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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Structured Innovation: Claims Processors and Physical Contradictions

Is there such a thing as permanent temporary workers?

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 09:45

Editor’s note: This article continues the series exploring structured innovation using the TRIZ methodology, a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting tool derived from studying patterns of invention found in global patent data.

Coffee cups filled, the council members sat down, interested to hear how Joyce, an executive in the insurance industry, had been able to use the ideal final result (IFR) to find a solution for the increase in claims processing that resulted from a government regulation change.

Joyce restated the definition of IFR—a description of the best possible solution for the problem situation, regardless of the original problem’s constraintsand went on to say the initial remedy of training new people to handle the extra work was far from satisfactory. She and her team agreed that their IFR was to maintain quality work with no or reduced additional training. Their contradiction had come down to:
• They want more trained/excellent employees
• They don’t want more trained/excellent employees

While reviewing with Henrietta, the TRIZ consultant the council had invited, it became apparent that these issues could be considered physical contradictions. The challenge now was how to solve this problem without compromise.

Henrietta explained that for overcoming physical contradictions, there are four “physical” principles and a supporting database of physical phenomena and effects. When dealing with a known physical contradiction, one of the four principles could be used to overcome this type of contradiction:
1. Separation of contradictory properties in time
2. Separation of contradictory properties in space
3. Separation between the whole system and its parts (but letting the contradictions coexist)
4. Separation based on different conditions: solve in a subsystem or a super-system

Reviewing the contradictions in this light, Joyce’s team decided to address the employee training based on the type of work to be done:
• Expert processors to handle the complex claims
• Lesser-trained processors to handle routine claims

The lesser-trained processors could be a transient workforce, but it would still be in the same boat: These temporary workers would have to be trained. The contradiction then became:
• We want temps
• We don’t want temps

The fourth principle, “solve in subsystem” then came into play. The issue became how to find people who want to be temps, yet not really be temps. The solution came in the form of identifying a voluntary transient workforce, which would not have to be trained every time it was needed—essentially, a permanent temporary workforce. Individuals fitting that criteria would include mothers who had left the workforce and now wanted to work on a temporary basis yet with some stability, as well as retirees who want temporary work along with the flexibility. Joyce’s team agreed to tap into these two talent pools. The team would need to train them once and then have them on call as and when necessary.

From this decision, the team had more trained employees and it did not have more trained employees. It had temps and it did not have temps. The team would now be able to maintain a level workload without the need for ongoing training.

Kevin, one of the council members who had been quiet so far, commented that Joyce’s team could have arrived at this solution without the use of TRIZ. However, TRIZ consultant Henrietta had helped the team see the issue in a different light and determine a solution that was closer to the IFR, which the team had not considered prior to learning about TRIZ’s structured approach to innovation.

When Joyce finished presenting her experience, Belinda asked if there were volunteers willing to share their issues.

Kevin spoke about how his company had been selling products through distributors with specified territories. But with e-commerce becoming the standard way customers purchase products, Kevin’s team realized that it could no longer ignore this marketing channel. The distributor channel had served the firm well, but becoming over-dependent on one marketing channel was a concern. Adding an e-commerce platform would not only create a wider customer base, it also would allow customers to order at their convenience.

However, there was a potential risk: online ordering could create a perception among existing distributors that the company was taking away potential sales. If this feeling was strong enough, the distributors might abandon Kevin’s organization and go to its competitors.

Cutting the story short, Kevin described his IFR as “increasing sales at no cost” and wrote the contradiction and his comments on a flip chart:

Need to improve (what gets better):

• Reduce dependence on distributors
• Increase territory coverage for our products
• Increase penetration in the existing market

What gets worse:

• Stability (possible loss of revenue from current distributor-based sales)
• Personal interaction with customers (currently distributors are the direct contact; loss of customers)
• Number of distributors (increased attrition; distributors pull out)

Kevin’s situation was a totally different problem, so council facilitator Belinda suggested they discuss it during next month’s meeting.

How do you think Kevin’s organization should address increasing sales at no cost? Do you have any suggestions for Kevin? Does his IFR make sense?


About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.


IFR: a question of balance?

Company managers are more and more like my wife: they watch TV or Google meteo to know what's the weather like, instead of looking out of their windows, or feel the temperature with their hand. We used to say that USA managers were shop-floor managers, they lived there. But now they've become just like our european smartly-dressed, ivory-towers inhabiting, farfetched managers. There's all evidence that the permanent temporary workers should be the managers themselves: either they hit an IFR, or there's the door. Thank you.