Don’t move water that isn’t moving you


Wisdom from my 15-year-old daughter on rowing


I was returning from a rowing session with my daughter the other day, she rows for Marlow Rowing Club, and we were talking about the boat’s performance on the Thames during this recent session. She piped up “Daddy, I don’t understand why rowers don’t get the principle of ‘Don’t move water that isn’t moving you’

I thought this was a remarkable insight for a 15-year-old especially when I started thinking about my work. Fundamentally she was talking about effort expended and whether the team is rowing together in the boat. This generates frustrations when the team ‘is not a team’ in the boat and the coach, who is a key part of the team not in the boat.  And is not being listened to. Rowing, as Tim Foster Sydney Olympic Gold Medalist put it, is simple “… effort not in the horizontal plane is wasted effort”. So if you are not working as a team to ensure all the physical transfer of energy is put into the same horizontal water plane then you are moving water that isn’t moving you. Simples!!

How does this relate to business?  Well it is around understanding the role of the team and the continual communication of the objective and how it is going to be achieved.  To create the value. As Tim also went on to say in ‘Rowing Faster’ edited by Volker Nolte, “The psychology and team dynamics have to bring out the best of all elements within the crew. It is important that every member feels able to contribute not just physically but also mentally.” He then also goes on to discuss the importance of coaching and analysis to support the prioritization of improvement.

There are many principles of agile that could be aligned here and this is the one I have chosen “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

If the vertical slice of feature teams is not enacted, and aligned with the business value objective, then wasted effort will occur and you will start to focus on the ‘what’ and be in danger of losing focus on the ‘why’ or purpose and value of the work. In other words without end to end feature teams dynamically interacting with the business you will end up with waste – “don’t move water that isn’t moving you” – thanks Katarina, you’re a star!


photo credit: Eyesplash – let’s feel the heat

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