Highways england case study

The A-one+ challenge to innovation provider to meet its extravagant promises for guaranteed fast problem solving 

(And trial TRIZ to complement their LEAN successes as part of the Highways England innovation launch)

introduction

Highways England (HE) has commissioned Oxford TRIZ to complement their established and extensive LEAN programme which reaches several tiers into their supply chain. Although LEAN has delivered great results to Highways England there is a drive for more innovation and to speed up problem solving. 

A-one+, one of Highways England leading suppliers challenged Oxford TRIZ to meet all these demands and offered to trial the Highways England innovation initiative.  

Highways England Case Study with AONEUK car cartoon

The Workshop 

A-one+ set up a TRIZ workshop with 24 people to see if it could deliver systematic innovation and if and how it could add and extend their own proven successes with LEAN. The challenge set for Oxford TRIZ was in just three days to meet its bold promises for fast problem solving by tackling three A-one+ challenges and widen the scope and quality of solutions delivered through their LEAN work. 

TRIZ is a unique toolkit – developed in Russia over many years simultaneously and separately to popular toolkits like LEAN but fortuitously with almost no overlap. Its powerful capabilities fill the notable gaps of the better known quality toolkits uniquely offering structured pragmatic innovation, new product development and fast problem solving. 

Although TRIZ is widely adopted and popular in Korea and surrounding countries, its take up in Europe has been slow. This may be because Classical TRIZ demands dedication and high investment, and also because of European attitudes that ability to innovate is an innate skill.  

Oxford Creativity (OC) launched ‘Oxford TRIZ’ over 19 years ago, and university research in its major customers including Rolls-Royce, showed that even one day of TRIZ had significant impact on the creativity and problem solving abilities of their engineers. 

By delivering fast problem in a wide range of industries OC became the leading TRIZ Problem Solving Company in Europe.  It claims that its success is due to Oxford TRIZ which was developed to keep all the rigour of TRIZ but get top teams up and running in days not months – OC has always offered a ‘no results / no fee’ offer on all its problem solving if difficult problems don’t benefit after just 3 days – in 18 years they have always been paid.

The Oxford TRIZ initiative was launched under the Highways England LEAN umbrella to boost innovation into the Highways England ecosystem. All Highways England suppliers are invited to try TRIZ;   A-one+ led the field and others are now following. Their challenge was to see if their teams could solve three existing difficult problems in just three days -  guided through the TRIZ processes by a team from Oxford Creativity.


Why TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving)?

TRIZ makes many claims beyond filling in the unacknowledged gaps of all other toolkits (problem solving and innovation) as well as simplifying and speeding up their processes, including clear thinking, good communication, knowledge sharing and future planning. If it delivers all these benefits with such very modest investment it is surprising that it is so little known in the West. Successes of Samsung and other Korean companies are after a 14 year TRIZ programme - and the UK’s plummet down the world IP tables behind Korea is said to be due to the Korean TRIZ take-up which has accelerated their innovation resulting in spectacular IP and patent successes. 

Highways England A-One+ UK case study with TRIZ car cartoon

Compared to other toolkits it appears straightforward as its logic, philosophy and simple approaches are designed to help technical teams improve their processes and achieve high value outputs faster, the Oxford TRIZ approach has been to strip out all theory and background from their teaching and simply guide teams through its application for solving problems (guidance to theory is available through their publications). 

Created by engineers for engineers it is about changing systems, not people, offering simple but algorithmic routes to solutions mapped from the world’s knowledge. However its innovation thinking tools are said to have a profound effect on individuals’ clarity of understanding problem issues and mental access to relevant knowledge and experience. 

TRIZ stands alone in its problem solving power, in that it complements and fills in the innovation and obvious gaps of the better known toolkits.

WHY OXFORD CREATIVITY’S 'OXFORD TRIZ' 

Oxford Creativity is known for making TRIZ easy to learn and apply – it developed Oxford TRIZ to maximize idea and knowledge sharing. This ensures that everyone participates and contributes by working in teams of 3-5 people with carefully designed teaching exercises and problem solving materials (on pre-printed A0 sheets) and despite mostly working with teams of engineers Oxford Creativity illustrates all teaching and with commissioned TRIZ cartoons (often humorous). 

