Improving Solution Quality in Six Sigma using TRIZ Innovative Methodologies

Special thanks to Christopher Hamilton for his contribution in pulling together the original paper from which the post was pulled.


If you are a process and performance improvement professional, odds are you sometimes find yourself in situations where data is insufficient, processes are unstable and inconsistent, and often that to fix a process you first have to kill the one in place and build a process to replace the chaos.  TRIZ (translated from Russian as: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, pronounced TREEZ) methods  complement and enhance Lean Six Sigma in numerous ways, and in all but the most stable, predictable, and repetitive environments can be used to determine the ideal solution to process and product needs.  As described in this paper, TRIZ methods can be applied in every phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology and are great assets when conducting Design For Six Sigma (DFSS) projects to design new processes and products.  In many ways, TRIZ fills the gap that DMAIC and DFSS bodies of knowledge do not cover.  TRIZ is a great tool for identifying the concrete “what” of the solution.  Six Sigma is great for defining what’s wrong, the performance metrics of doing it right, and how to measure performance.  But what about generating meaningful, real ideas on “what” to implement?  The Six Sigma bag of tricks is in fact a little weak in this department.  Yes, even the DFSS methods such as House of Quality don’t really get into the concrete reality of the “what”.  They tell you if the “what” has the right attributes, but not necessarily what it is.

Those working in research and development, marketing, and other innovative roles will find the integration of TRIZ and Lean Six Sigma extremely valuable.  Whether in a small fast moving innovation shop or in a mature and structured innovative institution, the structure and principles of Six Sigma provide a scientific methodology, engineering rigor, and the technical tools needed to ensure innovations are targeted at a legitimate need as well as designed for an effective and efficient life-cycle.  TRIZ provides the tools needed to ensure that the solution filling this legitimate need is both practical and innovative.  Hence, TRIZ is a no-nonsense, cut to the point set of tools that when used in conjunction with Six Sigma creates a powerful toolkit for profound operational and tactical solutions.


TRIZ is a systematic approach to system evolution and contradiction solution.  Classical TRIZ has been around for over 60 years, even preceding Six Sigma.  Genrich Altshuller, a patent officer in the Russian Navy who assisted inventors in filing patents, began developing the TRIZ methodologies in 1946.  Altshuller realized that innovation is a fundamental change to a system.  To identify patterns of innovation in technology, he studied patent literature.  He screened over 200,000 patents from around the world, identifying 40,000 patents that constituted “inventive” solutions to difficult problems. He next began rigorous analysis of these solutions and the results of this effort formed the theoretical basis of TRIZ, as well as the groundwork for the problem-solving methodology.  As the TRIZ methodology evolved over six decades, the patent research continued and by the year 2000, over 3.1 million patents had been investigated.

During this time, three key discoveries were made:

(1) Problems and solutions were repeated over-and-over again across different industries, sciences, and decades.

(2) Patterns of technical evolution were also repeated across industries and sciences.

(3) Lastly (and most significantly), innovations and scientific effects were generally found outside the field in which they were developed.

Altshuller’s ultimate goal was to develop TRIZ into a systematic step-by-step method to guide an inventor through the solution space to the area of the most ideal solution(s).  TRIZ provides an inventor with a reliable and repeatable result that does not depend on personal/psychological profile.  This is an important part TRIZ, the identification of patterns of evolution and one of the objectives, the development of an algorithmic approach to the invention of new systems, and the refinement of existing ones.

TRIZ is made up of a flexible methodology, tools, various knowledge bases, and models for generating new ideas and solutions. It is intended for application in problem formulation, system analysis, failure analysis, and patterns of system evolution that ultimately leads the designer or inventor to the most practical solution. As suggested by Albert Einstein, the solution should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.  TRIZ aspires to achieve this appropriate level of simplicity with innovative solutions.

The two “culturally-shocking” underlying concepts of TRIZ are: (1) somebody, someplace has already solved your problem (or one very similar to it).  The creative task is finding that “generic” solution and modifying it to fit your problem, and (2) there are a finite number of inventive patents and principles that will solve a problem.


TRIZ uses a set of tools including functional mapping of the problem space, identification of contradictions, the use of TRIZ operators which are “generic” solutions to “generic” problems (derived from the patent literature), and the use of free and readily available resources and effects to avoid “trial-and-error” experimentation and quickly solve a problem or contradiction (see Figure 1.) .  A contradiction is the root cause of a problem, an improvement in one or more parameters or characteristics that results in the worsening of one or more other parameters or characteristics and is captured within a contradiction matrix.  Contradictions are qualities such as weight and safety of a vehicle versus fuel efficiency and performance.


