March 3, 2018

Stop Counterproductive Activities with TRIZ

Liberating Structures are 33 microstructures that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group – from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used to spice up your Scrum Events. Move away from the stickies and the whiteboards for a moment, and explore these novel facilitation techniques. If you’d like to experience Liberating Structures first-hand, make sure to join one the ‘immersion workshops’ that are taking place in March 2018.

Stop counterproductive activities and make space for innovation

It’s all too easy to use continuous improvement as an excuse to keep adding new things to do. Like those Sprint Retrospectives that always result in ‘one more thing’ to add to the  task list, one more check to the Definition of Done or one more workshop to an already overcrowded agenda. Often, more can be gained by stopping unproductive activities and behaviors. The Liberating Structure ‘TRIZ’ turns this upside-down by inviting creative destruction of activities that limit innovation and productivity. It does so in a cathartic way that is fun, engages and involves everyone and is bound to create some laughs along the way.

TRIZ invites creative destruction of activities that limit innovation and productivity

Uses in Scrum and workshops

We’ve used ‘Min Specs’ in Scrum for the following purposes:

  • TRIZ makes for a wonderful format for Sprint Retrospectives in Scrum;
  • Use TRIZ at the start of a Scrum implementation to identify behaviors and activities that limit effectiveness, and help the group finds ways to stop them. For the first round, ask “What should we do to completely fail our implementation of Scrum”;
  • Use TRIZ with a focus on delivering a “Done”-increment. For the first round, ask “What can we do to deliver the most un-done Increment imaginable?”;


  1. Organize into groups of 4 to 8 people;
  2. Introduce TRIZ and briefly explain that the structure has 3 rounds of 10 minutes each. Don’t give away what happens after the first round, as this will limit creativity;
  3. Together, identify one unwanted result. If there is not an obvious one yet, brainstorm one with the groups;
  4. Give the group 10 minutes to use 1-2-4-ALL to make a list of all it can do to make sure that it achieves the most unwanted result possible. Invite teams to be creative while making sure to keep it realistic;
  5. Give the group 10 minutes to use 1-2-4-ALL to make a second list of the activities that the team is already doing that resemble or are closely related to items on the first list. Invite groups to be brutally honest by asking: “If you’re brutally honest, which activities from the first list do you recognize in how we already work?”;
  6. Give the group 10 minutes to use 1-2-4-ALL to make a third list of all the activities or behaviors from the second list that the group wants to stop. Identify the first steps to help stop these activities. Help teams to avoid the temptation to add new things to start doing - focus on what can be stopped, and how.


Liberating Structures can be easily strung to create programs for entire workshops or trainings. The options are endless:

  • Deepen the initial action steps identified in the third round using Troika Consulting, Wise Crowds or 1-2-4-ALL;
  • Use Impromptu Networking or 1-2-4-ALL to identify an unwanted result;
  • Connect activities in the third round to the results from Ecocycle Planning;
  • Use a Pre-Mortem to lead into the first round. Have teams explore the unwanted results in terms of the headlines they would see in a newspaper or intranet, characteristic quotes from members or expected outcomes;


  • Invite participants to have fun, go a bit over the top and have a laugh while they’re doing it. This helps create a safe environment where people feel comfortable being honest;
  • Don’t spoil the twist in TRIZ between the first and second rounds. Doing so will limit creativity and the brutal honesty that makes TRIZ work, as people will already start reflecting on their current situation during the first round;
  • Use post-its to make the results from the various rounds transparent (see pictures). Instead of rewriting the post-its for every column, ask teams to move activities from the first to the second list, and to the third list when they want to stop them;
  • Look for patterns with the group in the activities they identify for the first and second rounds;
  • We prefer to create three columns upfront (on a whiteboard or three flips) and uncover the columns throughout the rounds. This keeps a bit of mystery to the structure;


We’re always happy to hear your experiences or hear your suggestions. If you’d like to know more about Liberating Structures or experience a large number of them first-hand, sign-up for one of the Liberating Structures ‘immersion workshops’ that are taking place throughout Europe in March 2018. Barry Overeem & Christiaan Verwijs are organizing the workshop in Amsterdam, which will be facilitated by us and co-inventor Keith McCandless and pioneer Fisher Qua.