by Sunil Kumar V. Kaushik

During a training session on the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ) as part of a Six Sigma Black Belt program, a participant jovially said to the instructor that if the participants had solutions for the contradictions readily available, then the class had wasted 10 days in the training program.

Though the comment was a joke, it made sense; the instructor got an idea.

The instructor began fantasizing about solving complex problems that required Lean Six Sigma (LSS) expertise, ample manpower and time, and needed to be solved quickly. He was excited.

The instructor began taking baby steps toward an end goal of achieving the outcome of a value stream mapping (VSM) workshop/Six Sigma project in less than one hour.

-Lean Six Sigma (LSS) problem solving consumes a lot of effort in identifying the root cause and involves a trial and error method for confirming significant factors.

-For any given contradiction, TRIZ has a solution for improving the process by making changes to a process step.

-Combining TRIZ and LSS through a structured approach can help reduce the effort and duration of LSS projects by nearly 10 times.

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Refining his wish even further, the instructor asked very few questions of the customer concerning the problem. In the end, he told the customer, “This is exactly where the problem lies, and this is the solution.”

The instructor kept looking at the TRIZ contradiction matrix, which has the technical contradictions and the TRIZ principle to be used, trying to create a framework. Finally understanding how to do so, the instructor determined he had to marry LSS and TRIZ.

As seen in Figure 1, a contradiction matrix has a set of features in the x and y axis of a table. Once the inventor is able to identify the feature to be improved, and the corresponding undesirable feature, he can arrive at a particular house in the matrix that has the principles to be used.

An ideal TRIZ problem-solving approach, and challenges, are provided below:

- Define your specific problem
- A typical LSS problem/goal statement has the factor that needs to be improved, but not necessarily the factor that is limiting improvement.

- Convert your problem to a TRIZ general problem
- To convert it to a TRIZ problem, the contradictions need to be identified.
- Relating a technical contradiction for a service industry problem is hard since the terminology used relates to manufacturing.
- A problem can have multiple contradictions.

- TRIZ-specific solution using contradiction matrix
- TRIZ solutions are straightforward for technical problems and relating it to a transaction-based model or service industry is hard, as it is tough to relate the principle to the components of the system.

- Specific solution to the problem
- TRIZ solutions do not point out the exact process step where the problem lies, which needs LSS.

The instructor took previous LSS projects and started to fit the TRIZ approach to solving the same problems. The solutions were accurate, but as a consultant, the instructor was still unable to identify exactly where the problem existed.

For example, when the instructor applied the TRIZ principle, mechanical vibration—causing an object to oscillate or vibrate—identifying the object in a nonmanufacturing process was the first challenge. Identifying the exact location of the object in the system without knowledge of the process was much more difficult.

To resolve this, the instructor took an alternative approach. He devised a paradox: *If for any given contradiction TRIZ has a solution to improve the process by making changes to a process step, then that process step that improved the process was the problem area for the customer.*

Now, for any given problem and contradiction, a set of principles can be identified through the contradiction matrix. The next step is to isolate the processes where the principle can be applied, which could be more than one place.

The instructor took the list of components that are part of the system (applications, people, information, etc.), framed the opposite question of the principle against the components (i.e., if the principle was “mechanical vibration” the instructor would ask, “Which component is not oscillating, or oscillating slowly?”).

This would point to a few components in the system; at that point it is easy to locate the activities needing improvement. The reason the opposite is considered is because it gives the as-is process, and the principle provides the future-state process.

The instructor also prepared a list of 300 synonyms and adjectives for the principles to create a broader scope of understanding. For example, instead of vibration, he could use motion, speed, moving, frequency, resonant, fast periodic motion, etc.

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- To contact the author of this case study, email Sunil Kaushik at sunilkaushik15@gmail.com.
- To view this and other case studies, visit the ASQ Knowledge Center’s Case Studies landing page at asq.org/knowledge-center/case-studies.

Sunil Kaushik, PMP, SPSM, CPSCM, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), is a freelance Six Sigma trainer and consultant. Also an ASQ Influential Voices author, Kaushik blogs at www.trainntrot.com.

He is getting set for an around-the-world bicycle tour to promote sustainable quality and can consult/conduct free classroom or virtual workshop on a LSS TRIZ approach as part of his program.

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