Making the Case for Quality

Making the Case for Quality

Faster Lean and Six Sigma Project Completion via TRIZ

• Lean Six Sigma (LSS) problem solving consumes a lot of effort in identifying the root cause and involves a trial and error method for confirming significant factors.

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

• Combining TRIZ and LSS through a structured approach can help reduce the effort and duration of LSS projects by nearly 10 times.

At a Glance . . . During a training session on the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ) as part of a Six Sigma Black Belt program, a participant jovially said to the instructor that if the participants had solutions for the contradictions readily available, then the class had wasted 10 days in the training program. Though the comment was a joke, it made sense; the instructor got an idea.

The instructor began fantasizing about solving complex problems that required Lean Six Sigma (LSS) expertise, ample manpower and time, and needed to be solved quickly. He was excited. The instruc- tor began taking baby steps toward an end goal of achieving the outcome of a value stream mapping (VSM) workshop/Six Sigma project in less than one hour.

Refining his wish even further, the instructor asked very few questions of the customer concerning the problem. In the end, he told the customer, “This is exactly where the problem lies, and this is the solution.” The instructor kept looking at the TRIZ contradiction matrix, which has the technical contra- dictions and the TRIZ principle to be used, trying to create a framework. Finally understanding how to do so, the instructor determined he had to marry LSS and TRIZ.

As seen in Figure 1, a contradiction matrix has a set of features in the x and y axis of a table. Once the inventor is able to identify the feature to be improved, and the corresponding undesirable feature, he can arrive at a particular house in the matrix that has the principles to be used.

by Sunil Kumar V. Kaushik

March 2016

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Figure 1: Contradiction matrix example

Undesired feature

Feature to improve

Weight of moving object

Weight of stationary object


1 2 … … 39

1 Weight of moving object + 1-40 35, 3, 24, 37

2 Weight of stationary object 1-40 + 1, 28, 15, 35


14 Strength 1, 8, 40, 15 40, 26, 27, 1 29, 35, 10, 14

39 Productivity 35, 26, 24, 37 28, 27, 15, 3 +

Source: Quality Improvement Through Innovative Solutions of TRIZ, World Conference on Quality and Improvement vol. 61 – April 2007.



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An ideal TRIZ problem-solving approach, and challenges, are provided below:

1. Define your specific problem a. A typical LSS problem/goal statement

has the factor that needs to be improved, but not necessarily the factor that is limiting improvement.

2. Convert your problem to a TRIZ general problem a. To convert it to a TRIZ problem, the

contradictions need to be identified. b. Relating a technical contradiction for

a service industry problem is hard since the terminology used relates to manufacturing.

c. A problem can have multiple contradictions.

3. TRIZ-specific solution using contradiction matrix a. TRIZ solutions are straightforward for

technical problems and relating it to a transaction-based model or service industry is hard, as it is tough to relate the principle to the components of the system.

4. Specific solution to the problem a. TRIZ solutions do not point out the exact

process step where the problem lies, which needs LSS.

The instructor took previous LSS projects and started to fit the TRIZ approach to solving the same problems. The solutions were accurate, but as a consultant, the instructor was still unable to identify exactly where the problem existed.

For example, when the instructor applied the TRIZ principle, mechanical vibration—causing an object to oscillate or vibrate—identifying the object in a nonmanufacturing process was the first challenge. Identifying the exact location of the object in the system without knowledge of the process was much more difficult.

To resolve this, the instructor took an alternative approach. He devised a paradox: If for any given contradiction TRIZ has a solution to improve the process by making changes to a process step, then that process step that improved the process was the problem area for the customer.

Now, for any given problem and contradiction, a set of principles can be identified through the

contradiction matrix. The next step is to isolate the processes where the prin- ciple can be applied, which could be more than one place.

The instructor took the list of components that are part of the system (applications, people, information, etc.), framed the opposite question of the principle against the components (i.e., if the principle was “mechanical vibration” the instructor would ask, “Which component is not oscillating, or oscillating slowly?”).

This would point to a few components in the system; at that point it is easy to locate the activities needing improvement. The reason the opposite is con- sidered is because it gives the as-is process, and the principle provides the future-state process.

The instructor also prepared a list of 300 synonyms and adjectives for the principles to create a broader scope of understanding. For example, instead of vibration, he could use motion, speed, moving, frequency, resonant, fast peri- odic motion, etc.

The instructor then gave a shape to approach different stages to solve the prob- lem. The last block highlighted in green, as shown in Figure 3, provides the four optional LSS tools that can be used to leverage the approach efficiently.

