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Teaching TRIZ to Beginners

Complete Technical System Generates Problem Definitions

| On 03, Dec 2007

By Ellen Domb and Joe A. Miller


Beginners frequently encounter one barrier to success with TRIZ – they must understand both the problem they are dealing with and TRIZ in order to get a good start.But beginners also frequently lack the patience to learn TRIZ in enough detail to do the analysis and formulation of the problem and/or their organizations want to see results from a pilot project before investing in necessary training. Introducing TRIZ into many corporate environments requires first resolving the contradiction of the desire for comprehensive understanding and sophisticated problem solving without spending any time learning either.

Beginners can learn quickly how to make use of some of the most powerful tools of TRIZ including the ideal final result (IFR), the system operator and contradictions. This work is not intended to dilute or diminish TRIZ. It is intended to help beginners get a fast start, so that the benefits of their early projects can pay for the time, training and work needed to do more extensive TRIZ applications later.


Complete technical system, system operator


Beginners to the study and application of TRIZ to business and technology issues need structure – a methodology to follow while they absorb a new language and concepts. Beginners also need success in applying TRIZ – a success will keep them interested and help convince their companies that TRIZ is worth time and money.

Dual dilemmas are faced by many students who take part in introductory classes. The students are frequently experienced and technically trained individuals responsible for activities as diverse as product design, manufacturing, service design and provision, quality, legal and general management.

  1. Their first dilemma is to maintain and expand mastery of their areas of expertise, and their business processes in general, without taking significant time away from their jobs.
  2. The second dilemma occurs when the student attend a TRIZ class – as individuals or part of a company group. Frequently the students bring a workplace problem situation they hope will be addressed in the class. Expectations range from scepticism to wild optimism about the power of this new approach. Beginning students always start concerned about how much time will be required to learn, use and get results from TRIZ.

Beginners thus face two or more linked dilemmas or contradictions; they need and want to improve their career knowledge, but are limited in time and are in a similar constrained situation with methodologies like TRIZ. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: Beginners’ Dilemma

It is assumed that competency is necessary and desired, TRIZ will generally only be an adjunct to the person’s job. Few beginners intend to make TRIZ a career – they already have jobs and are just looking for a little help to do them better. Instruction and exercises are structured to illustrate the adaptability and flexibility of TRIZ to their own disciplines.

Many of the most powerful elements and tools of TRIZ allow easy initial use and, if properly introduced, can easily lead to early success. One of the great powers of TRIZ for beginners is they can use simple TRIZ tools to describe their problems and explain them to fellow workers with a clarity never before seen. Clear and reinforced relationships and connections among the tools can be easily seen and utilized, with direct applicability to their previously “unique” problem, situation, business and/or technology; a sense of structure, purpose and ease of use supports beginners’ applications. A student seldom if ever learns much about TRIZ without also learning something about their own issue, business, technology, science, etc.

One of the most powerful tools from the beginning student’s perspective is function analysis, whether for the purpose of addressing inadequate system function, system simplification or identifying problem solving resources within a system. When combined with structural elements of TRIZ such as the system operator, the complete technical system (CTS) and ideality to provide direction, students find they have a powerful and immediately useful toolset to apply to their issues.


The Complete Technical System (CTS)

The complete technical system is easy for beginners to understand, but instructors need to understand the beginners’ background and orientation. It is important not to confuse beginners with the multiple competing vocabularies used in TRIZ – complete technical system is used here and is similar to the also used complete technological system, but not limited to technological applications. Likewise, the elements of the CTS are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Complete Technical System Elements
ElementDescriptionFunction 1:The hammer moves the nailFunction 2: The instructor educates the student
Tool (or working medium)Performs the function on the objectHammerInstructor
Energy (or engine)Makes it possible for the tool to do workHuman muscle powerHuman
TransmissionDelivers the energy to the toolHand gripping handleVoice
Guidance and controlAdjusts and improves the function (active) or enables the function (passive)Human eye/hand/brainQuestions, answers and observations of student behavior
ObjectWhatchanges as a result of the functionNailStudent

Most students understand the hammer/nail system, but those dealing with problems in management, information technology and business operations benefit from an explicit, easy example to apply to their situations in which information is transferred, transformed and transferred again.

Combining CTS and the System Operator

Students with backgrounds in many fields grasp the concept of the system operator easily, but vocabulary can be a problem. An instructor whose personal background is in engineering or manufacturing should be cautious when dealing with students whose background is in business or service. Six Sigma training systems frequently distinguish between “transaction” and “manufacturing/operations” students, but these distinctions are not adequate, since many transaction problems involve structured information transfer and other technological systems.

