TRIZ, Six Sigma and Transactional Processes

Tom Kling, who has the most magnificent mustache this side of the 19th century, talked to us about TRIZ: an acronym that most of us in the room had never heard of, much less used. I confess, I Googled it before the session, so knew that it was related to innovation – it’s also known as “systematic innovation – and is a Romanized acronym of the Russian phrase “Теория решения изобретательских задач”, or “theory of inventive problem solving”. Kling is from Dow Chemical, a company that knows a bit about innovation as well as chemistry. They’ve had a Six Sigma program since 1999, having trained more than 10,000 green and black belts, and having it fully integrated into all major improvement and innovation processes. I sat with him at lunch, and heard more about how Six Sigma can be applied to research and development areas such as his, as well as to more operational and manufacturing areas that are more common applications. This presentation turns that around a bit: taking a technique used primarily for research innovation, and applying it to transactional processes.

This gets past the issue that I referred to in the previous post, where Lean and Six Sigma are seen as only for incremental improvement, not disruptive change: TRIZ starts with a description of a perfect, hypothetical solution state, then applies a number of techniques such as importing solutions from other fields as well as more incremental improvement based on application of technology. Starting by envisioning an ideal solution can result in more out-of-the-box solutions than working forward from the current state; although the perfect solution likely won’t be achieved, at least it opens people’s eyes and gets them thinking about what’s possible. There are sets of TRIZ problems and solutions, with operators to map problems to solutions. This may allow a specific problem to be generalized to a TRIZ problem using contradiction characteristics, operated on to map to a TRIZ solution, then applied back to a specific solution. There are several methods for doing this, such as using contradiction characteristics such as Altshuller’s characteristics or Mann’s business TRIZ features, and examples of problem solving techniques such as Altshuller’s 40 inventive principles.

He used a very funny example of this: he uses a comb on his ‘stache during warmer weather but a brush during dry, cold weather, but doesn’t like that the combination of comb and brush don’t fit well in his pocket; using a contradiction matrix with increased area being a good thing but increased volume being a bad thing, the suggested set of solutions includes nesting, spheroidality or new dimensions, which leads to his actual solution, a folding brush/comb combo. A more realistic example for the rest of us is a survey where more questions increases the amount of information gathered, but worsens communications flow when not all questions are applicable to all respondents; the solution set includes having a dynamic survey that removes irrelevant questions based on earlier responses.

TRIZ, then, is an algorithmic approach to innovation. This departs from our somewhat fantastical notion of a scientist having an “a-ha” moment at some point in every innovation, or an unbounded brainstorming session generating all the new ideas; now, what’s necessary is a skilled facilitator who can explore how the inventive principles apply to the specific problem in order to generate possible solutions. There’s also a lot of skill required to map between the specific and general problem and solution spaces, as well as evaluating potential solutions (and even generating new hybrid solutions) using something like a Pugh concept evaluation matrix.

At Dow, they’ve embedded TRIZ into their Design For Six Sigma (DFSS) processes for designing chemical plants, allowing for better integration across designs of all the other processes surrounding the chemical plant, such as rail shipping. This doesn’t always result in a disruptive change, but sometimes results in a group of interrelated changes that make a big difference: in one case, reducing shipping transit times and costs, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.

There are many other TRIZ-related tools, applicable to both technological and transactional situations. Some of these, such as mind maps, didn’t originate with TRIZ but are commonly used during TRIZ innovation projects; many have been adopted into the TRIZ body of knowledge maintained by the Russian TRIZ group. It’s also possible to mix several of the TRIZ techniques with Six Sigma techniques to good effect.

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