Why Oxford Creativity for TRIZ learning

With these methods and by keeping the TRIZ rigour and logic whilst jettisoning its complexity it has achieved success helping many teams solve their most difficult engineering and management problems. In almost 20 years Oxford Creativity says it has never seen its TRIZ problem solving fail and has shown major organisations how to tackle and quickly resolve even their most ‘unsolvable ‘problems, accessing relevant knowledge and accelerating pragmatic creative problem solving from their project teams. Offering ‘proof through problem solving’ - widespread corporate adoption of Oxford TRIZ aims to establish an innovative culture, effective teams and faster new product successes. 

who uses triz

Oxford TRIZ was adopted by Rolls-Royce in 1998 and developed its ‘rapid response TRIZ problem solving’ which has delivered weekly results for the last 5 years (a similar scheme to guarantee fast innovative problem solving has recently been adopted by BAE systems). 

Oxford TRIZ has had many successes in Civil Engineering over the last 15 years with one Australian company claiming to have saved millions since learning just one day of Oxford TRIZ. (see Case Studies)

Oxford Creativity clients
Despite working with teams of mostly male engineers, Oxford Creativity is run by Karen Gadd with her extended team of fellow TRIZ experts who have all been working together for over 10 years. Karen’s book ‘TRIZ for Engineers’ was also published by Wiley’s and helped to make TRIZ more widely accepted and although the book’s many cartoons and jokes runs counter to a normal engineering culture it has wide acceptance even in the Classical TRIZ community. The publication of Karen’s book in Korean, German, Hebrew and Chinese is increasing their international reach but it is European companies that need convincing. 

Karen commented that running a TRIZ business can be an uphill journey and not for the fainthearted and said 

“since our conception in 1998, we have worked with many organisations initially reluctant to adopt another toolkit – especially one as obscure as TRIZ. However, once introduced to clear TRIZ thinking and its innovation power, the fast results speak for themselves. TRIZ assists and complements other good approaches enabling companies to make the most of their greatest asset – their employees.”    

Even though there has been resistance, Oxford TRIZ has embedded, innovation and problem solving in a wide range of sectors including aerospace, oil and gas, automotive, pharmaceutical and nuclear in Europe, China, Korea and Saudi Arabia.  In the UK, the Oxford TRIZ learning Workshops are available at the Said Business School, Oxford University and have been offered by both the IET and the IMechE for many years. Their TRIZ work covers all aspects of the Innovation Cycle and their work on TRIZ for entrepreneurship, patents and IP is being pioneered by both Oxford and Cranfield Universities. 

DID A-ONE+ WORKSHOP DELIVER ITS PROMISES?

The workshop posed three big challenges and was run for 24 carefully selected delegates – a combination of Engineers experienced in problem solving and non- engineers. 

A-one+ is an organisation that understands the philosophy and methodologies of lean processing as a result has many successful initiatives. The relevant Oxford TRIZ tools were developed for the three days and sessions were broken down into four teams. The three problems used to assess the value of TRIZ were:

Safety Improvement Scheme for J37 M63 (Area 12) – this junction has a long history of traffic incidents – designing an effective new layout or scheme is seen as imperative. 

Did TRIZ live up to its reputation?

Develop Efficient Schemes for Sub Process (Area 14) – the current process for design and approval of schemes has 19 separate activities- improvements and simplification (without losing essential functionality) would significantly speed up design activity and approvals.

Improve Integrated Management Programme (Area 7) – the complexity of coordinating a programme of  Maintenance renewal and improvement  projects together with planned and unplanned maintenance activities across a region of the Highways network which is aligned with clients’ needs, project resources and road availability is an everyday challenge to the operation and efficiency of the company.

The core TRIZ tools used for the workshop were:

  • Ideality – extends the concept of VALUE and leads to more “ideal “outcomes; 

  • Time and Scale – “9 box thinking” examines problems and issues in their context of both time – past/present/future and scale – big picture/system/relevant details (like ‘Google Earth’ on the problem – pulling back to see the context but also zooming in for the detail).

  • Function Mapping – ‘At a glance’ problem map for one moment in time – delivers problem list (solve one at a time by being matched to unique TRIZ problem solving concepts) Maps a network chart that shows important interactions between differing elements of a system;

  • TRIZ Solutions – solve everything on the problem list one problem at a time by matching each to the relevant TRIZ Solutions –these include strategies for simplification, cost cutting, dealing with harm and boosting and improving inadequate solutions. 

