Hans Gert Graebe / Leipziger Gespraeche /







19. Interdisciplinary Seminar "Continuous Improvement, Engineering Systems, and Systems Engineering"


19. Interdisciplinary seminar: Continuous Improvement, Engineering Systems, and Systems Engineering

is the highlight and semester conclusion of our interdisciplinary teaching programme.

Date: 4 February 2022, 10–16
Location: Online, BBB-Room BIS.SIM https://meet.uni-leipzig.de/b/gra-w2c-fhz-qnp (opens at 9:45 Leipzig time)

This interdisciplinary academic seminar continues the series of academic reflections on the upheavals of our time, which started in autumn 2011. The Interdisciplinary Seminar is the semester highlight of our interdisciplinary teaching programme.

The series of Interdisciplinary Seminars at the Leipzig University is supported by the Institute for Applied Computer Science (InfAI), the LIFIS - Leibniz Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, the MINT-Network Leipzig and the Research Academy Leipzig.


Impulse contributions:
  • Hans-Gert Gräbe: A Short Summary on the Seminar ( Slides)
  • Luisa Wagner: TRIZ Trends and Business Model Revolution
  • Ralf Laue: 100 years of graphical business process modelling ( Last Slide)
  • Darrell Mann: Business TRIZ: Complexity, Contradictions & First Principles Innovation ( Slides)
  • Hans-Gert Gräbe: Seminar Notes, Winter term 2021/22
  • Hans-Gert Gräbe: Seminar Notes, Summer term 2021
  • Luisa Wagner: Business Model Revolution: Kreative Ideen für neue Geschäftsmodelle durch den Einsatz von TRIZ (Business Model Revolution: Creative ideas for new business models through the use of TRIZ). Master Thesis at HS Aalen. (in German)

"Management is only possible if the object we manage is in motion" and "If there are no problems, there is no need for management" are two of G.P. Shchedrovitsky's key mnemonics [1]. In such an understanding, management is directed at improving problematic processes. This is also the topic of Business TRIZ. Methods of problem solving itself thus becomes the object of systematic investigation. One asks how the process of process improvement can be shaped via analysis, synthesis and evaluation. In the context of implementing such a planned process improvement, a "system as it is" is to be transformed into a "system as required" [2].

This leads to the second essential concept, that of a system, because goal-oriented transformation is hardly possible in a diffusely structured context. Problems must be identified, located and specified before a solution can be developed. TRIZ advises to determine within a general model of the system the operative zone and operative time as a spatio-temporal containment of the problematic process.

Often this is already sufficient to understand and solve the problem by adjusting process parameters or replacing defective components. Even more complex problems can be processed comparing them with earlier problems and their solutions to such an extent that promising solution approaches become visible also for the current problem. For this purpose, the classification of problems and solution approaches according to abstract patterns is helpful, as offered by the classical TRIZ with its 40 principles [3] for technical problems and by the theory of BPM patterns for business processes [4].

With the concept of contradictory development of process parameters TRIZ offers one step further to deal with particularly hard problems and to leave the vicious circle, which quickly comes into effect in simple solution approaches for such a dialectical contradictory relationship between two process parameters.

In the past two semesters we analysed various management theories in more detail and found that such questions have been discussed more intensively only since the 1970s. Earlier the focus was on employee motivation (Taylor's "Scientific Management", Drucker's "Practice on Management", "Mintzberg on Management") or process improvement based on abstract principles (TPS - Toyota Production System). However, old principles of employee motivation are reaching their limits in modern, highly flexible Business Process scenarios in dynamically changing market environments. Today, modified TPS principles form the theoretical basis of Agile Process Management and Lean Production. With the TPS concept of Continuous Improvement, methodologies based on systematic analysis gain new importance.

In our seminar we want to explore where both lines meet and which instruments are available to structure requirements and cope with problems in such a continuous transformation process. The adjective continuous points to diffusely structured contexts, whose diffuseness is often characterised with the words "complicated" or "chaotic" and claimed being impossible to be resolved. Systemic approaches are faced with the challenge to disassemble and reassemble the indecomposable, because "a system can only be operated if it is assembled". Shchedrovitsky calls this complex approach of disassembling and reassembling the indecomposable schematisation. It is at the core of every engineering project, which makes "Engineering Systems" as process a good candidate for the principal methodological design of such a process of process improvement. "Systems Engineering" promises a theoretical approach to systematise this methodological design.

What is the relationship between this theoretical insight and real experiences from practical management processes? This question will be the focus of our discussion. As always, we will prepare some impulse contributions, but above all we want to give broad space to the discussion. The working language of our seminar is English.