A recent experience with a banking group illustrates the challenges. The people who design customer service centers and information systems use the language that is common in engineering and have an easy grasp of the relationships among sub-systems, systems and super-systems. Those who deal with product and service development, most of whom come from either marketing or finance/accounting backgrounds, do not. After the concept was explained using stories about situations analogous to theirs (cars, car dealerships, car production system and child, family, community), they had no difficulty using the system operator.

Figure 2: Combining the CTS and System Operator

Another easy mistake is to present the system operator as a simple, 2-dimensional 3×3 matrix. Choosing which sub-system to put in the diagram can be a big challenge to the beginner. Experienced TRIZ practitioners will usually do function analysis or Su-field analysis before the system operator and will choose the elements that cause harmful functions (for elimination) or useful but inadequate functions (for enhancement). An image like that shown in Figure 3 can become a mental model for the choices being made when drawing the simple system operator matrix.2

Figure 3: System, Sub-system
and Super-system Relationships

The illustration of the system inside the super-system, composed of multiple sub-systems helps TRIZ beginners understand that the use of the 9-windows representation of the system operator requires making choices about which sub- and super-systems will be considered. The choice of sub-system as the one that is causing the most problems for the system is usually fairly easy in a business system. The choice of super-system is somewhat more subtle, since it requires recognizing that the relationship is not linear – one system can participate in multiple super-systems. A beginner example from daily life is the automobile as part of the super-system of transportation, which is part of the super-system of automobile sales and service, and is also part of the super-system of financial assets of the family.

Explicitly writing a function and identifying the elements of the complete technical system in each of thenine boxes of the system operator is helpful to beginners who need to understand the relationships between systems, sub-systems and super-systems. Showing that the function at one level provides a service to the next level, and that the objects are the linkages between levels, enables beginners to develop models in their own terms.

Consider again the most basic function example of the hammer and nail – at one level the hammer is the tool and the nail is the object. But at the next level, the nail is the tool and the roofing shingle is the object as the nail attaches shingles to the structure. At the next level the roof, consisting of many shingles, is the tool and the house is the object as the roof protects the house from the environment. This kind of exercise illustrates that in most situations, there are options when defining the system and super-system (the roof also controls the temperature of the house, keeps out insects, etc.). The choice of which option to explore is a preliminary step in deciding what problem to solve and should not be treated casually.

An example may clarify how the combination of the CTS and the system operator can be used to help beginners make many of the decisions that are combined in the apparently (and misleadingly) simple phrase: select the problem to be solved.

E-commerce is familiar to most people, at least from the perspective of the customer, and some as suppliers of books, training systems, and other products and services. Security has been a problem for e-commerce since its inception. The evolution of security systems has followed classical patterns of evolution: new security systems create new challenges to the developers of attacking systems, which create contradictions that are then resolved. That creates new problems for the defenders, who create new defense systems, which challenge the attackers, and so on.

Figure 4: System Operator Expansion

A model for e-commerce security situations generated many opportunities for future research, as shown in Table 2.3

Table 2: E-commerce Software Security System Situations
Sub-system• Examine outputs of legacy sub-systems
• Map to security policy and vulnerabilities
• Datastore sub-system frequently lacks standard outputs, making it a target (e.g., the transmission and the guidance and control elements of the CTS are weak or missing)
• Sub-systems of the SSS• New sub-systems required to meet emerging requirements
System• What policies are in place for legacy systems?
• What breaches have occurred?
• Did defenses work?
• Subject software system (SSS)
• Are requirements complete?
• What new sub-systems are needed?
• What are the conditions at the time of first use of the system?
• Is the test environment the same or different from the “live” environment?
Super-system• System environments in the business system (accounting, sales, operations) and the e-commerce system (Internet, intranets, customer database)• How have the systems been modified because of the introduction of e-commerce?
• How do these modifications change the SSS?
• What culture changes will take place within the organization and in the customer and attacker environments?
• What changes will they require?

Other questions that beginners understand, and welcome, deal with the issue known in ARIZ as the “mini-problem” vs. the “maxi-problem;” that is, making the choice of solving the problem using the technologies and systems that are embedded in the problem or permitting the transition to a new system.

In the e-commerce example, the references to legacy systems show an awareness of this issue. That is, the decision has to be made whether to continue using a vulnerable operating system with changes in the e-commerce system to compensate for the vulnerabilities, or to convert to a new system. Well-known examples, even outside the computer security community, include the Windows operating system with its many security patches and periodic upgrade system vs. the Linux system, which has its own vulnerabilities, but is self-healing because of its open-source business model. In this case the business model is a fourth level of the system operator, as shown in Table 3. (Details at the system and sub-system level are not filled in, since they are specific details of the software system, not related to the point being illustrated.)

