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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

TRIZ for Developing the Flow

Incorporating TRIZ into the general problem-solving methodology

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 18:02

Following last month’s meeting, Belinda, the executive council’s facilitator, contacted the group’s consultant, Henrietta, and explained that they were interested in seeing a step-by-step approach for problem solving with TRIZ, something akin to what they had learned with Six Sigma and 5S (one of the lean tools).

Henrietta was pleased by how the group had been using TRIZ and sharing their implementation stories with each other. She understood their desire to see some kind of a flow diagram—something that would allow them to view the different paths as they looked for an ideal solution. However, she was a bit hesitant in just sending them a copy of a process map. She strongly believed that people recall something more effectively when they are involved in the discovery and development of a process. Therefore she decided to help the group develop a TRIZ flowchart at the upcoming meeting.

Prior to the session, she requested that they submit their standard approach to problem solving before they had learned anything about TRIZ. After assimilating their different methodologies, she organized the group’s input into the following buckets:

1. Define the problem (e.g., problem statement, understand the context)
2. Analyze the problem (e.g., collect necessary data to clarify/confirm the issue), modify if necessary (go back to step one)
3. Identify potential solutions (e.g., identify approach and perform activities)
4. Select the best solution
5. Evaluate the solution; if not feasible, go back to step four (if other options are available), or to step three if not
6. Implement

After sharing this with the group and getting concurrence on definitions and scope for each step, the group then drew a simple flowchart to represent the general approach to problem solving (figure 1):


Figure 1: General approach to problem solving. Click here for larger image.

Belinda observed that this method basically followed the first few steps of Walter Shewhart’s PDCA (plan, do, check, act) cycle of continuous improvement and Six Sigma’s DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) approach.

Agreeing, Henrietta then asked the group if they recalled the basic path TRIZ tools follow. Seeing the blank looks she gave a hint, “Something to do with general problem…” Joyce piped up, “You mean the simple four-step path you showed us way back when?” She got up to write it on the whiteboard:
• State our specific problem
• Restate as TRIZ general problem
• Search for TRIZ general solution(s)
• Adapt as our specific solution

 

Henrietta was pleased to hear that the group hadn’t forgotten the basics, as many continued to add their comments:
• Scott: “That’s where we define our ideal final result, right?”
• Joe: “And, this is where we could perform functional analysis, as we saw a few months ago.”

 

Henrietta agreed. “Functional analysis and trimming,” she said. “We’re essentially defining the problem to be solved. However, before we go too much further, let’s see if we can easily superimpose the TRIZ methodology onto the general approach we’ve just mapped.”

A few of the group members made attempts to crosswalk the two approaches:
• “Our specific problem” easily correlated to the first step “Define the problem” in the general approach.
• “TRIZ general problem” took a few iterations to better understand, but they agreed that this would be determined within the third step, “Identify potential solutions” because this is where the TRIZ problem-solving approach would be chosen.
• “TRIZ general solution(s)” also proved a bit more complicated to pinpoint, but it was generally felt that it was also part of the “Identify potential solutions” action box on the diagram
• “Our specific solution” sort of matched up with the “Select the best solution” activity on the general map, although it had more to do with adapting the TRIZ general solution to the specific problem situation.

 

Because it wasn’t a straight one-for-one correlation, Henrietta realized she’d need to take them deeper into the process map and review different levels of activity. “Back to our first step, defining the problem,” she began. “Rarely does the problem statement get defined properly the first time. This is an iterative process until the root cause of the issue is identified.”

She continued by asserting the importance of problem definition with a quote from Albert Einstein: “The formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”

“Then the problem is analyzed, and based on the results of the analysis, it may require us to redefine the problem statement,” Henrietta continued. “Once we’ve completed the analysis and are sure our problem statement is accurate, we’ll have a better idea of how we want to identify potential solutions. Many factors will go into this decision, mainly the complexity and parameters within which we are able to solve the issue. This step, indicated as step three in our general approach to problem solving, really needs to be flushed out into more detail so that we can see where the TRIZ activities deviate from some of the other approaches.”

