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Using TRIZ Principles in Problem Solving Sessions

written by: Ginny Edwards • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 10/3/2010

If you believe in the saying that: "There are no new ideas, just recycled ones," then you will find using the TRIZ principles to solve your problems very helpful. Read more to discover if TRIZ may have already found a possible solution to your most perplexing problems.

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    What is TRIZ?

    Recycle Picture - Courtesy of Open Clip Art Library TRIZ is a Russian acronym that stands for a set of problem solving techniques and tools which is known in its English translation as "The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving." TRIZ was developed by G.S. Altshuller, who methodically examined patent applications to derive a set of 40 inventive principles to assist engineers in recycling tried and true universal solutions to solve new problems.

    The TRIZ method specifically addresses problems that arise from contradictions that occur between two competing inherent properties of a product, process, or service. For example, to increase the speed of a product or process often requires sacrificing the level of reliability in performance, if all other factors are held constant.

    Contradictions occur because every action has a consequence which becomes more apparent when quality improvement processes, such as Total Quality Management and Six Sigma methodologies, are deployed. Altshuller identified 39 competing properties or "parameters" which when paired against each other produce a contradiction. To compensate for these contradictions, TRIZ offers opportunities to change the status quo by applying a counterbalancing force as a solution.

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    How TRIZ Works in Solving Problems

    Most problem solving sessions follow a certain course of events in which participants are requested to perform the following tasks:

    1. Define the problem, including an analysis of every detail about the problem that can affect finding the right solution.
    2. Generate a pool of possible solutions using a problem solving method such as TRIZ or brainstorming.
    3. Evaluate alternatives and select the best solution based on a set of values.
    4. Develop an accountable action plan to implement the solution selected.

    The facilitator of the problem solving session has several options when utilizing TRIZ to jump start the creative juices of the team in tackling a problem. The team moderator can take a methodical approach by leading the group through an examination of each of the 40 TRIZ principles to determine their applicability to the present situation.

    Another approach is for the facilitator to ask each team member to select the principles which they believe offer the best solutions to the problem while providing support and examples for their choices. If a contradiction is identified during the problem solving session, such as the speed/reliability trade off, the team leader can use a contradiction matrix to generate a list of possible solutions for discussion to resolve the contradiction.

    For example, the TRIZ matrix offers four inventive principles (Principle 11 - Beforehand Cushioning, Principle 35 - Parameter Changes, Principle 27 - Cheap Short-Living Objects, and Principle 28 - Mechanics Substitutions) to resolve the speed/reliability dilemma. The matrix also provides examples of how each of these principles may be applied. For instance, principle 35 yields greater detail on what constitutes a parameter change with examples that propose altering physical attributes such as flexibility, temperature, and concentration or consistency to correct the targeted imbalance. The solutions can also be adapted to service situations. For example, employee schedules can be adjusted to add flexibility, climate control can be used to eliminate too cold or too warm working conditions, and HR planning can be deployed to hire more workers to adjust concentration levels, all in the effort to speed up customer service without sacrificing quality.

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    What Are the Benefits of the TRIZ Method?

    Collective problem solving sessions often have mixed results depending upon the knowledge and experience of the participants and their comfort level in freely expressing and critiquing the ideas of each other. TRIZ can overcome some of the difficulties in leading and invigorating a team to find creative solutions by:

    • Providing a clear systematic process for problem solving in contrast to the hit or miss results associated with the free-flowing brainstorming session.
    • Giving guidance to groups that are inexperienced in working together as a team.
    • Creating an upfront common understanding of the objectives and competing forces as identified by the contradiction matrix.
    • Offering a filtering mechanism to prevent team members from embracing too quickly a solution before the problem is fully understood.
    • Presenting a clear and consistent review of the outcomes or solutions for consideration.

    Although TRIZ provides a unique problem solving apparatus to spur innovation, its concentration on engineering designs and features makes it more challenging to apply to problem-solving to improve processes and services. Therefore, in leading the problem solving session, the facilitator may need to eliminate or adapt some of the solutions offered by TRIZ to account for human factors.

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    The Triz Journal. (accessed October 1, 2010).

    Image Credit: Crystal Earth Recycle - Kuba/Open Clip Art Library