Improvement Insights Blog
TRIZ for Innovative Countermeasures
Do you and your team ever get stuck trying to figure out how to fix the root cause of problems? There’s a methodology for that. It’s called TRIZ – the Theory of Innovative Problem Solving. Here’s how it works.
You know, when I worked with teams I found sometimes they were very good at figuring out [and] getting to the root cause, but then they struggled with How can we fix that? It’s like they get stuck in their old ways of thinking about how things work.
I was working with one metal manufacturing company and they were using a mold and they were pouring hot metal into it and eventually the mold would get hot, and so the thing wouldn’t set very well. They became obsessed with trying to figure out how to keep the mold cooler before they poured it. I said, Well, could you do something after you’ve poured it to cool it down? and they looked at me like I was out of my mind. Then one guy said Cooling sand! and everybody said Cooling sand!
I have no idea what that is, but evidently you can put the mold into some sort of sand that would cool it down so that you could actually get the mold to set. Sometimes I don’t know what they know, but I can ask crazy questions like What’s the opposite?Well, instead of cooling it beforehand, let’s cool it after, right? What’s the opposite of that? What’s the ideal final result? Well, we keep the mold hot and we consistently are able to turn out products without having to figure out how to cool it down, which would slow us up.
In all of these kinds of things, What’s the opposite of this is a very useful question to ask sometimes. There’s a whole technology out there called TRIZ and I forget… it’s Innovative Solutions for something… Anyway, the guy studied like 27 000 patents and he looked for what made each one of them unique: if it’s too long, can we make it shorter? If it’s too tall, can we make it shorter? Is it too heavy? Can we make it lighter?
You think about this rover that they have on Mars, and they had to design an ultralight aircraft with ultralight rotors that would work in an atmosphere that’s like one percent of what we have here on Earth. There’s a whole lot of things they had to rethink and forget about and remember and so on. This is the kind of thing that you can use.
Anyway, this guy came up with 40 different principles based on these 27,000-odd patents that give you ways to adjust things and reset your thinking. One of the things I want to encourage you is I’m always looking at How can we mistake proof this process so that people just can’t make a mistake? How do we make it impossible for people to make mistakes? This is what he calls the innovative final result. You step out in the future and imagine what it would look like if there were no medication errors in hospitals, no surgical site infections, no unnecessary tests or treatments. What if? What would that look like? It’s going to look very different from the way you think about it now, which is what limits people’s ability to come up with solutions.
So there’s an example of how you might use TRIZ. Just some simple questions: “What’s the opposite? How can we mistake-proof it so that people can’t possibly fail?” and that forces some innovative thinking. Countermeasures are where the innovative thinking happens. That is where the magic happens for me. You know, the data analysis to pinpoint the problem is kind of straightforward sometimes (or most of the time). With the [QI Macros] Improvement Project Wizard you can do that, and there’s a TRIZ worksheet inside of the QI Macros, so if you search for TRIZ in our “find tools” [search function], you can find TRIZ, and there’s a lot of good examples. If you make something longer, it might make it heavier; well, that might have impacted that Mars rover because those rotor blades have to be ultra-light because they’re long to lift in that that atmosphere.
So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s get more innovative about our countermeasures so that they produce a hassle-free America, hassle-free healthcare. Let’s go out and improve something this week.