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Akhilesh Gulati

Innovation

Structured Innovation: Using the Ideal Final Result

Resolving contradictions by rethinking functions

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 12:49


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.

As the executive council got down to business for the day, Belinda summarized from last month’s session that the ideal final result (IFR) is a description of the best possible solution for the problem situation, regardless of the original problem’s constraints.

The council members recalled that last month’s structured innovation session highlighted the concepts of IFR and the contradiction matrix. As they had experienced, they could focus on a solution enabled by the IFR rather than pursuing the frustrating traditional route of brainstorming, then compromising on an “optimum” result. The IFR allowed them to think about what they would like to ideally achieve vs. why something could not be achieved.

Joe, a leader in the automotive industry, shared an example he’d read about. People like wheel hubcaps to provide a pleasing appearance, but they have to deal with the possibility of them falling off. Based on what he’d learned about structured innovation, he now saw the situation as a contradiction—i.e., providing a positive function (pleasing appearance) and a negative function (falling off). The IFR exercise helped him to understand that the pleasing appearance could be achieved by transferring that function to the wheel’s rim by designing and manufacturing a rim with a pleasing appearance, and thereby removing the need for the hubcap and its associated problem. The primary function of pleasing appearance had been retained, but the hubcap had been eliminated, thus solving the contradiction. Everyone in the room had cars with this feature and was able to better appreciate the use of the tool they had learned about during the last session.

“This is just like lean manufacturing” said John. “We can combine things so that the bad ones don’t happen at all, and the good ones are cheaper.”

Joyce, an executive in the insurance industry, brought up her issue related to workload peaks in processing claims that were caused by changes in government regulations. This in turn created a need to hire and train new employees who would then have to be laid off once the workload settled back to normal. Unfortunately, training employees was not only a cumbersome, time-consuming process, but also one in which more than half the trainees dropped out before the training was complete.

In the past, Joyce’s team had brainstormed on ways to improve the training. “I now realize that this may be distracting us from the IFR of highly capable claims processors,” she said. “By defining the IFR, we can focus our efforts on improving the capability of our processors without the constraints of our current training process. Because not all our claims are complex and only a few processors handle those, focusing on training may be limiting our ability to accomplish our IFR of high-performing individuals who will maximize our ROI and help reduce workload during peak times.”

Josh jumped in, questioning her IFR of “highly capable claims processors.” He countered that the IFR should be “quick and accurate processing of claims” to maximize ROI despite load variations. Because there was a 60-percent dropout rate of trainees, Joyce and her team obviously were not addressing the right problem; perhaps another approach should be considered.

Josh recalled a somewhat similar situation in the automotive industry. At the time Six Sigma had been popular, and companies rushed to get as many employees trained and certified as Black Belts as possible. However, once the training was complete, they discovered the ROI was not as they expected. Many trainees never completed a project, and some projects were not successful in delivering the expected results. However, by contracting with qualified Black Belts to work with internal personnel, one company was able to achieve a higher project completion rate and increase its ROI by 300 percent.

“We can’t stop here and assume that outsourcing or contracting would be the ideal solution,” Belinda objected. “The IFR should maximize the good in a problem, concept, or idea, and minimize the bad. One way to apply the IFR is to assume we have zero budget to accomplish a task.” 

As the discussion continued, Josh got up and walked to the flip chart and drew a diagram he called the “Two Plus Matrix.” He said that he came across this tool as he was trying to learn more about the IFR and contradictions. The Two Plus Matrix, he said, would help them define their IFR. Essentially, they needed to think of their current system and an alternative system, identify the respective features of the contradiction, and then define the IFR.

 

System

Contradiction Feature No. 1:
Claims processing

Contradiction Feature No. 2:
Training time

Current

Hire and train new employees

+ Reduce workload

– Too long

Alternative

Use current employees

– Increase workload

+ No or reduced training time

IFR

??

+ Level workload

+ No or reduced training time

“For example,” he said as he filled in the matrix across the top row, “your current system is to hire and train new employees. Although that helps reduce the workload, the training to make them proficient takes too long. While one feature gets better, the other gets worse.”

He started filling out the second row and continued. “An alternative system might be to use current employees. However, their workload will increase—meaning more overtime, higher stress, and reduced quality—although the training time is substantially reduced. Now while the opposite feature gets better, the other gets worse.”

Ideally, the IFR model would reduce the workload and require no training time. The features of the contradictions had been identified, and thus the IFR should be able to resolve them.

Josh said he was sure they could list additional competing systems before settling on an alternative, but this was all he could come up with. The executive council was learning something new and making headway, but the scheduled meeting time was nearly over. Belinda encouraged Joyce to go back to her team and rethink the IFR issue and see if they could come up with a better solution. They would continue with their insights at the next meeting.

What do you think they should do?


Discuss

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.

Comments

IFR is an "Ideal"

What should they do? My tennis coach told me a thousand times that one plays tennis with his feet, more than with his arms, or eyes, or brain. I would suggest the Team to keep their feet on the ground: less charting and more "feeling". Thank you.