The contradiction matrix simplifies the process of selecting the most appropriate Principle to resolve a specific contradiction. It was the core of all modifications until 1973. In 1973, the concept of physical contradictions and creating SuField Analysis was introduced by Altshuller when he realized that the contradiction matrix was comparatively an inefficient tool.  Physical contradictions and separation principles as well as SuField Analysis, etc became the core for analysis.

ARIZ – Algorithm of Inventive Problems Solving

Algorithm of Inventive Problems Solving (ARIZ) is a list of approximately 85 procedures for solving complicated invention problems.

ARIZ is an algorithmic approach to finding inventive solutions by identifying and resolving contradictions. This includes the “System of Inventive Standards Solutions” which Altshuller used to replace the 40 principles and contradiction matrix, as well as Su-field modeling, and the 76 Inventive Standards. Today, several computer programs exist to provide assistance to engineers and inventors in finding inventive solutions for technological problems.  Program such as Invention Machine and Ideation International are based on this algorithm (or an improved one). Starting with an updated matrix of contradictions, semantic analysis, subcategories of inventive principles and lists of scientific effects.

Ideal Final Solution

Ideal Final Solution is a description of the best possible solution for the problem objective needing to be achieved without unnecessary cost and complexity.  Ideal Final Solution is a fundamental concept and term in TRIZ.   A well-defined Ideal Final Solution helps a designer overcome psychological inertia and reach breakthrough solutions by thinking about the solution in terms of functions rather than the intervening problems or needed resources, emphasizing functions needed, not the current process or equipment.  The idea of formulating the Ideal Final Solution is to clearly define the goal of improvement and eliminate rework.  The TRIZ philosophy dictates that systems evolve toward increased ideality, where the ultimate result of this evolution is the Ideal Final Solution.  It has all the benefits, none of the harm, and none of the costs of the original problem.

Contradiction Matrix

Though the contradiction matrix is not the most efficient tool for finding the Ideal Final Solution, as explained above, it is nonetheless an important part of the TRIZ Body of Knowledge and a helpful tool for Lean Six Sigma practitioners when facilitating teams or seeking solutions to problems identified in Lean Six Sigma projects.  The table identifies the TRIZ Principles most likely associated with the contradiction at hand.

To use the contradiction matrix, find the row that most closely matches the feature or parameter you wish to improve and then find the column that most closely matches the feature or parameter that conflicts or degrades. The cell at the intersection of that row and column will have several numbers that identify the Principles of Invention that are most likely, based on the TRIZ research, to solve the problem and to lead to a breakthrough solution instead of a trade-off.  TRIZ Principles are readily available today on the Internet, with examples of their application shown below.


The Principle of Psychological Inertia

It is a well-known trait of humans to resist change, get “mental blocks”, and be unable to see or think “outside the box”.  Psychological Inertia (PI) represents the many types of barriers that hinder creative thinking and problem solving.  These barriers have their roots in “the way that I am used to doing it”.  In solving problems, we can limit ourselves by believing that we are only allowed to solve the problem a certain way based on experience, company tradition or culture, peer pressure, etc.  Our education, experiences, and history of solving problems actually reinforce PI (all together combine into what psychologists call “pattern recognition and memory retrieval”).  These are all good things for living day-to-day but are detrimental to inventive problem solving.

The PI model explains why inventive problems are more difficult to solve than others.  Consider a formally-trained and experienced Mechanical Engineer with a “so-called” mechanical problem.  Now consider that the solution to the problem is chemical in nature.  A great deal of time can be wasted exploring the mechanical area for a solution (upper right box in Figure 2.), because that is “all I know”.  What the Engineer needs is a reliable method to evaluate all solution spaces to “create” the ideal answer to the problem (i.e., TRIZ).  PI is very time consuming and destructive in the inventive problem solving process, as it may preclude the problem solver from considering the other three boxes in Figure 2.  It is critical to find ways to avoid PI to quickly and effectively find ideal solutions to our problems.    As an example, in 2010, during the height of tightening budgets, rising fuel costs, and diverging irregular warfare requirements, our team went to a major military weapons and equipment show.  The show had most all of the big names in weapon systems and equipment manufacturing showing off their latest vehicles, weapons, radios, etc.  While all of them were striving for innovation, the show was an array of more armor, more missiles, bigger machine guns, and bigger tires.  Clearly, the result of psychological inertia getting in the way of true innovation.


