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Akhilesh Gulati

Six Sigma

TRIZ and Lean

Lean helps us recognize nonvalue-adding activities; TRIZ helps us avoid them

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 10:41

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.

Belinda started the My Executive Council (MEC) meeting on an upbeat note. She reiterated that during the last meeting, the council members’ minds had been opened to exploring other areas for possible TRIZ application.

They had discussed strengthening an environmental management system by applying TRIZ principles. She then told the group how she became acquainted with using TRIZ principles to develop eco-friendly products and asked if anybody had new ideas or examples of how they had applied TRIZ since their last meeting.

Joe, a council member who works in the automotive industry, had yet to actively participate in the group. But at this meeting he shared some interesting observations about lean implementation activities where he worked. He said that lean essentially looks at processes and identifies and eliminates or reduces nonvalue-added activities. He categorized the activities associated with his processes as productive, providing, corrective, and harmful, and wrote them on the whiteboard as follows:
Productive: An activity/function that has to be performed to arrive at the desired product
Providing: An activity/function that itself does not add value but enables or facilitates subsequent activities/functions
Corrective: An activity/function that eliminates unwanted characteristics
Harmful: An activity/function that is not only nonvalue-adding, but is also itself unwanted and has a negative impact

Belinda surmised what was on everyone’s mind. “Looking at things this way provides a different perspective to the options for problem solving and making improvements,” she said.

Josh, another member always eager to jump in, said, “Let me try to understand this. ‘Providing’ essentially is the same as nonvalue-added, but necessary. This includes tasks or functions that enable the organization to stay in business, like accounting, payroll, or management, and perhaps even transportation activities, when viewed from the perspective of a complex supply-chain industry.”

“Let’s take a look at the complexity of the supply chain,” added Belinda. “On my way here, I had to take a detour because the road was being resurfaced. I saw the trucks carrying the asphalt compound that gets spread on the road surface. The asphalt, I believe, is produced at a plant several miles away, where it’s either stored in heated silos or loaded directly onto a truck for transport to a job site.

Of course, the asphalt cools during transport, and that affects its consistency for being spread and compacted,” she continued. “Per our lean definitions, transportation is a nonvalue-added activity. We can consider transportation as part of the providing category because it enables the subsequent function of spreading asphalt on the road. Additionally, I suppose asphalt transportation also causes degradation of the asphalt’s characteristics, essentially causing a negative effect, so it fits in the harmful category as well. Therefore, transportation is required, but it is also a nonvalue-adding activity and harmful—a clear contradiction. How can TRIZ help us resolve this contradiction?”

Wanting to be sure he understood what was being said, Joe noted the contradiction on the board:
• We want transportation to get the asphalt to the job site.
• We don’t want transportation because of the harmful effect and because it is nonvalue adding.

As everyone concurred, Joe recalled from an earlier MEC session that, per TRIZ methodology, one resolved physical contradictions four ways:
• Separation of the requirements in time
• Separation of the requirements in space
• Coexistence of the contradictory properties, in different subsystems or different regions of phase space
• Solve the problem in the super-system or the subsystem

Scott, MEC’s newest member, noted that the first three methods clearly don’t apply to transportation. The problem would need to be solved at the super-system or the subsystem level. He thought the best manufacturing methodology for making asphalt is just-in-time (JIT). That would mean making the asphalt using the right temperature and mix for the specific surface at the time it’s needed, not ahead of time. “Currently, asphalt is not made in the most economical way,” he said. “To come up with a resolution to this physical contradiction, we need to understand the infrastructure and the economics of the complete process, which most of us don’t.

“Talking of transportation, I recall from my days in the concrete business that there was a lot of material being moved—whether through pipes or on trucks, trains, and boats,” he added. “Those resources were being used only to move stuff. Eventually our equipment was upgraded to add to its functionality; for example, concrete mixers were mounted on trucks so that concrete was being mixed during transport. This could be applied to asphalt transport. I suppose this is the TRIZ idea of maximizing the use of resources.”

Belinda brought the discussion to a close by stating, “As Scott observed, none of us are in the road construction business. We also generally do something that doesn’t add value because of assumptions, infrastructure, or economic constraints. Our key takeaway from today’s examples of applying TRIZ is that we must be open to its use for problem solving. It doesn’t replace; rather, it complements lean, Six Sigma, or other problem-solving methodologies. We learned of four different categories that could be used to identify types of activities other than value-adding and nonvalue-adding. Further analysis clarified contradictions and eventually enabled the TRIZ approach to arrive at a solution. Lean helps us recognize nonvalue-adding activities; TRIZ helps us create ways to avoid them.

“We have all used the ideal final result and defined contradictions methodologies in our projects. However, we haven’t really seen a step-by-step approach for using TRIZ. Let’s ask our consultant, Henrietta, if at the next meeting she can provide us with a road map of problem solving with TRIZ that we could use to guide us.”

Everyone concurred and the MEC moved on to other agenda items.

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.