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by Carey Wilson

TRIZ (pronounced “treez”) is a nonintuitive problem-solving method based on logic and data analysis, which accelerates the ability to solve problems creatively. TRIZ also provides repeatability, predictability, and reliability due to its structure and algorithmic approach. TRIZ is a (Russian) acronym for the “theory of inventive problem solving,” which was developed by G.S. Altshuller and his colleagues in the former U.S.S.R. between 1946 and 1985.

TRIZ relies on the study of the patterns of problems and solutions, not on the spontaneous and intuitive creativity of individuals or groups. In the formulation of TRIZ methodology, more than 3 million patents have been analyzed to decipher the patterns that predict breakthrough solutions to problems.

TRIZ is increasingly common in Six Sigma processes, in project management and risk management systems, and in organizational innovation initiatives.

TRIZ research began with the hypothesis that there are universal principles of creativity that form the basis for creative innovations that advance technology. If these principles could be identified and codified, they could be taught to people to make the process of creativity more predictable.

The research has proceeded in several stages during the last 60 years. The three primary findings of this research are as follows:

Problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences. The classification of the contradictions in each problem predicts the creative solutions to that problem.

Patterns of technical evolution are repeated across industries and sciences.

Creative innovations use scientific effects outside the field where they were developed.


These three primary findings are embodied in the 40 principles of TRIZ, which in turn are the basis of the TRIZ matrix that provides a structured methodology for finding and creatively dealing with problems of contradiction in system and production planning. (See www.triz-journal.com/archives/1997/07/b/index.html .)

Ellen Domb, Ph.D., has spent more than a decade showing people how to integrate the TRIZ method of creativity and innovation into their quality applications. Domb is president of The PQR Group, located in Upland, California, and is also a charter member of the Quality Function Deployment Institute, co-founder of the TRIZ Institute, and founding editor of The TRIZ Journal , a monthly e-newsletter.

Here she talks about the importance of learning these repeating patterns of problem solutions, patterns of technical evolution, and methods of benchmarking to find solutions from outside your area of expertise, and then applying the general TRIZ patterns to the challenges presented by any problem requiring a creative solution.


Quality Digest : In your career you’ve been a physics professor, an aerospace engineer, an engineering manager, a product line general manager, and a strategic planning/quality improvement consultant; at what point were you introduced to TRIZ?

Ellen Domb : In January of 1995 I got three phone calls in three weeks from three different people, and they were all connected to my work in QFD [quality function deployment]. They all used the exact same words, “Have you heard of this TRIZ stuff? It’s going to change everything.” Because they were QFD buddies, I thought they meant it was going to change everything about QFD. Between phone call two and phone call three, I attended a half-day TRIZ seminar, and I became fascinated and convinced that TRIZ was going to be very useful and very important, but it was also going to be extremely difficult to learn and to teach without a lot of new work, because the Russian style of teaching and the U.S. style of learning are very different. My contribution over the past 13 years has been figuring out how to teach it so that people can learn and put it to use very quickly.

QD: What about TRIZ drew you to it as a subject that was worthy of continued study and application?

ED: I had never personally been “creative”--I was always the diligent team member or team leader who could implement what the creative people did, but I never came up with the ideas. TRIZ was great--it let me do what “those guys” had done. It gave me capabilities I had never had before. It was a perfect fit for what I needed, both personally and for my clients.

QD: Was there a breakthrough moment when you realized that TRIZ could be applied to solving business-related, quality-assurance problems?

ED: From the very beginning, I saw that TRIZ was about learning the best methods that people have used throughout history to solve problems. The first time I articulated that the separation into “technical” and “business” problems is artificial and unnecessary was during a speech I presented in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2003, when I dug into the history (more than 20 years at that point) of TRIZ applications to “business” problems.

There’s a phenomena in Six Sigma that’s frequently called the 4.5 sigma wall--that’s when you’ve done various kinds of improvement such as Green Belt and Black Belt projects, and it seems that you’ve reached a point where it’s hard to improve the system further. That’s the point when you have harvested all the so-called low-hanging fruit. Doing what you’ve been doing, but somehow doing it more carefully or more precisely, won’t improve the process.

That’s when you need creativity tools that lie outside of your common experience, and at that point many people go to design for Six Sigma [DFSS] and create a process to do what the previous system used to do, but in a new and improved way. This is often when TRIZ is injected into DMAIC [define, measure, analyze, improve, and control] or DFSS, because people want to continue improving, but they realize that they need a different way of thinking about the problem.

QD: To the uninitiated, the phrase “systematic innovation” may sound almost like a contradiction of terms, but TRIZ uses a very systematic approach to creative problem solving.

ED: TRIZ is actually very nonlinear. There are lots of loops in the process. See “The Problem With ARIZ and Other Innovation Processes,” by Darrell Mann [ www.triz-journal.com/archives/2007/12/03].

Here’s a business story: A government contracting company is applying TRIZ to the process of getting approvals for technical conferences--a process that originally took more than three months and had many opportunities for dropped balls. Ordinary lean and Six Sigma methods identified many opportunities for change, but using the TRIZ ideality and function modeling tools helped them find solutions that solved several of the problems simultaneously, and also helped them understand the politics of the situation. For instance, you can view organizational power issues as a source of energy in the system, and energy can either push you to the solution or pull you away from it, depending on how it is directed.