Figure 2.  The Solution to the Problem is Chemical, not Mechanical

The TRIZ methodology is designed to overcome the issue of psychological inertia by the use of specialized techniques, such as multi-screen thinking; smart little people (SLP); and changing dimension time, and cost (DTC) which help the problem solver to look at the problem with a new point of view.

TRIZ and Organizational Strategy

While TRIZ and Six Sigma are not in themselves strategic tools, TRIZ, like Six Sigma is a tactical tool that should be part of an organization’s strategy to break barriers and infuse lines of business with innovative thinking and innovative solutions.  There are obvious strategic advantages associated with being a successful innovator.  First mover advantage allows organizations to capture high profit margins and market share, while in Government it allows nations to stay ahead of their competition and better serve the citizenry without excessive cost.  There is another less obvious but equally important benefit from the tactical use of TRIZ as a strategic differentiator.  It is the effect that a tool like TRIZ can have on organizational culture.  Innovation is fun.  It is exciting and rewarding.  As a young engineer, I once solved a complex problem for a team of electrical engineers working on the electro-mechanics of a medical device with what I thought was an obvious way to solve a problem plaguing the product line and costing hundreds of thousands in support costs.  In fact, it was obvious to me, because I was a trained civil engineer used to dealing with creating designs that had to be flexible enough to compensate for human error.  Though this was decades ago, the experience helped define my career and to this day, I could easily draw the entire design from memory.  When promoted by senior leadership, TRIZ and the resulting innovation becomes viral throughout the organization, driving competition for greater innovation, increasing morale, and commitment to organizational goals.

Why is Innovation Important today?

Innovation is defined as a useful application of a new invention or discovery.   It may refer to an incremental or radical change in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.  It is something substantially different and must increase value.  Innovations are classified into four principle categories:  product (and service), process, marketing, and management (Figure 3.).


Figure 3. The Innovation Equations

Innovation can be described as the summation of natural individual and group creativity with proper creativity training (M&T) and an organizational structure that encourages creative thinking and expression (Figure 3.).

Product and service innovations are improvements to old products or a revolutionary idea that replaces the old product altogether.  Examples of product innovations are numerous and generally well known to the public.  One example is the Wireless cellular phone speaker systems installed in 2010 model cars.  Process innovations are improvements on how we perform our functions (operational or transactional).  An example of a process improvement is the Adidas light-weight soccer shoe that uses a new approach to manufacturing the sole of the shoe, reducing the overall weight from 10-ounces to 5.8-ounces.  Marketing innovations include how we market and sell products and services, e.g., The Nevada Department of Transportation utilizes self-service kiosks for license renewals, shortening the wait time from 90 minutes (at the DOT offices) to 15 minutes.   Lastly, management innovations improve how an organization organizes its work, such as work-force management, knowledge management, value-chain management, customer and supplier partnerships, distribution, finances, etc.

In 1995, Higgins listed ten key reasons (Table 1.) why innovation is more important than ever if US companies are to survive and prosper during the current economic recession and beyond.  Clearly, in 2010 we are experiencing all of these challenges, and the urgency for innovation in all areas of business will be necessary for US business and global economic growth and sustainability.


Innovation Challenges Surrounding Creativity

Once thought to be an innate or born trait, research shows that creativity is a learned (and unlearned) skill.  Shown in Figure 3, creativity is the product of personal and group capabilities (C Capabilities), knowledge (C Knowledge), and motivation (C Motivation), but learned methodologies and tools (M&T) strongly influence individual and group creativity performance.   Clearly, two major ways to develop and stimulate creativity and create innovation is (1) increase personal and group creativity, and (2) implement creative methodologies.  Increasing personal and group creativity by hiring individuals with a high level of natural creativity; diverse backgrounds, experiences, and educations; divergent views; respectively question the status-quo and cultural norms, and passionate impatient for change and obstacles in their way.  Combining multi-functional teams of knowledgeable “generalists” with compensation incentives that stimulate an entrepreneurial environment are key to developing a sustainable pipeline of new innovative and implementable product, process, marketing, and organizational concepts.   The TRIZ process integrates Osborn’s creative brainstorming environment with a focused and guided knowledge-based problem-solving method based on the most repeated innovative solutions in history.  The result is a quickly generated and exhaustive set of concept solutions to explore using standard solutions, principles and scientific effects that would otherwise take a significantly longer period of time to discover and assemble into workable ideal solutions (Figure 4.).


