Go Deeper on Problem Solving

Have you ever been in a canoe or small boat and noticed water at your feet? What did you do? Did you start by emptying out the water so your shoes and gear didn’t get wet, only to realise the water was not decreasing?

My husband and I had a situation like this about a year ago, canoeing on the creeks that lead into the Hawkesbury River in northern Sydney. Admittedly we hadn’t taken the canoes out for a while and one poor old canoe was a little worse for wear.

It wasn’t far into our journey that we realised the bit of water was turning into a lot of water and we had a significant leak. We urgently turned around and struggled to paddle back to shore, walking the last few metres in knee deep water dragging the waterlogged canoe behind us. Suffice to say, our canoe trip ended abruptly, and we set about looking for the crack that was letting in water.


It took some investigation to find the crack as it was along a join that wasn’t obvious. But we were proud of ourselves for finding it and then we had to decide the best way to repair it. We sought the advice of experts and had two options. One was very expensive but would result in a smart looking repair and a hydrodynamic canoe, but it was an old canoe for occasional leisure, so we chose the cheaper option and were happy for it to be a bit slower.


You might think that would be the end of the story, right? But alas no, our root cause analysis went one level deeper, and we asked the question “why did the crack form?”. There were several answers that came to mind: it could have been a weak spot, poor fabrication, or general aging. If it was either of the last two, we had to be sure there were no more leaks or potential leaks that would form next time we put the canoe in the water. However, if it was just a weak spot, we wondered was there a trigger for making it crack. We investigated both, firstly checking over the rest of the canoe joints to look for signs of weakness. Then we looked at how we were storing the canoe and how we were transporting it. If there was excess pressure being created, then perhaps we needed to revisit how it was stored. How often when a problem comes up at work do you only get as far as the repair, but neglect to look at the storage. Some companies spend their time baling out water and don’t even find the leak. Problem solving techniques employed consistently across an organisation can help teams uncover not just the ‘leaks’ but also the cause of the leaks, and set themselves up for smooth sailing.