Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TRIZ your problems !

The following is an account of my thoughts, reflections and understanding of the “creative problem solving” workshop conducted by Bala Ramadurai and Prakasan Kappoth as a part of our innovation & social entrepreneurship course. 

This workshop exhaustively dealt with creative problem solving techniques. Let me present you, in this article, a gist of what was discussed or rather practiced in the class.

The participants were given a TRIZ workbook and were asked to apply the TRIZ techniques to a pre-chosen problem statement (related to various sectors such as energy, health, water etc.) and see what can be achieved.

To start with, solving any problem needs “3D”s.
1. Discover
2. Design
3. Deliver

The first stage, Discover, marks the start of the project. This begins with an initial idea or inspiration, in which user needs are identified. These may include Market research, user research, Managing information etc.

The second stage represents the design stage, where firstly, interpretation and alignment of these needs to business objectives is achieved. Secondly, Design-led solutions are developed, iterated and tested.

The final stage represents the Delivery, where the resulting product or service is finalized and launched in the relevant market. The key elements during this stage are final testing, approval and launch, evaluation and feedback loops.

Having said that, let us look at what principles or methods can be applied to address the required needs.

A problem of any sector, any individual/community/organization, of any magnitude can be solved using a simple technique called “TRIZ”.  As Wikipedia puts it, TRIZ is a “problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature.” It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science fiction author Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in 1946. It is essentially a theory of inventive problem solving. 


There are three ways of approach to solve any problem as shown in the above figure.

The first way is random thinking of solutions, which in most of the cases will not give the desired solution; Worse – it leads to chaos.

The second approach leads us to an efficient solution but it’s a time consuming process and sometimes, you deviate way beyond your target.

The last and the best approach is to apply TRIZ techniques which directly leads you to the most appropriate solution quickly!

TRIZ, as of now consist of 40 principles that are very effective in solving any kind of problem.

The underlying principles of TRIZ are as follows –
  • Someone, somewhere, has already solved your problem or a very similar one. Your job is to find that solution and modify it to fit to your circumstances.
  • No compromise - Remove the source of the problem!
To know about all those principles, one can always google; but Let me discuss some very interesting examples that were mentioned to us in the workshop.

Nested Doll:
This is the telescopic approach of obtaining a solution. This is as simple as placing one object inside the other!
Some good examples that use nested dolls principle are the antenna of a radio, the cylindrical container used for carrying drawing sheets, Reliance`s shop within a shop etc.

Prior Action:
Let me explain this with an example - 
When an aeroplane lands on the runaway, a lot of heat is generated between the ground and its wheels, which eventually leads to the failure of the wheels. This is due to friction, especially when the stationary wheels touch the ground, the wheel speed increases from zero to a very large value in a fraction of second. This problem can be solved by applying prior action principle. If the wheels start rotating before the landing occurs, the amount of friction generated will be less and thus the damage can be avoided!

Smart materials:
Choosing appropriate materials is applicable to most of the engineering related problems. The properties like yield strength, thermal conductivity, density etc. are to be taken into consideration while deciding a material.

There are infinite examples of TRIZ techniques, accessible easily on the world wide web.

Besides the 40 principles, there are four very important concepts that one need to understand and practice while solving a problem.
  • Stories
  • 9-windows
  • IFR
  • FA

We have the standard “5W1H” approach of identifying and more importantly understanding a problem.

Who is affected?
What is the problem?
Where is the problem?
When is it a problem?
Why is it a problem?
How is it a problem?

A little enhancement to the above procedure is the “5W1H & not” approach which simply adds a set of 6 more questions by including “not” say for instance, Who is not affected? How is it not a problem? etc.

9 windows:

9 windows is a 3x3 matrix which essentially sorts out the important elements of your problem.
 The blue-colored windows represent the nine windows.



your system here


We first start by identifying the system in the present i.e. the center cell. Much to our surprise, this is probably the toughest part! Once it is identified, the sub-system is where the parts that make up the system enter; while super-system contains the environmental elements in which the system functions.

There are several ways to use the past, present and future columns. One simple method involves asking the following questions:
  • Past: How could I have solved the problem if I could travel back in time?
  • Present: If I could do something different right now so that this problem wouldn't be happening, what would it be?
  • Future: The problem still exists and I was not able to prevent it. How can I fix it?
For examples of 9 windows matrix, of course you can google.


IFR stands for “Ideal Final Result”.

Here, we assume that the problem is already solved and call that solution as the ideal result. We then start coming backwards and get to know what is stopping to achieve the ideal result and how best can we solve it.

The IFR encourages "out of the box thinking", by removing all barriers,offering alternate solution paths. The ideal product or system may not exist, or may not be possible to achieve, but the knowledge of the ideal system helps us to improve the present system. Once we find the features of the ideal product, we put those features as our target and try to improve the current product to achieve this target. Anything that is present between the current and the ideal stages of a product is obviously a future stage of the product.

So, IFR can be given by the following equation (yes, an equation!) –

IFR = sigma(benefits)/[sigma(costs)+sigma(harm)]
The IFR has four key features:
  • Eliminates the deficiencies of the original system
  • Preserves the advantages of the original system
  • Does not complicate the system (it may use free resources)
  • Does not introduce new disadvantages 

FA (Functional Analysis): 

This is a case of trimming the problem by cutting out the unnecessary elements. This is best done by visual representation of the problem. 
To understand it better, check out this example


For solving problems, I always practiced “let us try everything” approach, which as I said earlier, is laborious. I never really believed that there exists a systematic approach of obtaining solutions to a given problem until I attended this workshop. The results were astonishing given that we found 30 odd solutions for our problem statement - "energy savings in conventional systems"

There are a lot of examples on the net, showing the power of TRIZ in problem solving, especially in engineering, the field that most of us are concerned about. Car companies like Ford and Daimler-Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson, aeronautics companies Boeing, NASA, technology companies Hewlett Packard, Motorola, General Electric, Xerox, IBM, LG and Samsung, and Procter and Gamble and Kodak use TRIZ techniques to solve some of their problems!

For mechanical engineers, check this file just to get a feel of how powerful a tool TRIZ is, in engineering applications!

We would finally like to thank Bala & Prakhasan, the workshop instructors, for their valuable lessons and of course, for the Pizza treat as well!

So, with that, I conclude this lengthy article;

Go and TRIZ your problems now!


Anonymous said...

cool post man!

Phani said...

I also use TRIZ frequently and its amazing!
Good post bro :)

ravi teja said...

@above two - thank you :)