Southbeach Modeller

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A Short History of Southbeach Notation

Southbeach Notation was conceived by Howard Smith and Mark Burnett. Southbeach Modeller is the first implementation of the notation, and is a software product of Southbeach Solutions Ltd. The notation specification 0.9 and its 'reference' implementation are independent. The authors of the notation encourage additional implementations.

The Vision

The development of Southbeach was inspired by TRIZ, the Russian 'Theory of Inventive Problem Solving', originated by innovation theorist Genrich Altshuler and his followers. Today, TRIZ has found a compelling role in systematic innovation theory and practice.

Smith and Burnett, working as management and IT consultants, were learning how to apply TRIZ in large 'change' projects and the burgeoning field of Business Process Management (BPM). This was 2003. They dubbed their specific use of TRIZ, P-TRIZ (process TRIZ) and looked for common standards which they could share with clients and colleagues. Not finding any, and judging that the time was not right to corral diverse TRIZ experts to a standardisation process, they decided to develop their own unified approach, drawing on best practices.

Working in consulting firms on significant engagements, Smith and Burnett needed a way to co-create and share TRIZ models with both clients and colleagues. They argued that by adopting a standardised approach to TRIZ, Altshuller's seminal ideas would be more readily adopted by industry. They also had an eye on the next generation of analytical software tools.

To develop a unified notation, the authors of Southbeach examined the rich history of TRIZ and the different styles of TRIZ diagrams in common use. They also integrated their own knowledge of diagrammatic conventions used in engineering, business and innovation, especially where the intention of a visual model was to support analysis, improvement and problem solving.

An organizational chart, they argued, can only represent the static form of the organization's structure. It says nothing about what is good or bad about the organization it describes. Similarly, a process model describes the literal steps in a process. It reveals little about whether the process is working well in the business. The same is true for many other types of business or engineering diagrams. For example, a root cause map, no matter how sophisticated, illustrates what led to a problem or risk but not how this event arose from the design of the system that caused it. The authors of Southbeach were convinced that if such diagrams were to be enhanced with TRIZ semantics, diagrams could come to life, suggesting their own directions for improvement and re-design.

From Smith and Burnett's perspective, The potential of TRIZ was twofold: 1) a notation in its own right, and 2) a meta notation. They coinedd the term 'innovation mark-up' language for the latter. By expressing what is useful or harmful, what is sufficient or insufficient, in any situation, could enrich any structured diagram, they argued. Adding TRIZ semantics to a standard drawing tool, for example, coupled to a rules engine, could turn a static 'dumb' diagram into a living document, greatly expanding the power of such software. The same approach could be applied to modelling tools supporting standards such as BPMN, UML, SysML and others. By doing this, each of these standards could be a powerful way to represent a 'situation' and not just a 'design'. These 'situational models' can represent the state of an organization, the workings of a process, the concepts behind a new idea, the way a strategy should work, or how a service is delivered. The metaphor could even be extended to abstract concepts such as organisational policies, legal systems, politics and ethics. TRIZ, and therefore Southbeach, is ideal for studying all complex problems, even so-called 'wicked' problems.

Southbeach models are developed from one or more 'perspectives'. What is useful to you may be harmful to me. And so on. Southbeach provides robust semantics for expressing agreement, disagreement, conflict, contradiction and differences or alignments of perspective.
Southbeach semantics are formally defined. This allows a rules engine to infer directions for situational improvement. Southbeach is to problem-solving and innovation what process notation is to re-engineering and process automation.

One of the challenges the authors faced in developing a specification for Southbeach was to resolve the (sometimes) subtle differences in TRIZ diagramming practice. This was important to Smith and Burnett since they imagined the development of new software tools that could interpret common TRIZ models. Tool developers needed an agreed way to represent a TRIZ analytical model so that its meaning was unambiguous.

Another challenge the authors faced was that they envisaged software tools that could support not just TRIZ but many other styles of analysis. The domain of creativity and problem solving is rich indeed, as any search will show. Did all these approaches share something in common? Was this the essential message in TRIZ? As engineers and management consultants, and long before they had heard of TRIZ, Smith and Burnett were familiar with a zoo of commonly used consulting aides, diagrams and charts. Could these be 'unified' within a standard TRIZ notation? If so, a single diagramming style could support a wide array of analytical and problem-solving methods. As co-founder and co-chair, Smith had been successful using a similar approach in Business Process Management (BPM).

The Business Process Management Initiative ( had developed the semantics and notation for computer-readable, executable, business processes. Dubbed the Business Process Management Notation (BPMN), the new standard led to a resurgence of BPM practice across many industry sectors. The availability of the BPMN specification spawned the development of hundreds of new modelling tools, proccess-driven IT applications and systems technologies to support business and IT leaders in transforming their operations using automated systems. It worked. BPMN is now ubiqutous in industry. Could a similar approach drive a wider adoption of TRIZ?

Standards are important. A common look and feel, with well-defined semantics, and built on industry standards such as XML, would allow for the development of new or improved tools. Business leaders value such standards. They can provide the confidence they need to invest in tools and people and projects; that applications will be there to support them into the future.

The TRIZ community, however, were not ready for this cross-industry initiatie. Despite this, Smith and Burnett continued to write about and speak about the potential of TRIZ., a leading portal for BPM practitioners, played a key role in getting the TRIZ message out. A series of articles announcing and describing P-TRIZ were published by in 2006. A specification (Southbeach Notation 0.8) was published in 2008. An 0.9 specification, clarifying concepts and adding a number of new elements, was published in 2011.

  • The Elements of Southbeach Notation 0.9 (also via BPTrends)
  • The Elements of Southbeach Notation 0.8 (also via BPTrends)
  • Built on these proposed standards, Southbeach Modeller was developed and released to early adoptor clients in 2008.

    The early ideas for Southbeach Notation were drawn in the sand on South Beach, Miami, Florida, June 2005. The name was memorable and seemed to stick.

    P-TRIZ is now Southbeach

    A series of monthly articles by Howard Smith, written in 2006 and originally published by BPTrends, introduced TRIZ to the wider BPM community. They attempted to explain how a 'TRIZ inspired' notation could be used to improve business process design and enterprise architecture transformation by unifying the analysis (as-is, to-be, ideation) around a common visual diagram style. The term P-TRIZ was used to refer to the proposed approach. It would later be replaced by 'Southbeach Notation'.

    The final article in the series announced the availability of software support for Southbeach; the public release of Southbeach Modeller.

    Conference Presentations

    The slide presentations (PDF) below were presented at industry conferences. They set out a vision for the development of Southbeach Notation and for innovation management tools inspired by the ideas.

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