The theory of inventor’s problem solving

TRIZ stands for “The theory of inventor’s problem solving”. This area of research has its root in Russia of 1946 and till today a lot of water has passed under the bridge. TRIZ is analogous to brainstorming but it is much wider than brainstorming.

Today’s organizations have to be extremely creative and innovative if they want to be competitive. In software industry for example we keep hearing buzzwords such as Object Oriented, Agile, SCRUM and what not. These are generally methodologies for developing a software. They are built to solve the problems that one will generally encounter while developing a software. These methodologies when implemented take for of processes. A word I really love.

The fate of organizations entirely depends on the quality of it’s processes. While processes generally mean well-defined ways of working, they need not be insensitive for creative inputs. Processes must improve. Processes must adapt to changing business needs and solve problems as and when they occur.

I got an opportunity to attend a session by a Darrel Mann a person who initially worked for Rolls Royce and now assisting IT companies develop their IPs. The session was titled Systematic Software Innovation. He also had a product that will help an organization innovate. More than the product I found the structural way for thinking for innovation rather very interesting.

I played with his product to find an innovative solution to the following hypothetical problem. This problem is my signature problem and I often way it against several Management theories.

A company asks all it’s teams to record some data every month. This data is logged against a person’s name initially and then accumulated. The data typically contains the following

1. How many units of work allocated for the month for the person v/s how much he completed.

2. Number of defects he leaked in his work.

4. How many times did he re-work the solution.

Company used this data for two purposes. To get an idea about the health of the project and also the capabilities of a team. The work allocated v/s done matrices was meant to help top management to check if the managers who allocated work were competent enough to do so. The smart top brass also used this data for appraisal purpose. Person who did more units of work a month with least bugs was the top performer.

After two years company discovered that all the top performers are suckers. The managers who allocated their work perfectly failed with many projects. The projects which were seen as healthy with above matrices actually bombed later.What was the problem?

I used Matrix Plus software to solve this problem. TRIZ methodology starts with defining “what is the problem?”. The product developed by Darrel Mann provides you several categories under which you can put this problem. I chose it to be “Business and Management” problem and more specifically “Amount of Information” and “Communication Control” problem.

As per TRIZ now I should ask myself what; is holding be back from solving this problem? I assumed that the data I am collecting is not correct one and the team members are not filling it properly. So it was their “convenience” that they enter that wrong data.

Then I asked the software for solution. Just the way we have design patterns for coding problems Matrix plus provides some patterns for the problem defined by me. It provided me several possible patterns. These are statistically based on what other organizations around the globe have solved similar problems.

I liked one pattern which said “take it out”. It suggested me following

1. Remover fear from the mind of team members.

2. Separate people from problem.

3. Automate.

Indeed that was in my opinion a very smart solution. Team members always exaggerated when they filled the monthly data. Thats because they feared that if they enter the real data they may not get good appraisal. The project manager who allocated unreasonable amount of work to his subordinates managed to get away thus. Those who entered correct data ended up getting bad appraisal. Company over time got a completely false conception about it’s own capabilities.

The idea is to either use the data for appraisal OR ONLY FOR capability analysis. That will remove the fear from the mind of team members automatically about entering correct data. It is not about deciding to use but the top management must consistently tell its subordinates the purpose of the data that is being collected.

Also, if the data is used for capability analysis then we must not attribute the problems with the person who is entering the data. Otherwise he will push the issues under the carpet. The best organizations are those where problems travel up very fast says my project management prof.

Automating is even better. Just check how much LOC the user has checked in. Check how much bugs went in bugzilla against his name and so on.

But the thing I am discussing is TRIZ and not this trivial problem. TRIZ has this two way approach. See what is the problem, See whats holding you back from the problem. See how others have solved and see what suites your needs.

If the organization is large enough and can maintain such data for many solved problems it will certainly help in saving time and resources. For example many problems that one Big Bazar faces will be same as those faced by another Big Bazar store. If they get logged properly they can be identified early and solved.

TRIZ is not really for innovating something earth-shattering perhaps but most of the innovations today are about improving something already exists. How iPod is better than Microsoft Zune though most of the technologies used in them are well-known to humanity.

Hoping to get more out of this in the next session of this workshop.

3 thoughts on “The theory of inventor’s problem solving

  1. Had never thought about it. Thanks for the information. It is automation that we need. Be it a large company or small company. Whats the point in doing donkey work?

  2. Oh yeah. Many young engineers with fire in their belly when hit the industry realize that all they have to do is donkey work. More true when you join a big organization like TCS, Infy. In small companies you get exposed to almost entire life-cycle and you get more freedom which basically gives you opportunities to innovate and be a little creative.

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