Figure 4.  Accelerating Innovation through TRIZ Structured Methodology

Innovation Challenges surrounding Organizational Culture

A company with an innovative culture has institutionalized a reproducible, reliable, lean system for generating solutions to problems and creating process/product innovations for gaining and sustaining a highly competitive edge and new ways of creating value and wealth.  Figure 6 illustrates one type of innovation strategy called the “Innovation Funnel” showing how I-TRIZ tools (i.e., Directed Evolution, Anticipatory Failure Determination, and Inventive Problem Solving) support an organizational strategy for innovation.

Regardless of the style of innovation strategy a company adopts, the organization must encompass the following characteristics for success (Kuczmarski 1996; Higgins 1995):

  1. Create an Innovation Vision and Blueprint. Linking the innovative vision (what the company will become in the future) with the corporate vision (the company purpose).  The Innovation Blueprint describes the role of new inventions to the company’s growth objectives and strategic plan.


Figure 6. Innovative Organizational Strategy supported by TRIZ methodologies

  1. Develop an Innovation Strategy. The strategy describes in detail how the Innovation Blueprint will be implemented.  Examples of innovation strategies include:
    • Innovate and/or Duplicate (How to innovate). Are you a leader in the market for innovation and/or do you copy your competitors (with improvements and/or lower cost)?
    • Research & Development and/or Search & Development (How to obtain innovations). Do you use internal R&D and/or acquire other companies, create joint ventures or license agreements to obtain innovation?
    • Basic and/or Applied Research. If working on both, make basic research more applications oriented.
    • Radical Innovation and/or Continuous Improvement. Do you focus on longer-term radical innovations and/or small incremental improvements?
  2. Design an Innovation Portfolio (including both Technology and Marketing). Leverage core competencies and strategic assets.  Identify necessary available and unavailable resources, as well as currently available, state-of-the art, and emerging technologies required to support the Innovation Strategy.  Recognize pertinent market trends and understand the customer’s unarticulated needs (who would have ever asked for a digital camera ten years ago?).
  3. Design a Stage-Gated Development Process. A clearly defined operational road map for moving a new concept from idea conception to launch with improved effectiveness and efficiency.  The process should be customized but typically has five stages and gates:  (A) Scoping; (B) Building a Business Case; (C) Concept Development; (D) Prototype Testing & Validation; and (E) Launch.  Gates are provided between stages to assess the quality of an idea based on: (A) Execution Quality; (B) Business Rationale; and (C) Action Plan.
  4. Form Innovation Teams. The creation of cross-functional SME teams trained in innovation methodologies and proper team dynamics that promotes idea sharing and collaboration.
  5. Establish a Rewards System. Incentives that recognize and compensates successes, e.g., peer and senior leadership recognition, compensation, career advancement, etc.
  6. Measure Progress and Returns. The creation of ROI (Return of Innovation) metrics that accurately measures company, team, and individual progress.
  7. Infuse Innovation Norms and Values. Company-wide norms and values that reinforce the need for sustained innovation.  An organizational culture that is tolerant to questioning of standard business practices.  Senior leadership must foster creative idealism by creating norms that shape employee behaviors, attitudes, and activities towards new ideas that disturb the foundations of how business is supposed to be done.

How TRIZ supports Systems Engineering

The purpose of systems engineering is to produce systems that satisfy the customer’s requirements, increase the probability of system success in the least amount of time, reduce product/process failure, and reduce costs throughout the entire life cycle (i.e., from concept conception to retirement, disposal and replacement).  This process can be summarized in seven steps shown in Figure 7.  TRIZ supports the process of Systems Engineering by applying one of the basic premises of TRIZ, the System Approach.


FIGURE 7. TRIZ Tools supporting the System Engineering Process

The TRIZ System Approach aids in “Stating the Problem” by providing a systematic method of (1) analyzing a problem situation, (2) establishing the need for change and (3) uncovering and documenting system functionality and requirements from different perspectives, e.g., internal- and external-customers, suppliers, and users.  For complex problems it is very difficult to address all these details concurrently.


 TRIZ allows viewing the problem simultaneously from the following perspectives:

  1. The system, it’s subsystems, and related supersystems,
  2. The past and possible future of the system, subsystems and supersystems.
  3. The cause of the problem, the undesired effects that result, and the related system functions.
  4. The system’s inputs and outputs and their relationships to the problem

TRIZ provides support (Figure 7.) to “Investigating Alternatives”, “Modeling the System”, and “Integration” of system elements by functionally modeling all supersystem/system/subsystem components further clarifying system requirements, revealing bottlenecks (i.e., constraints) and fragmented activities (incomplete systems) through the entire life-cycle of the product/process.  Focus is on customer functionality (i.e., risk), quality, and cost from system development to disposal.  For example, Functional-Ideal Simplification is a TRIZ technique that allows for simplification or reduction in parts or operations that are harmful to the system (thereby reducing cost and complexity and improving quality and Ideality).  TRIZ functional modeling and application of operators are used to generate alternatives.  TRIZ Patterns of Evolution are utilized for further improvements in the invented alternatives.

