Solving 6-Year-Old Riddle in 2 Minutes

Practical Wisdom & Profitable Thinking

Leading to discovery of a sewn system flaw affecting all products, 2011

Whilst solving the service pain of a life-threatened customer

A Canoe Spray Deck is a flat fabric cover that sits on the canoe

A sprayskirt (#2) protects the paddler, held in place with a plastic hoop

The hoop fitting into two pockets, inside the forward hemline abutting the deck

A shoulder strap is used to smooth and lift the skirt fabric above the waist to reduce water pooling

A customer alleged that the hoop assembly failed during an Arctic solo expedition

Putting the customer--an expert Euro paddler and industry thought leader--at risk

Despite a 6-year history of complaints about the part, there did not appear to be an flaw

The Customer was dismayed that warranty was not being immediately honoured


Business Pain


Past flaw allegations not validated despite repeat inspections since at least 2006

When the deck arrived back, no one with design authority could spot an issue

But customer was a thought leader/expert in Euro market

In a position to affect brand reputation

Customer Pain

High-end, hand-sewn goods

Hard-to-obtain and replace by overseas customer

Dismayed that his experience was not validated

Dismayed with rising time and telephone calling cost


Quite simply, there did not appear to be a flaw

High-end, hand-sewn goods

Paddling is a luxury/desire-driven goods business

Small shop cashflow ability to service an overseas customer

Past flaw allegations not validated despite repeat inspections

Multilingual/multicultural communication challenges

Multiple messages back-and-forth (indirect through dealer, direct with customer)

Recession and its affect in internal spending

Investigative Action #1

Determining my responsibility

Decided that this was a Customer Service subject

As Customer Service Coordinator, decided it was my job to investigate

The customer was an expert, making the discrepancy puzzling to me

As I knew the customer’s complaint details, and think spatially...

I got on the workbench and “wore” the fabric assembly...

Finding the flaw in two (2) minutes

Using Spatial Skills to Discover . . .

. . . a complex flexible double-reverse 4-bar linkage web

The linkage could only be forensically discovered while the assembly was in use

Web node flowing from a ¼ cm fold misaligned off the Main-Fold-Line in Skirt/Hatch Hem

Following the Main-Fold-Line to the Shoulder Strap and Main-Skirt-Midriff-Hem

The misaligned Fold-Line then pulls the hem—-running up into the shoulder strap—off alignment

The Shoulder Strap reverse-torques the hem, and this corkscrewing motion pops hoop


The Stitch Flaw is the ¼ cm off-stitch, producing a ½ cm sewing misalignment

During the sewing sequence, the off-stitch gets hidden under the Skirt/Hatch Hem

The Skirt/Hatch Hem folds over at the foot of a zipper and velcroed flap along the skirt centerline

Investigative Action #2

Bringing this to Production Manager's Attention

He investigated further, tracing the flaw back to Production

And further back still...determining it was not a human production error

Cardboard patterns had long been used to save money

This practice had become ingrained in company culture

Hard pencils were used to trace patterns and these degraded the paper edges

Being a flexible material, pattern edges degraded over the life of the pattern

...creating a flawed pattern that was properly used by our seamstresses

...but a practice that inadvertently put a customer at risk

Investigative Action #3

Deep Forensic Investigation of Assembly

Production Manager and I brought this to Owner's attention

Owner directed us to mount the spraydeck assembly on a canoe

Findings confirmed during close re-inspection



Flaw tracing led back to the hidden root cause of degrading paper patterns

This root cause, by definition, affected all sewn products

Sprayskirt assemblies completely redesigned and upgraded

Company began converting patterns to plastic

Customer Relations

Resolving the cost and trust pain of a life-threatened customer

Transforming a respected thought leader into an elated customer

Customer received a spraydeck of the new design at no charge

And he promised to mention the good service across Europe

This forestalled damage to brand reputation during the recession