Figure 2: Relationship between TRIZ principle, affected component, and process step

Process step Opposite of the TRIZ principle

Component affected by the


Figure 3: Eight steps and four lean tools to solving the problem

Define problem

TRIZ general problem

TRIZ specific solution

Specific solution for the problem

Improvement in the product/


What is stopping you from improving

Quality function deployment

TRIZ contradiction of the factor to be improved

TRIZ contradiction of the factor stopping

the improvement

CTx (CTQ, CTP, CTC, etc.)

Drilldown tree

Opposite effect of the TRIZ solution

Identify components

affected Mind map

Locate the activity and lean waste

Validate the solution Process map



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Upon testing this on many projects, the instructor wanted to con- duct the litmus test with industry experts. He wrote an email to many past students and friends asking them to help with the com- plex business problems to improve the model. The response was poor, though, as it involved confidentiality and no incentive.

The instructor sent a follow-up with two nuggets this time. He told the prospective participants that if they could come up with excellent problems that were already solved, he would show them how it can be solved within one hour, and then provide train- ing on the same. This time the response was much better, and he handpicked 14 from a variety of industries, including social media marketing, service, information technology, and sales to ensure subject matter expertise would not influence the model.

The first three hours of the two-day session were spent train- ing the participants on the TRIZ contradiction matrix and the instructor’s approach. The remainder was spent solving the problems the case studies provided below. The ground rule to solve the problem was: The participant who provided the prob- lem would be the client, while the remaining participants would act like consultants asking questions. The client was supposed to provide one-word/generic answers.

Problem 1

A VSM workout was conducted to reduce order to cash cycle time by the Black Belt for its energy client. The total schedule took five weeks to complete: two weeks of prework, three days for the workout, and two weeks for implementation. The value chain involved approximately 75 full-time employees. In total, 12 solutions were implemented with a cycle time reduction of 11 percent post-implementation, and no significant improve- ment in accuracy.

The instructor and the participants chose this problem and iden- tified the two following contradictions:

1. Speed of transaction and accuracy of the transaction 2. Speed of transaction and complexity of the process

From the two contradictions, the principles to be applied are seen in Table 1.

In total, the group conceived 25 highly significant solutions within 45 minutes. The solutions will increase the cash flow by $800,000 per month.

Table 1: Applied principles

1. Preliminary action 2. Replace a mechanical system

3. Asymmetry 4. Recycling (restoring and discarding)

5. Optical changes

6. Self-service

• Do you have a customized ordering form for each product? – No

• Do all the forms have standard format? – Yes

• Do you have free text fields in the ordering form? – Yes

• Do you fall short of staff due to high volume? – Once in a while

• Do you anticipate order and staff accordingly? (Forecasting) – No

• Do you send back the forms to the customer requesting further information? – Often

• The mechanical systems are the people who are processing the orders, hence, is there a skill misfit? – Few

• When was the last training conducted? – More than a year ago

• Do you have a lot of manual data entry? – Yes

• Does the work involve any human judgment or is everything rule- based? – More than 80 percent rule- based

• Do you have guided workflows that help the customer choose the right options based on the previous selection? – No

• Does the team have guided workflows that help them choose the right options based on the previous selection? – No

• Does the order-processing agent get requests that they cannot work on and then send it to the upstream or downstream (multiple handoff)? – Yes, often

• Does the agent receive requests where they do not have the expertise and forward it to the concerned department? – Yes

• Does the agent wait to get an approval/clarification before processing the request? – Yes

• Do you have a lot of transactions in queue waiting to be processed? – Yes

• Do you maintain previous customer’s order history? – Yes

• Can the customer reuse the previous order and payment options to expedite? – No

• Do you manage a lessons learned document from the previous mistakes? – No

• When was the standard procedure document last updated based on what was learned? – Never

• Do you have visual management to monitor the status at different check points? – No

• While entering information into the system manually, are there any overlooked errors? – Many

• What key information is entered by the customer in the form? – Product name, delivery date

• What additional information does the team gather before confirming the order? – Inventory availability, promise date

• Can the system show the stock availability and promise date before placing the order? – No



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Problem 2

A software company faced a major challenge where its pro- cesses and standards were not being followed in their project work. This affected the end customer deliverables through defects and rework.

Company leaders began by asking project managers to take a closer look, which did not yield much in results even after a month due to the complexity of the projects, nonvalue-added documentation, and stringent deadlines. The leaders then started micromanaging through biweekly meetings, but still things were the same and the projects started to miss the schedule.

Then, the company hired a consultant with a strong knowledge of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and project management to audit the deliverables. After five months, things started to improve before the auditor quit.

