: Retain a consultant or subject matter expert. To decide this, immediacy, budget, need for external credibility, and above all, a problem of value justifying the investment are considerations.

To start your own education, basic texts on TRIZ are available. Pick one that appeals to you based upon clarity of examples and directions for applying it. Don't miss the TRIZ references on the Web: www.triz-journal.com is full of how-to articles on TRIZ. A knowledge base to achieve different principles of operation can be viewed at function.creax.com (no www).

Choose a Mid-Sized, Inventive Problem or Project

Start with a problem of intermediate difficulty that has obvious value in solving. Do first projects as case studies to "market" TRIZ. If they are too simple, they will be dismissed as trivial. If you take on the toughest problem never yet solved, it may require more effort than patience allows.

While physical-mechanical examples will seem more common in its literature (owing to its technological origins), TRIZ works equally well on transactional-business problems.

Many problems are analytical problems like, "How many sales are necessary to make a profit?" or "What diameter is necessary for a water main to serve the homes on a block?" For these, you can compute an answer using knowledge of math, business or engineering. Many others are design problems like, "How might we make a quieter vacuum cleaner?" or "How might we increase sales?" TRIZ aims particularly to address the latter type, which Altshuller called "inventive problems."

Assemble a Small TRIZ Team

Seven people, plus or minus, have proven optimum for contemporary "brainstorming" type ideation. Because new ideas come from diversity of participants, the participants should come from a variety of fields. With more, they'll generate ideas redundantly; below five, the typical group loses critical mass.

TRIZ brings to the session new ideas via principles, tools and knowledge bases rather than participants. This means a small TRIZ team, just three or four subject matter experts, typically produces more ideas that are viable and far fewer that are not. Progress will be faster and a small team will usually give you more latitude to try new things.



Introduce TRIZ Tools in a Learning Sequence

When you, yourself, are learning, start with a few tools and build your repertoire with experience. More than any other method you've labored to understand, working cases is the only way to learn TRIZ.

Your baseline may be plain brainstorming or a variant. It's likely reached its limitation in prior sessions but is still a fast and familiar way to catch what is already at the forefront of people's thinking on the problem. Use a question like, "How might we improve appliance reliability (or whatever the problem is) to increase our market share (or whatever the result is)?" Use it only briefly to start the session, empty the participants of the first, easy ideas, and for contrast to the new ideas from TRIZ later. Then start TRIZ with an ideal final result.

The Ideal Final Result

The ideal final result is a high-level description of the characteristics of a perfect solution to your particular problem. Descriptions in an ideal final result might be "takes no maintenance" or "uses no energy."

Contemporary brainstorming usually starts at today's flawed system, with the focus upon eliminating defects. By contrast, the TRIZ ideal final result prompts you to start with perfection and work backwards, accepting the minimum of non-ideality that gives a viable solution.

As source of triggers for new ideas past brainstorming, list the characteristics of the ideal final result and use them one-at-a-time in the question to drive ideation, e.g. "How might we use the concept of takes no maintenance (eventually rotating through the most thought provoking ideal final result descriptions) to help us improve appliance reliability (or whatever the problem and/or result is)?" Resources in TRIZ are elements that make up your system or the nearby environment; making a list of them, for substitution in the question to drive ideation, can yield solutions with greater ideality.

The time to design the conversion for a plastics manufacturing plant needed to be cut to 65 percent of the typical 15 months to meet market needs, but using best methods and contemporary idea generation could only trim it to 80 percent. A TRIZ session using ideal final results like "instantaneously funded" and "meets all current and future requirements" revealed that by pre-establishing approvals for authorization and regulatory permissions, the team could meet the tight timeline for design.

Technical Contradictions (a.k.a. Tradeoffs)

Technical contradictions are a type of problem in which improving one characteristic of your system causes another characteristic to worsen. For instance, improving the crashworthiness of an automobile by making it stronger often makes it heavier and worsens fuel economy.

Using the itemized ideal final result, exhort TRIZ team members to just "go do it!" This will provoke them—and in protest they will give you all the reasons why such an approach cannot work. Record them as "When I try to improve ____, then ____ gets worse." Technical contradictions are one way to define the problems so that corresponding principles help generate solutions.

Inventive Principles

Inventive principles are descriptions of generic solutions that have proven to repeatedly solve problems. In our crashworthiness problem above, using composites—stronger yet lighter—or self sacrifice—designing the body of the auto to absorb energy by crumpling—are inventive principles that could resolve the contradiction.

Altshuller composed a matrix that can guide you to the most often used principles to quickly address a problem. Time permitting, you'd want to consider all 40 of his principles. Especially when you are starting, the compilations of specific examples from a variety of fields are useful for a TRIZ team to consult during ideation. A great source for such examples, the matrix itself, and a decade of articles on TRIZ application are available at http://www.triz-journal.com.

While participants use the examples for inspiration, plug each of the corresponding principles into the idea prompting question like, "How might we use the principle of composites to help us improve crash performance?" (eventually rotating through each of the principles, or at least those identified by the matrix).

A joint producer-railway project aimed to improve delivery of railcars of material to customers. Improving the timing for release to the railway of cars-to-ship worsened (reduced) the flexibility of timing for filling the cars. Principles like "beforehand cushioning" and "preliminary anti-action" led to solutions in presequencing and marshalling of railcars that accommodated both. The project lowered costs and congestion for the railway, shortened transit time by a full day, and improved customer on-day delivery by >1.5 sigma quality levels.

Prepare before sessions by yourself practicing through part of an ideal final result, listing a few resources, contradictions and principles. Use these to "prime the pump" if the team is not "getting it."

Recognize the Algorithmic Nature of TRIZ Tools

The sets of TRIZ tools essentially all follow a straightforward problem analysis-solution generation approach:
  • Start with your problem, in the words of your field or industry (like the tradeoff above).
  • Translate the problem into more generalized terms standard within TRIZ (such as a technical contradiction).
  • Use TRIZ "operators" (like the matrix) that heuristically indicate the concepts for successful solutions.
  • Translate the concepts into the specifics of solutions that fit your particular system (using, for example the inventive principles and examples).
(Click on diagram to enlarge.)



This approach enables us to tap the consolidated experience of problem solvers from many fields to the resolution of our problems. It makes invention easier by breaking it into a series of smaller conceptual steps, instead of requiring a single, huge leap. Being on the lookout for this pattern is a way to speed up your learning of TRIZ.

Get Started on TRIZ Today!

Described above are just a couple of the many dozens of tools to be found in TRIZ (Altshuller found that the nature of the problem foreshadows the best tool to apply). With these as a basis, you will rapidly add more tools and sequences—function analysis, patterns of technology evolution, substance-field analysis and standard solutions will be among the intermediate ones. TRIZ contains highly-sophisticated, almost deterministic methods as well for problems that have no particular starting point—the algorithm for inventive problem solving (ARIZ) and Guided Technology Evolution—to provide inventions that can leapfrog your competition.

Start with these few tools to help yourself, and your organization, to get underway tapping the benefits that TRIZ invention and problem solving make available.

For more information on TRIZ, listen to the podcast What is TRIZ and How Can You Pair It With Six Sigma.

Thank you, for your interest in Getting Started in TRIZ.
Tom Kling
Contributor: Tom Kling