Hans-Gert Gräbe, 28 December 2021


Some personal notes

Our block seminar is the semester highlight of our weekly research seminar. The focus of the research seminar in this semester was on the closer study of institutionalisation processes in the field of Business Process (BP) Modelling and the development of Business Models (BM).

In his initial keynote Hans-Gert Gräbe reported on the organisation and results of the seminar. One of our main observations was that the focus of management approaches is shifting from pure personnel management ("Mintzberg on Management", "Management by Incentive", "Management by Objective", Drucker's "Practice of Managment") to a greater importance of systematic planning of BP and thus towards engineering-technical approaches also in the field of management. Such approaches to the descriptive dissection of work processes can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, for example to Taylor's "Principles of Scientific Management", but are becoming increasingly important in times of digital penetration of all areas of life. Nevertheless, such real-world structural frameworks as basis of the possibilities of value proposition play only a subordinate role, especially in the field of BM.

In the research papers we studied, BP Modelling and BP Landscaping were mainly applied to company internal processes, where it is a matter of creating, maintaining and detailing the procedural prerequisites for these value propositions. BP Landscaping within the company is used to systemically structure cooperative actions across several levels. In our understanding, systemic structuring means organising the interplay of viable units of operation as components at each such level by reducing their interplay to essentials. Essential here means focusing on emergent functionalities which render the system to be more than the sum of its parts.

These systemic ideas fit well with approaches of the "Methodological School of Management" in the tradition of the philosopher G.P. Shchedrovitsky and general approaches of Activity Theory.

The focus is on resolving contradictory requirement situations, which result primarily from contradictions between short- and long-term objectives. A processual resolution of such contradictions often requires to look at the processes in their dialectical unfolding. In such an approach, the focus shifts from "problem solution" to "problem coping" and thus to a process of "continuous improvement", for which a project-like breakdown of development into stages is often not sufficient. "Engineering systems" thus encompasses a methodological challenge which has been addressed in the studied research papers, especially on the inter-company level.

In the second keynote, Luisa Wagner presented the results of her master's thesis, in which she investigated the question to which extent TRIZ development trends can be fruitfully applied to the further development of BM.

TRIZ trends are introduced in (Altshuller 1979) as "'lifelines' of technical systems" and eight such trends are identified as "laws of the development of systems". In (Altshuller 1980) it is already the other way round and the "laws" are taken as a basis for forecasting "lifelines". Major clarifications and variations of the trends emerged in discussions of the 1980s, see (Goldovsky 1983), (Goldovsky 2017), (Rubin 2019), (Petrov 2020). In (TESE 2018), the MATRIZ reference material on the topic, an attempt is made to extend classical approaches of explanation of technology development by market observations through market pull and technology push using a technology pull approach. However, a more detailed analysis (Gräbe 2020) shows that this uses technology forecasting instruments based on market analysis, which were already developed more than 30 years ago.

The high affinity to such market analysis based instruments suggests that TRIZ trends are also well suited as patterns for BM development. The master's thesis shows how these trends can be formulated and detailed in the field of BM through targeted short questions and underpinned with examples. The focus of the thesis is on a methodological handout to use this tool in the practical development of BM. The discussion focused on two questions:

  1. How to deal with heterogeneity in interdisciplinary teams involved in the further development of BM? This involved heterogeneity in terms of individual creativity and motivation, diversity of domain expertise and the extent of prior knowledge in the applied methodology (e.g.) of TRIZ.
  2. What causes the strength of TRIZ? Is it more in the specific tools or in the systematic approach and the accuracy of modelling?
Regarding 1. Luisa Wagner presented a series of neurobiological characteristics of humans that need to be taken into account. In the discussion, however, it was rather the systemic-emergent phenomena of cooperation in a team that were addressed. This is in good coincidence with a basic assumption of our seminar concept, which is focused on cooperative action and cooperative action spaces and develops the core processes of meaning formation from the relational interactions within such a context.

Regarding 2., the role of precise functional modelling as one of the TRIZ basic tools was particularly emphasised, which also unfolds its power in the modelling of BM. Several times, also in the later discussion, the distinction between complicated and complex systems came up.

