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Ideality: The Pinnacle of Quality and Competition

by Sunil Kumar V. Kaushik

One can assume the common reason behind the failure of many big brands to be competition, but the real reason is often a failure to identify and resolve contradictions in the system.

For instance, an example of this can be found when Nokia was the leader in the cell phone market. The company could have easily been the inventor of a smartphone, but they failed in (or ignored) addressing some of the key contradictions, providing an opportunity for the iPhone and Android.

Ideality Sunil Image1

A previous case study written by this author in March 2016 detailed the process of using TRIZ, the theory of inventive problem solving, to speed up lean and Six Sigma projects. The article focused on a system and subsystem level, but the author realized there was a rather large opportunity for the business hiding underneath.

Case Study At a Glance . . .

Ideality: The Pinnacle of Quality and Competition

KC Case Study Icon 2

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

-Within TRIZ lies a concept called ideality, or the ideal state of a system where all functions are achieved without problem.

-In this case study, the author explains how ideality can be achieved using real-life examples.

Download the entire case study (PDF) or continue reading below.

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Ideality Case Study

The objective was to devise a fool-proof methodology that could help any organization stay ahead of its competition through innovation. The quality methodology used to make a strategic plan is “hoshin planning,” and one of its key steps is to develop breakthrough objectives. Many major brands follow it, but why do many fail and few succeed?

These breakthrough objectives are established purely through tools like Ansoff Matrix (an example of which is provided in Table 1), which helps to show the gaps in the product or services offered to the existing consumers and the offerings of the competitors. The entire process of innovation is seen through a very small lens, and secondly it is seen on the existing product rather than the functionality.

Ideality Sunil Table 1

TRIZ has a very powerful concept called ideality. According to the concept, the ideal state of the system is where all of its functions are achieved without causing problems. The system is better, faster, costs less, commits fewer errors, and requires less maintenance. In other words, an ideal system consists of all positives and no negatives.

This author was convinced the breakthrough objectives during the hoshin planning should not be based on the gap between the existing business metrics and the competitor benchmark, but rather the gap between the existing functionalities and the ideal functionalities. Products are the channels through which the functionality is met, and thus the focus should be on the ideal functionality rather than existing product functionalities. Eventually, every product will move toward ideality.

The way to move toward ideality is by resolving contradictions. The best example is the communication as a function. An ideal communication device must resolve the contradiction like zero noise, zero delay, easy maintenance, etc. One-by-one the contradictions were resolved from the time of smoke signals and drums, to the age of smartphones.

The Nokia Story

As we already have existing products and processes, today we take a bottom-up approach by identifying gaps and slowly moving toward ideality. What if we took the top-down approach where the ideal state is known, and then devise activities/tasks required to move toward ideality? From there, we identify gaps and resolve contradictions.

This author examined the case study of an original cellular phone device innovator, Nokia. The company failed to see the ideality and resolve the contradictions. One of the crucial factors of adding value to the customer toward ideality were the number of applications in the phone. The contradiction facing the company was that more applications meant more engineers to create the applications, and thus the device becomes more complex in adapting to versatile applications. This might look a bit complex, but the TRIZ contradiction table has ready-to-use principles:

  • Segmentation – Separate the hardware and the software (Android or iOS).
  • Pneumatics and hydraulics – Change solid applications to customized, user-preferred applications.
  • Other way around – Instead of building the applications, let the customer build their own apps.
  • Local quality – Modify the product to meet the environment (access to the internet was becoming cheaper).
  • Cheap disposable object – Customer-built applications available online for free/lesser cost (Google or iOS store).
  • Dynamicity – The customer can choose the apps per his or her preference.
  • Prior action – Make the users aware of the functionalities via marketing.

This author argues that, even if Nokia was unable to resolve these contradictions due to unavailable technology in the late 1990s, it could have put them in the watch list to monitor the market for looming technologies, like the Android, that could help them resolve the contradictions so they could exploit the opportunity at the right time.

Apple and Android engineered the solutions that resolved the contradictions and suddenly it was too late for Nokia to make its mark. Nokia failed by releasing newer model cell phones with compact designs and kept working on the hardware while the competition moved toward ideality.

Ideality Matrix

Learning from the Nokia example, it was evident that the problem was the lack of availability of a tool to visualize the ideality and the contradictions. The author designed an ideality board containing the ideality matrix that can be pinned to a wall for the purpose of capturing contradictions at different levels, paving the way for innovation.

This simple matrix captures contradictions at supersystem to subsystem levels. Each square or block represents a contradiction and is subdivided into eight segments capturing the principles to be used and the status of resolving the same. The matrix allows for efficient use of space and to see the flow of contradictions and the status of the innovations from where the process/product is as of today and up to the ideality.

Why the matrix is used in this manner is the same as why professionals create a value stream map (VSM) on a wall rather than using software: to visualize the contradictions and see how it flows from system to subsystem. It helps in channelizing the creativity to resolve one contradiction at a time, and it can also be used as a dashboard to visualize the status of the contradictions.

Ideality Sunil Image 2

For example, the first row will have all the contradictions of the ideality. Always start in the first block from the left. As seen in Image 1, the contradiction of the ideality is 9/26 (9 is the contradiction we intend to improve and 26 is the undesired result). In this case, 9 is speed and 26 (taken from the TRIZ contradiction table) is the amount of substance. From there we have the next segments containing the principles of the contradictions written in a clockwise manner, i.e., 2 (prior action), 7 (periodic action), 14 (pneumatics), and 31 (enriched atmosphere).

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About the Author 

Sunil Kaushik, PMP, SPSM, CPSCM, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, is a freelance Six Sigma trainer and consultant.

An ASQ Influential Voices author, Kaushik blogs at He is completing an around-the-world bicycle tour to promote sustainable quality and is willing to conduct a free virtual workshop for your organization or university.

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