TRIZ, the Russian Problem Solving Methodology

By Tamara Wilhite posted 15 days ago


I was asked by someone if TRIZ was the Russian equivalent to Six Sigma or Lean or some other continuous process improvement (CPI) methodology. My response was, “What is TRIZ?” And given all the various CPI acronyms out there, why hadn’t I heard of this one?


What Is TRIZ?


TRIZ is short for Theoria Resheneyva Isobretatelskehuh Zadach, Russian for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Translated to English, it is sometimes abbreviated to TIPS. The theory is credited to Genrich Altshuller and comrades; this is not a pun, since the man was working in the Soviet Union. And like many in the Soviet Union, he ended up in a labor camp, though since he was a preteen at the time, it didn’t prevent him from a professional career later in life.


The general process of TRIZ is:

  • Define your problem.
  • Compare the problem to the world’s existing problems.
  • Search through generic solutions for this type of problem.
  • Apply one of these solutions to your problem.


Is TRIZ an Iterative Process?


No, TRIZ by itself is a one-time solution for each problem that arises. TRIZICS tries to build on TRIZ, adding non-TRIZ problem solving tools and turning TRIZ into an interactive process like Six Sigma, Lean, LSS and other continuous process improvement methodologies.  The ideal solution in TRIZ is a product that is never defective, as simple as possible and generates no waste. This is the same ideal industrial engineers hope to achieve for their products and operations.


The Benefits of TRIZ


  • Searching for an existing solution may be faster than reinventing the wheel.
  • If you find a cross-industry solution you can implement, it is more likely to succeed due to prior success elsewhere than reinventing the wheel.
  • When a cross-industry solution exists, the physical tools, chemicals or processes are easier to implement than developing your own.
  • If people are regularly mining your knowledge base, you will probably see more knowledge application across many disciplines and departments as well as the lessons learned actually learned by more than the original project team.
  • The methodology’s “contradictions” matrix identifies the most common contradictions any engineer may face so you can clearly define the problem at a “world” level like weight versus strength.
  • The 40 Inventive Principles by the methodology’s creator is a clear starting point for discussions on “How could we make our product better?”


The Downsides of TRIZ


  • If you don’t have access to the data to find a good solution, whether due to paywalls blocking information in industry publications or lack of flow of information between nations, you cannot use the best solution or even a good one.
  • If you find an existing solution you can identify and implement, it may work, but it may not be the best solution.
  • No, not every problem has already been solved in the world.
  • It aims to solve one problem at a time, and while it may solve the most urgent one, it may not resolve deeper root causes.


Observations about TRIZ

  • TRIZ doesn’t work as well on average with non-technical problems, though it is attempted as such. One downside of TRIZ is the relative lack of case studies on the technical problems to which it has been applied.
  • While the research driven methodology encourages using solutions already documented, it doesn’t push for documenting the before and after states of the project to prove the degree of improvement.
  • While there are TRIZ resources in English, learning the methodology’s supporting concepts is going to take time. How this rivals to learning probability distributions and statistics for Six Sigma and data analysis tools for other CPI depends on the individual.


Why Hadn’t I Heard of TRIZ?


By the time the West had the opportunity to learn about TRIZ in greater detail and take it seriously, we already had a number of continuous improvement methodologies originating both in the United States and Japan.

The benefits I can see us deriving from TRIZ today are the potential application of it in accelerating product improvement and an increased, systemic application of solutions across industries.