 TRIZ supports all seven steps of System Engineering including the re-evaluation process at each step.  For example, any change in a system is always accompanied with the occurrence of so-called “secondary” problems.  Usually, the occurrence of a “secondary” problem is a good reason to reject a “primary” solution abandoning not only its implementation but also discussion or testing (an example of psychological inertia).  I-TRIZ focuses on re-modeling the “secondary” problem and solving with the use of TRIZ operators or utilization of available resources.

TRIZ and Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a powerful approach to improve or design/redesign processes, products, and services by reducing variation, cost, and waste.  Further, when the advanced concepts and methods of Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) are utilized in an organizations design and improvement toolkit, a robust framework for designing, implementing, and continuously improving an organizations processes, technologies, and outputs exists.  However, a business or any other customer serving organization cannot survive and certainly cannot excel by only getting better and better at what they already do.  To truly become a world class operation in the modern world of rapid change, a robust method for invention and innovation focused on meaningful solutions that optimally meet legitimate needs is required.  It is in this role that TRIZ complements Lean Six Sigma.

The integration of TRIZ with LSS (Figure 8.) provides a comprehensive framework for innovation, design, and continuous improvement such that an organization’s processes and outputs will continually predict and meet customer needs in an effective and efficient manner.  Further, financial, human, and political risks are significantly mitigated through an integrated approach of this type.


Figure 8.  Integration of TRIZ with Lean Six Sigma

Consider that as a matter of business strategy, a business may choose to be proactive with new product introduction (e.g. Apple).  Alternatively, a business may decide to be very good at being reactive.  So good in fact that unless one is watching closely the business appears to be proactively predicting market direction (e.g. Motorola).  The latter being a far less risky approach to business, while the former can be highly lucrative on a case-by-case basis, but one significant slip can ruin the business.  An integrated approach using TRIZ in a structured DFSS / LSS operating model enables an organization to identify those early reactive opportunities without the risk of gambling that an idea will actually meet a legitimate need in the future.

The typical solution to conflicting problems is to optimize for each parameter, instead of obtaining the best of all properties.  This results in a mediocre solution with poor process capability (e.g., key performance characteristics barely meeting customer expectations).  Designed experiments (DOE) actually focus on optimization or performance property trade-offs.  Group creativity tools such as brainstorming, 5 why’s, and fishbone diagrams are often haphazard and unpredictable with longs waits for enlightenment.  These methods are all hindered by psychological inertia and tend to result in very low quality and obvious solutions as well as being bound by the existing solution’s paradigm.

Another issue with Six Sigma is the very tight focus on the process instead of the entire solution space (i.e., the super-system/system/sub-system).  The Six Sigma methodology tends to miss the wider view (system thinking) where “ideal” solutions to the problems could be found.

TRIZ methods as described above can effectively enhance Six Sigma by addressing these issues (Table 2.).  The strengths of Six Sigma can help TRIZ by instilling a business drive and purpose to inventive problem solving as well as a focus on the customer as shown in the Kano Model below (Figure 9.).


Figure 9.  TRIZ and Six Sigma Supporting Customer Requirements

Ways to Integrate TRIZ and Six Sigma

  • Evaluating a process or product against what is really needed, against the goal or desired outcome to determine if the ideal solution is in place or if psychological inertia has driven has driven a clumsy, predictable solution
  • Based on the root causes and requirements identified through measurement and analysis, identifying the innovative solution
  • As a brainstorming method within rapid improvement events to extract ideas and compare them in search of the ideal solution

As the means by which the ideal solution is identified in DFSS projects



  1. Pocket TRIZ for Six Sigma. Systematic Innovation and Problem Solving. Geoff Tennant. Mulbury Consulting Limited. 2003.
  2. An Introduction to TRIZ. The Russian Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.  Stan Kaplan. Ideation International. 2005.
  3. Leadership Strategies for the Competitive Edge.  Thomas Kuczmarski.  NTC Business Books. 1996.
  4. Innovate or evaporate. James M. Higgins. The New Management.
  1. Business Model Warfare. The Strategy of Business Breakthroughs. Langdon Morris. Ackoff Center for the Advancement of Systems Approaches (A-CASA) The University of Pennsylvania.  2003


Happy LEANing,

The Common Sensei


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