It is not good starting the New Year with a sense of foreboding and I was dreading my first two TRIZ courses in 2006. These were at the engineering departments of Bradford University and Sheffield Hallam and I had my southerners prejudice to northern cities in January.

I love teaching TRIZ at universities and my experience of teaching TRIZ to academics has been almost always very enjoyable. Occasionally however there is hostility to TRIZ, as something new to them, from some awkward and vociferous individual and I have previously encountered one or two difficult engineering academics initially very opposed to it all - but who have since become enthusiasts for TRIZ (and good friends). 

Academics with TRIZ can be a bit like the nursery rhyme  ...

There was a little girl with a little curl right in the middle of her forehead 
When she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid. 

To be fair, nearly all the academics I have taught have been very, very good, but one or two have been startlingly horrid and hated the idea of TRIZ supplementing formal engineering training to foster innovation and fast problem solving. There is a suspicion that somehow TRIZ is too good to be true, and anything which guides engineers to quick answers must be quite suspect. I have also had some sticky moments at some public TRIZ lectures from furious and shocked engineers who refuse to believe that TRIZ shows how there are just 40 ways of solving most engineering problems. 

Most come round to TRIZ, once they look at it and try it, but it still threatens some. One training manager I know in a military establishment still actively fights to prevent TRIZ being taught again in his organization - despite their new TRIZ patents and an active and successful TRIZ group. 

Most academics we have taught have taken TRIZ to their students enthusiastically because it helps them see the big picture in engineering and to approach projects systematically, and put their other engineering tools in context. 

When I was a Governor of Coventry University I encouraged TRIZ and for some years TRIZ has made its mark at Coventry and has been available on postgraduate courses through Dr. Peter Griffiths and others. We also taught the TRIZ Biomimetics group their first TRIZ at Bath University, under Professor Julian Vincent, and found them very receptive to it all. They are now very active in the TRIZ community with published papers, much research and fascinating results. 

Universities use TRIZ


Bradford and Sheffield of course turned out to be hugely enjoyable, challenging and very rewarding for me. Both courses were delightful, both the Cities and the Universities were a fabulous surprise, and the academics were all open-minded, enthusiastic and excited by the TRIZ tools and process. 

I learn something new on every course I teach but these made me think hard about the nature of engineering teaching, and what we need for our future engineers. 

The Bradford group immediately wanted to apply TRIZ to their most pressing and important problem - their future and how to get more good, mathematically able, local students to apply to Bradford University's (excellent) Engineering Department. This involves looking at the future directions of engineering teaching at Bradford and the best future structure and resources of the department itself. 

We are now using TRIZ to look at this problem and structure our approach to tackling this problem. 

TRIZ at BRADford

At Bradford we first looked at how to use TRIZ to approach their problem of attracting more local students to their excellent accredited engineering courses. Bradford has a well established, good reputation for producing good engineers. Employment prospects are excellent for their graduates and they attract good students from all over the world. 

This problem solving with their team has only just begun and we hope to use TRIZ over the next two months to look for clear and detailed solution directions. I would like to show you how we have begun the process and at a later date show the progress of the problem solving with TRIZ on a very general and important problem. 

The old problems include issues like:- 

- How to reach and inspire mathematically able teenagers who are initially attracted to engineering and probably know little about it? 

- Engineering (similar to subjects like music) needs ability, staying power and enthusiasm to succeed as it has great depth and the training is rigorous - how to ensure that students survive and flourish throughout such demanding courses? 

- How to attract more women? (The numbers seem unchanged since my day, sadly) 

Studied Mechanical Engineering

To begin looking at the Bradford University Problem we have to understand the following: 

  • The Problem 
  • What we want 
  • How we deliver what we want (the System) 

Defining what we want - problem, what we want and how we want it

The following is a brief guide to how TRIZ will help us.

Using TRIZ to help us solve problems 

TRIZ is a set of powerful tools which help us 

  • Understand, list and prioritise what we want (all our requirements/ benefits) 
  • Understand, analyse and map the right systems (and locate the right systems) for delivering what we want 
  • Get the system right - Identify the problems and the causes of the problems (remove or reduce the gaps between our requirements and the system) 
  • Define HOW our system doesnĂ­t deliver what we want (harms, insufficiencies, excesses or contradictions) to see which problems to solve and which order to solve them in. 
  • Solve the Problems with TRIZ to get the right system right to deliver our needs 

Everything we do involves delivering WHAT WE WANT by some kind of SYSTEM. Often the system delivers some of what we want but not everything - whenever there are gaps, there are problems; whenever the system delivers more than we want there are problems like cost and complexity; therefore problem-solving is needed whenever and wherever our system does not deliver exactly what we want.  This applies to all problems be they technical or management or any problem in life. So to start solving the Bradford Problem we need to define

What we want - benefits
The System (we need to find the right system level)
The Problem = the gaps between benefits and the system

The Problem

In TRIZ it does not matter in which order we define each of the three- which is just as well because in real life we come at problems from many different places. At Bradford we started in the usual place with the problem.

We defined - 

The Problem (and its context)
What we want = outcomes we want (we being the staff of the engineering department)
The System (the engineering department of Bradford University)

Using TRIZ for Problem Understanding

Understanding the problem in context helps us subsequently to understand what we want and how the system fails us - the causes of our problem. This is a long-term problem probably with long-term solutions so we examined the context of the problem - and looked at where we are now, how this has changed in the last 5-10 years, and where we want to be in the next 5-10 years.

The TRIZ tool for this is the 9 Windows Tool for Problem Understanding and setting our problem in a clear context of Time and Space (this tool is also known as Thinking in Time and Space). The first three questions below are essential to understanding what we are doing and why and are written in a simple 9-Windows chart.

What is the Problem?
State overall Problem with this system .  Write in PRESENT central box of 9 Boxes
Top of the head answer, don’t agonise - we can re-define later if necessary

History of Problem
Write in PAST central boxes

What is the end result we want?
What are we trying to do? What Solution would we like? Write this in the FUTURE Central box.



Report prepared by:

Karen Gadd 
Oxford Creativity

Full Using TRIZ at University Case Study (PDF)