Henrietta paused to make sure everyone had followed her explanation. “Based on the results of the problem analysis, we may notice that the conditions of this scenario lend itself to a TRIZ problem-solving tool,” she continued. “The most common methodology for identifying potential solutions is brainstorming; not all problems need to be solved using TRIZ.”

Joyce, recalling the initial steps she had gone through when solving her problem with insurance claims processing, wanted to clarify. “Should we not clarify figure 1 to incorporate the first few steps of the TRIZ process then?” And she moved to the whiteboard to redraw the boxes (figure 2):


Figure 2: Incorporating TRIZ into the general problem-solving methodology. Click here for larger image.

Commending Joyce on the clarification, Henrietta continued, “Great! It shows your understanding of the iterative nature of problem solving. And you’ve also shown us that we’re now at a different level of detail in the process map. If, at this point, we’ve decided that TRIZ would be a better approach, we then need to figure out how to apply it. As you have all learned earlier, we first MUST determine our ideal final result (IFR) and then restate the problem as a TRIZ general problem. Now we are in a position to decide which of the TRIZ tools to use to arrive at a solution.” Henrietta wrote the following three items on the whitboard:
1. Is the solution obvious, and is it simply a matter of implementation?
2. Are we seeing contradictions that we need to resolve?
3. Are we simply looking at a case of making an incremental improvement?

 

“But before drawing out a more detailed version of the now detailed step 3d, let’s get a better idea of where each of these choices will then lead,” she suggested. “Each of these decisions leads us on a different path (figure 3):
• If we are going to implement a solution, we need to understand any effects it might have on other systems.
• If we have identified physical or technical contradictions, we need to use the appropriate inventive principles to help us find a solution to achieve our IFR... and you have all used these a few times.
• If we go the improvement route, we need to remodel using one of the TRIZ standard solutions and address the deficiencies or inadequacies. I know we have not covered these and we will get to them one of these days.”


Figure 3: Problem-solving methodology showing TRIZ tools. Click here for larger image.

Once again, Belinda had to ask a question. “How do we know that we have the best solution and we are achieving our IFR?”

Jokingly, Henrietta began, “Folks, I didn’t pay Belinda to ask this question. She does, however, lead us to the next steps in the process mapping diagram: selection and evaluation. We do need to evaluate these concepts before we proceed with implementation because we all know that a solution to one issue may in fact cause new problems further downstream. And if our solution causes a new problem, we haven’t reached our IFR. We then need to get back to the start of the process.

“But you’ll also notice that this step isn’t specific to the TRIZ approach,” she added. “So we’re back to the general approach in figure 1. And, we’ll not spend time on the selection/evaluation steps because every problem-solving methodology should include these activities. My only comment to these two steps would be in the order they are conducted. Depending on the complexity of the problem and the associated ‘costs’ to fix, you might want to conduct an evaluation on each option before choosing which solution to implement. If, however, the improvement is minor, you could very well choose a solution, evaluate it to make sure it works, and then implement it.”

Henrietta continued, “This completes our flowchart of utilizing the TRIZ tool with a general problem-solving approach. Essentially, we’ve mapped out a general problem-solving methodology, then identified where we’d go into a more detailed level to show the TRIZ-specific activities.

“Please don’t get frustrated if you have to go through this process a few times,” she advised. “It just tells you that you didn’t formulate the problem correctly in the earlier rounds. This is often the case since we want to get to solutions quickly and move forward without taking the time to properly analyze the situation rationally. We get caught up in the symptoms or the emotions of the moment. Remember that the IFR identifies the ideal, but you have to decide to what extreme you’re willing to take this solution. Recall when I said that IFR is the scariest of all the tools because the ideal result consumes no resources, costs nothing, and takes no effort. It’s important to consider this and decide. But we have now developed a TRIZ flowchart, which you can add (and personalize) as you get more adept at using the TRIZ tools.”

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.