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Problem Situation Specification

Problem Situation Specification

| On 02, Apr 2007

By Gregory Frenklach and Michael Pomerantz

Specifying the problem situation is fundamental to the problem-solving process. Examples for this illustration of defining and solving problems were taken from classic examples found in ARIZappendixes. [1, 2]

Problem Situation Description

Describe the situation simply using words and expressions that will be clear to someone inexperienced in the situation. (If a teenager understands the gist of the problem, the description is correct.)

Example 1

It is necessary to create (for various technological and scientific applications) liquids with a special, optical-like cleanness, which contain the minimal quantity of insoluble particles. It is easy to detect big particles using the light reflection. But it is impossible to use known optical methods when dealing with very small particles. It is, therefore, necessary to develop a method for the detection and calculation of very small particles in colorless liquid.

Example 2

Usually a parachute model is placed inside a glass tube and water is pumped through it to investigate a vortex (whirlwind). A thin layer of color covers the model during vortex formation. But the color expends too fast for analysis. How can this problem be solved?

Types of Problem Situation Definition

There are two types of problem situations. The first type exists when it is necessary to conduct some function of a technical system, but the technical facilities for it are absent or unknown (e.g., the colorless liquid described above). The second type arises when the problem situation is connected with an undesired effect (UDE) inside the existing technological system (e.g., the vortex/parachute model described above). If you run into difficulties defining a problem situation’s type, specify it to whichever is the closest match.

Combining Problem Situation Types

When the situation is the first type (“absence of the facility”), follow Group A’s steps. When the situation is the second type (“existence of the UDE”), follow Group B’s steps. If you cannot find the known facility in other fields of technology, skip steps 3 and 4.

Group A

  1. Describe the object of function definition. The object is a substance toward which the action is directed. In other words, it is something that being processed, measured, etc. – always a material substance and not a parameter.Example: The object of the function “to discover the particles” is the particles.
  2. Choose a known facility for function realization. If you cannot find an exact match, select any facility for realizing similar functions from other branches of technology. Example: The known facility is laser mounting.
  3. Define the undesired effect, which arises during function realization. Example: The UDE is the quantity of laser radiation. Reflected by particles, the laser is too small.

Group B

  1. Formulate the UDE – the source of the problem. Example: The undesired effect is the quick debit of color.
  2. Define the element connected to the UDE. (Note: Check your definition of the element, which is connected to the undesired effect. “Remove” this element from the technical system. The first UDE in this case disappears and a new UDE emerges.) Examples: The UDE connected element is color; “Quick debit of color” disappears, but the “invisibility of water whirlwinds, bending round the dummy” emerges.
  3. Formulate the function of the element connected to the UDE. (Note: If you run into problems in this step, return to group A.) Example: The function of the color is to paint (to mark) the water whirlwinds.
  4. Define for the object of function for the element connected to the UDE. Example: The object of the function is water whirlwinds.

Both types of problem situations may be combined into single type, which is defined by four characteristics as shown in the table below.

Summary of Problem Situations
NumberCharacteristicsExample 1Example 2
1UDEQuantity of reflection of laser radiation is smallFast debit of color
2Element connected to the UDELaser mountingColor
3Function of the element connected to the UDEDiscover particlesTo paint (mark) water whirlwinds
4Object of functionParticlesWater whirlwinds


  1. Problem situations can be divided into two main types to begin formulating solutions.
  2. The mechanism for specifyingproblem situations enables us to combine both types of problem situations to the single type and formulate the problem situation correctly.


  1. Appendix 3 to ARIZ 85C, Official G.S. Altshuller Foundation.
  2. Appendix 4 to ARIZ 85C, Official G.S. Altshuller Foundation.