Table 3: E-commerce System Operator Table
Super-system• Constant attacks on systems because of widely known Windows vulnerabilities• Fewer attacks and faster recovery• May be subject to more attacks if the image ofthe system changes
Super-super-system• Commercial system
• Users pay for system and for upgrades (e.g., Windows)
• Open-source system
• Participants continually improve the system
• Users decide when to install the upgrades (e.g., Linux, free or paid, since businesses have developed to assist users)
• Not yet known

The choice of the “mini-problem” – staying with a legacy system and making small patches to deal with problems – or a “maxi-problem” – installing a new system and changing all the interfaces among the operating system, the databases and the operational software – involves economic issues including the cost of modifications to the system, the cost of re-training employees and the more subtle issues of impact on users and impact on employee morale.

Examples like this are useful for teaching beginners to develop a systematic way of using the CTS and the system operator. When populating the system operator grid, at the interface between each box in the “future” column and its adjacent box in the “present” column, and between higher and lower system level boxes, the ideality question should be posed: What will happen to the ideality of the system if the change is made?

Typically, the ideality question should be posted both before and after asking the CTS questions for each box:

  • What are the elements of the CTS?
  • If any of those elements is absent or weak, will fixing that situation resolve the problem?
  • How do the object and the function that modifies that object link this box to the surrounding boxes?
  • Are there conflicts between the definitions of improvement by customers, employees, management and other stakeholders? (This question can reveal strategy-level contradictions, which may need to be resolved before proceeding with problem solving.)

In some cases, it is useful to add the question, “What are the constraints on the changes that can be made at this level of the system?” This enhances creativity by listing the constraints and agreeing to apply them after the work is done – people are then free to examine all aspects of the problem.

Simple Application Guidelines

Students quickly grasp the structure and utility of simple function analysis, the complete technical system, the system operator and their combinations.

Simple CTS Application

An inexpensive flashlight is the basis for a classroom exercise in functional analysis. The stated team goal is to identify ways to reduce the cost of the product. Those teams that achieve the most effective analysis and make good suggestions in a very short time use a functional analysis approach much like the CTS:

  • The fundamental elements: What do they do? How can they be optimized?
  • The system elements and components that do not contribute to the fundamental purpose are easily exposed for simplification or trimming. (See Figure 5)

Figure 5: Functional Analysis with CTS

The simplest use of the CTS is as a template to identify a functional system for introductory improvement and simplification (trimming) exercises. This helps students begin a structured analysis of the elements of their own system. In addition, this provides a basis for helping students apply analogies to their own problems, since they learn to identify the five elements of the CTS in their own system.

CTS to Populate a System Operator Table

The e-commerce software security example above illustrates the approach for using CTS templates to populate a system operator. It also illustrates the utility of this approach for identifying those tradeoffs that arise from assumptions. Carefully defining the present system level CTS and then using the CTS as a template to complete sub-system and super-system levels in the past and future provides a clear articulation of assumptions at all levels.

Challenging those assumptions, especially those that limit system performance, simplification or improvement may very directly reveal contradictions. Statements of ideal final results for each window of the model, or a simple application of the ideality equation, may also help reveal contradictions. Those contradictions can then be addressed (even by beginners) as technical contradictions with the forty inventive principles or as physical contradictions using the separation principles.


The complete technical system model, simple function analysis and system operator/nine windows model provide structural concepts that help beginners apply TRIZ to achieving success in problem solving, improvement initiatives and innovation. These tools can lead to early successes with the students’ contexts and can reduce the dual dilemmas of expanding their capabilities in their own disciplines and becoming TRIZ practitioners – without needing to spend excessive, and unnecessary, time.


  1. Miller, Joe andDomb, Ellen, “Applying the Law of the Completeness of a Technological System to Formulate a Problem,” Proceedings of the TRIZ Futures 6th World Conference, October 9-11, 2006, Kortrijk, Belgium and First Iberoamerican Congress on Technical Innovation, Pubebla, MX September 2006.
  2. Richmond, Barry, An Introduction to Systems Thinking, 2001, High Performance Systems, Inc., Hanover NH, USA, ISBN 0-9704921-0-3.
  3. Stamey John andDomb, Ellen, “Information Security Requirements Analysis with Nine Windows,” Proceedings of the Computer Security Conference, April 12-13, 2007, South Carolina, USA.

Note: Abbreviated versions of this paper were presented at 2º Congreso Iberoamericano de Innovación TecnológicaMonterrey, N.L. 30 de octubre al 1 de noviembre de 2007 and at the European TRIZ Association-TRIZ Futures 2007, Frankfurt Germany, November 6-8, 2007.