In the third keynote, Ralf Laue gave an overview of the development of graphical representations of BP on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the presentation of "Process Charts". In this presentation in December 1921 such graphical representations were used for the first time. The discussion was mainly ignited by the last slide of Ralf‘s presentation, on which the TRIZ system operator was applied to summarise essential elements of the development of such graphical representations in a 9-field scheme. In the discussion the columns of the scheme were associated with phases in the unfolding of the industrial mode of production. In the first half of the 20th century, this development is characterised by a strong dissection and precise description of the individual work processes and steps. The factory with its multitude of human links is supposed to function as precisely as the machines that are used within it. On the one hand, this perception reaches its limits with increasing complicatedness and complexity. On the other hand, it is a prerequisite for the mass replacement of mechanical by electronic controls, which has been gaining momentum since the 1960s with the advent of cybernetics and thus control approaches through dynamic feedback structures. This phenomenon is central for the middle column of that 9-field scheme under the heading "automation". Today, this process seems to have entered a transitional stage, which locates the present time in the space between the middle and right columns of that scheme. A more precise characterisation of the right column as the target of such a "digital transformation" of graphical representation possibilities of BP models remained speculative, even if in the bottom row the transition from purely graphical representations to XML-based forms of notation shows that here, too, concept formation processes and expressiveness of language (including computer-language expressiveness) are superior to purely graphical representations in the long run.

In the fourth keynote, Darrell Mann emphasised the importance and orientation function of First Principles in an increasingly complex world. The search for such First Principles and thus for the essence behind the phenomena has always moved great thinkers. Altshuller, too, searches such First Principles of inventiveness. Darrell Mann refers to Elon Musk, who understands such First Principles as building blocks from which our world conceptualisations are composed. For Musk, creative thinking is always connected with new and different assemblies of those building blocks.

Darrell emphasised that Art and Science are two ways of world conceptualisation that have increasingly diverged since the 19th century. I agree with this analysis if Science is understood as narrow concept opposed to Humanities. However, this contradiction between world conceptualisation and practical action already moved Goethe's "Faust", and also Marx in his 11th Feuerbach thesis that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways", but „the point is to change it". On the other hand, it was not until the 19th century that the practical experiences of human activity found larger academic anchorage. There was no place for the architects of cathedrals in the classical universitas litterarum. The explosive power of these developments was unleashed in the beginning of the 20th century with the Schism in the so far united Faculties of Philosophy between Science and Humanities. The Humanities continued to work on the "grand stories" as narratives and thus remain in the proximity to art and literature. With Digital Humanities, we are currently witnessing the genesis of a new kind of symbiosis that is now also academically taking up the always close relationship between art and technology (just think of the multitude of technically underpinned experimental forms of music throughout the 20th century). This raises the question of whether the role of First Principles is overemphasised a little too much in those attempts to explain the development of world conceptualisations.

Hans-Gert Gräbe, 7 February 2022


  • (Altshuller 1979) G.S. Altshuller: Creativity as an Exact Science. Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.
  • (Altshuller 1980) G.S. Altshuller: Wings for Icarus: How to solve inventive problems.
  • (Goldovsky 1983) B.I. Goldovsky: The system of laws of construction and development of technical systems (in Russian).
  • (Goldovsky 2017) B.I. Goldovsky: On the laws of building technical systems (in Russian).
  • (Gräbe 2020) H.-G. Gräbe: Men and their technical systems. In Proceedings of the TRIZ Future Conference 2020, p. 399-410.
  • (Rubin 2019) M.S. Rubin: On the relationship of the complex of laws of system development with ZRTS (in Russian).
  • (Petrov 2020) V.M. Petrov: Laws and patterns of systems development. Book in 4 volumes (in Russian).
  • (TESE 2018) A. Lyubomirsky, S. Litvin et al.: Trends of Engineering System Evolution. TRIZ Consulting Group.
For more details about access to the references see https://wumm-project.github.io/TTS.


  • Prof. Hans-Gert Gräbe, Computer Science, InfAI Leipzig
  • Anton Ivanov, Target Invention, Minsk
  • Simon Johanning, Dept. of Economics, Leipzig University
  • Ken Kleemann, Philosophy, Leipzig University
  • Dr. Kristin Kutzner, Computer Science, WH Zwickau
  • Dr. Sabine Lautenschläger, IIRM, Leipzig University
  • Prof. Ralf Laue, Computer Science, WH Zwickau
  • Darrell Mann, Systematic Innovation, UK
  • Sergey Modestov, St. Petersburg
  • Silvia Liubenova Popova, HTW Dresden
  • Dr. Nadine Schumann, Philosophy, Leipzig University
  • Björn Seebahn, Erlangen
  • Luisa Wagner, Bosch, München
  • Siegfried Weigert, Industrieberatung, München
The event is supported by