The contradictions for this problem are: We need to improve the accuracy of manufacturing (development), and to do that we need more time, energy, and productivity to deliver the activi- ties related to compliance.

The TRIZ principles that need to be applied from the matrix are:

1. Other way around a. Instead of project managers managing the process, let

the consultants manage the process; make it part of the internal deliverable so the project cannot move ahead without a tollgate review with the stakeholders.

2. Optical changes a. Have a well-documented process flowchart, and visual

dashboards of the processes, to be followed on the floor. b. Provide and monitor the checklist. c. Color code the reports not only by deliverable and

activities, but the status of the processes followed. 3. Separation or extraction

a. Remove unnecessary process status review meetings. b. Remove processes that do not add value to the end

customer. c. Remove the testing practices that have been causing the

defects through permanent fixes. 4. Copying

a. Create and reuse standard templates for project plan, documentation, etc.

b. Document lessons learned from the past and reuse the improved procedures.

5. Replacement of a mechanical system a. Retrain noncompliant resources.

6. Mechanical vibration a. Institute a communication plan that clearly defines when,

what, and how to communicate. b. Eliminate noise/delay in communication. c. Increase frequency of communication and audits.

7. Preliminary action a. Train the team on the processes to be followed well

before the project kick-off. b. Keep all the templates and documents in place before the

project kick-off. 8. Inert environment

a. Create an environment where every deliverable is assumed defective, tested, and post-conformity sent to the customer.

b. Reward conformity and punish nonconformity.

These were the actual solutions that were required with an investment of less than one hour.

Problem 3

For one of the claim coding processes, the average handling time was 30 percent less than the target, increasing the backlog drastically and missing the turnaround time. An LSS project was completed over five months to get the handling time back on track.

The contradictions were straightforward: An increase in produc- tivity will lead to a decrease in accuracy. The principles to be applied were:

1. Mechanical vibration a. Increase the typing speed b. Speed of understanding the request

2. Preliminary action a. Training effectiveness b. Volumes received and staffing capacity c. Absenteeism

3. Optical changes a. Guided workflow for scenario-based procedures b. Visual management of the queue

4. Segmentation a. Segregate the resources by tenure, knowledge, and

skill level b. Level load the work based on tenure and skill set

These were the same solutions that were implemented in the improve phase. The project team spent eight weeks from define to analyze, identifying 28 potential causes. Of those 28, data was collected for 14 causes, five of which were significant. Using this method, the team did the same within 30 minutes. The accuracy of the contribution can still be validated using hypothesis testing.


Following the workshop, one of the participants handling the presales visited the client to bid the proposal for a large project. The client had shortlisted two companies and provided the current challenges they had, which would then be transferred to whoever



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picked the contract. They wanted both of the companies to devise clear solutions on how they would handle them later in the day.

In the evening, the instructor received a call from the participant, who said, “I have another problem for you and I have the solution as well; try to solve it in an hour and call me back.”

Having tested this approach on more than 70 problems with great accuracy, and having trained a batch on the same, the instructor confidently concluded his approach could speed up the project schedule 10 times faster and save money by executing LSS proj- ects in days for the organization.

The rate at which businesses are transforming, decision-making and problem-solving speed will be key parameters for sustained growth. Figure 4 shows how the factors are minimized drastically without the use of any statistical technique and at the same time for highly delicate projects, how LSS can still be used in the end.

To revalidate this approach, the instructor applied TRIZ to speed up the traditional LSS projects without losing the reliability. The solutions were as follows:

1. Previously placed pillow: Use LSS to validate the results and mitigate the risk or reliability of the process.

2. Parameter changes: Transition from LSS methodology by mixing TRIZ principles for faster problem solving.

3. Cheap disposable: Train the subject matters in the principles of TRIZ and lean to solve most of the process improvement problems.

4. Replace mechanical system: VSM, data collection, and more by readily available principles.

The outcome or impact is an increased speed in project execution without losing the reliability of LSS methodology solutions.

For More Information

• To contact the author of this case study, email Sunil Kaushik at

• To view this and other ASQ case studies, visit the ASQ Knowledge Center at case-studies.

About the Author

Sunil Kaushik, PMP, SPSM, CPSCM, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), is a freelance Six Sigma trainer and consultant. Also an ASQ Influential Voices author, Kaushik blogs at He is get- ting set for an around-the-world bicycle tour to promote sustainable quality and can consult/conduct free classroom or virtual workshop on a LSS TRIZ approach as part of his program.

Figure 4: The pyramid of process improvement problem solving using TRIZ and LSS

Use LSS if needed

Reduce it to activities

Reduce it to components

Reduce it to principles

Identify two contradictions

Problem has many causes

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