Here’s another example: I had a group of Six Sigma Black Belts in a class that decided to do an exercise that would benefit them. The most hated aspect of being a Black Belt was entering the data necessary to keeping the project management system up to date. We used the ideal-final-result technique to arrive at the conclusion that ideally the data would enter itself. And from there came the realization that everyone in the room was already a user of the company IT system, but they didn’t really have a very good idea of how it actually worked. So we got two guys from the IT department who did understand how the system worked to come in, and they asked the Black Belts what kind of data from different departments they normally used in tracking a project, such as customer data, travel data, project manager reports, and so forth. It turned out that all of the necessary data already existed in the system, but what was necessary was for the IT department to do some reconfiguration of the system and meta-tagging of the data so that it was sent directly to the project management system, alleviating their need to collect and enter it themselves. So within a couple of days the Black Belts no longer had to do any personal, manual inputting of data, unless they wanted to create a significant change in the project. It moved “project management data entry” from the No. 1 complaint by Black Belts to so low on the list that they needed log paper for the Pareto chart.

QD : When working as a consultant or trainer, what are some of the challenges faced when introducing personnel to the usefulness of the TRIZ approach to problem-solving and quality improvement?

ED : My problem is never with the people who are in the class, because the classes are structured to solve real problems that exist at their companies; the exercises are not based on hypothetical situations. People want to solve their problems. About half of the people I work with are already formally involved with Six Sigma, and many are involved in product development, as engineering or strategic planning.

Quite honestly, I think the reason that lean is so popular is that it gets very fast results. Lean Six Sigma helps you find the right questions to ask; TRIZ helps you find the right answers. Lean helps you find the waste-producing aspect of your operation, and often from there you can simply get rid of the operation that is causing the waste. If you find that there is no apparent way to do away with the wasteful procedure without damaging some other aspect of the operation, then you might want to apply TRIZ to develop an entirely new type of process that doesn’t include the waste. So, to answer your question, my challenge is getting people to simply try TRIZ.

QD: What sort of examples do you use to illustrate its capabilities and usefulness to those who have been previously unaware of TRIZ?

ED : The main thing is to show that it is data-based, and very different from brainstorming. There’s some bad history here--some of the early TRIZ teachers in particular spent a lot of time trying to tell people that brainstorming is bad, wasteful, etc. I just tell my students that brainstorming is unpredictable, and in business we want predictable creativity.

QD: You founded The TRIZ Journal in 1996 with a readership of two (the journal’s editors) and have seen it grow to its current monthly readership of 80,000. What draws people to The TRIZ Journal ?

ED : The TRIZ Journal offers real experiences from other readers who range from people who have just tried TRIZ on a first project, to experienced consultants. All theoretical presentations have to be accompanied by examples of how to use them in real situations. Some articles deal with classical TRIZ, some with extensions of TRIZ, and some are about proposals where TRIZ is incorporated into other methods: TRIZ and theory of constraints, TRIZ and QFD, TRIZ and lean, etc.

QD : What resources, training, or classes would you recommend to a person just beginning to learn about TRIZ?

ED: The book Simplified TRIZ: New Problem Solving Applications for Engineers and Manufacturing Professionals, Second Edition, by Kalevi Rantanen and me [Auerbach Publications, 2007], is designed for people to use on their own without training classes. I also recommend INsourcing Innovation: How to Achieve Competitive Excellence Using TRIZ, by David Silverstein, Neil DeCarlo, and Michael Slocum [Auerbach Publications, 2007] for its strong Six Sigma heritage and great case studies.

A good online resource is The TRIZ Journal. Use the site’s search engine to find tutorial articles, and browse the articles in areas of your interest (software, quality, productivity, etc.). The Journal also lists global offerings and events by lots of different consultants, and there are mini classes at symposia in the United States, Europe, Japan, China, etc.

Basically, I recommend that you read something about TRIZ, then go to something live such as a seminar or class, and finally, apply what you’ve learned to actually do it.

QD : What do you see as the future of TRIZ in the educational system and in the world of business in general and quality assurance in particular?

ED: Its development will be highly variable by country. In the United States, it is only present in universities where individual professors (in both engineering and business) have become interested and brought it in.

In France, there is an extensive program now in technical universities, and plans for more “train-the-trainers” classes for both university professors and high school teachers. In Mexico, seven universities now and 41 in the near future have senior-year engineering students do projects for local businesses, and the students learn TRIZ, QFD, and axiomatic design, and must use two of the three for their projects. The businesses must commit to implement the results. I think this is a great way to build TRIZ into the engineering culture. China has a lot of activity in a small number of universities. India is similar to the United States.

Generally, in the short term, I think we’ll see lots of training and projects (similar to the start-up of lean/Six Sigma). In the longer term I believe that TRIZ will become a widely accepted part of the way that people do things; it will be absorbed into company systems.

About the author
Carey Wilson is Quality Digest’s news editor.