  • Resolving Contradictions – TRIZ shows there are 40 ways of achieving contradictory needs. 


Did Oxford TRIZ help the teams Solve their Problems?

Safety Improvement Scheme for J37 M63 – when using the Contradictions toolkit, one traffic engineer noted that a new powerful solution arose which had not previously occurred to the team. Also during this brief TRIZ workshop all the previous solutions generated over many months by the original expert team had also emerged – this was seen as a significant achievement given the lack of specialised knowledge and experience of those in the workshop (and it only took 3 hours). 

TRIZ - using a crystal ball to solve solutions?

The TRIZ function mapping/modelling process had been highly successful in clearly highlighting the problems and a number of potential issues and promoting greater understanding of the best routes forward. In doing so, it showed the need to focus on the key problems, and provided much of the impetus and ability to do so and ‘dig a bit deeper’. The resulting more detailed information allowed a much clearer view of one of the key contradictions in the junction’s design, yielding some of the most interesting solutions. 

In summary, more that 200 ideas were generated during a half-day session, and a new, innovative powerful solution was uncovered.

Develop Schemes Sub Process – the original Develop Schemes process comprised of a sequence of 19 activities. TRIZ Function Mapping highlighted problems then the system was simplified using the powerful 6 TRIZ Trimming rules (cutting an activity to reduce expense and complexity but still retaining all its good outputs) and then Merging (combining activities). These were applied to both the process as a whole and also in more detail eliminating or improving elements within activities, cutting costs and complexity whilst retaining all functionality and benefits.

After the first round of Trimming, a new reduced version of the process with only ten activities was formulated. A further round of Trimming further reduced this to six activities. Significant improvements were derived in a very short space of time and  these practical solutions were achieved following only half a day of TRIZ methods and structured discussion.

TRIZ Tools - trimming, time and space, contradictions

Integrated Management Programme –Due to the large scale and complexity this proved challenging for everyone from scoping and identifying the right scale, to establishing where to apply solutions (and to what activities).  Despite this the teams identified new solutions which would not have been identified without TRIZ as well as many ideas that had previously been formulated. The workshop several solutions pointed to new, appealing ways of working which could help frame the next contract. As a result HE identified how best to work together for improved and effective planning and design - and also how they should be working with their supply chain to develop a fully integrated project delivery process.


Conclusions

All three problems emerged with new solutions has not been identified before by teams. The participants who had no previous expertise in problem solving felt enthusiastic that they had demonstrated value of TRIZ as they were able to identify similar solutions to the LNMS experts with only limited traffic engineering techniques.  

Success, simplicity, clear understanding and good solutions emerged when applying TRIZ to their complex problems even those which the group were not familiar with, such as Producing an Integrated Programme and Process Review Delivery. TRIZ problem solving and TRIZ induced clarity of thought empowered the group who identified an impressive range of short and long term solutions. The TRIZ tools gave key pointers which focussed the group’s discussions and enabled practical suggestions far beyond that which is normally achieved by brainstorming.

During the workshop there were many instances when it emerged that different Areas use different methods and processes. This does not necessarily imply that a 'one process fits all' approach would be better, but there is clearly an opportunity for the common problem solving language of TRIZ to enable each Area to understand how other Areas operate and enable everyone to apply best practice by working effectively together.

Inventing the wheel - TRIZ tools cartoon

Peter Knowles, Lean Deployment Manager A-one+ said, 
“I found the workshop interesting, enjoyable and enlightening. There was a great deal in interaction and involvement from all attendees. The Oxford creativity facilitators helped maintain focused high energy throughout. The TRIZ tools will be a useful addition to the traditional Lean techniques. After one workshop I do not consider myself to be an expert so will be aiming to increase my knowledge further however I did come away with numerous techniques I can apply straight away.  I was particularly impressed with the way innovation is identified by applying logical thinking rather than simply hoping for a “eureka” moment. Tapping into “world knowledge” to solve problems is a “no brainer”.  I do like the idea of using solutions already developed tried and tested in other sectors, after all why re-invent the wheel”


Report prepared by:

Karen Gadd 
Oxford Creativity 

Full Highways England A-One+ Case Study (PDF)