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Every so often we get a refresher on what’s important in being a leader, and it usually comes out of nowhere. My most recent lesson came from a river boat captain.

A case in point: A recent dev team partnership with a large river transportation company. This client added our dev talent to theirs and used it to improve a legacy system.

An integral part of our process is discovery. We had to become familiar, quickly with how barges move massive amounts of products and commodities.

What we learned about river transport was amazing. It was the time spent on the river with the barge captains themselves that really made an impact. It made me think about leaders, their roles, and how they make their companies successful.


It’s More Complicated Than It Looks

Coming from Memphis, TN, I’d watched barges move along the Mississippi, so I took for granted how complicated an operation it is.

When you understand how thousands of tons of goods load onto dozens of barges, all tie together, with their crews working together to reach an intended destination, it’s easy to see the parallels of these complicated flotillas with a typical company.


The Art of the Barge: It’s all connected

If you see a barge cluster moving up a river, it’s a network made up of smaller, individual barges, each bound together by cables and pushed by a tow boat.

Each barge operates as its shipping vessel, and standard sized barges carry up to 1,500 tons of goods and commodities. Tied together the largest barge clusters can push over 60,000 tons of goods with over 40 barges.

It’s a commodities flotilla.

As big as these flotillas are, if the crew doesn’t take care of its responsibilities, a barge could break free, sink, and jeopardize the entire fleet.

Your company is the same: it is made up of individual units, each with its agenda–people, departments, divisions. If one unit “breaks free” and pursues objectives that don’t align with your vision, it can jeopardize your company’s ability to reach its goal.

Better Together

Barges cabled together into floating networks can do much more together than they can on their own. These flotillas move mountains of commodities, but they couldn’t achieve economies of scale if the barges made single trips.

You could say the same about the departments in your company–especially your tech team.


Bound Together by Fate

Large barge flotillas are bound together by cables, there’s not a lot that stands between a strong barge network and a break. One loose barge can scuttle the whole flotilla.


Look for Loose Connections

Just like every crew member needs to know and carry out their role, so does everyone on your team. Watch performance and course correct.


The Tie On

The Commodities Flotilla is huge, and some companies will rent barge space to take advantage of economies of scale. Our client benefited because fewer barges go unused, making the flotilla more profitable; their customer benefits because they can move goods at a lower cost within the flotilla than they could as a single barge and tug.

Smart leaders do this with their companies as well.


Consider Software 

All the companies I work with have dev staff who create and maintain their internal software systems. With small adjustments, many systems can quickly be client-facing, generating new revenue streams.

Think about the software, systems, or machinery that are part of your business. Are there companies who could benefit from using them, while giving you more revenue?


One Captain

On every barge, each crew member must know his job and do it well for the sake of the flotilla. But the crew must also obey orders from their captain, even if it doesn’t make immediate sense. One captain.

Creating autonomy is a good company practice. As long as everyone knows who’s piloting the ship.


Measure Twice, Cut Once

With dozens of barges tied together, each weighing thousands of tons–turning on a dime is not easy. Maneuvering takes planning, time, and coordination.

Your company is no different. Plan for obstacles.

Key Takeaways

Moving scores of barges and thousands of tons of goods up winding, treacherous river systems is complicated and dangerous and requires experience, order, and precision. Know how the pieces of your tech team fit together and guide them.

Keep sight of what lies ahead, and the task at hand. Identify the turns and obstacles that could scuttle your company’s progress well in advance of reaching them (and take action with enough time to avoid them).

Facilitate cooperation to make the end goal possible. Make sure the leaders of each tech “barge” are working together and pushing the same direction.

Make a backup plan. Deal with unexpected challenges, and make sure there is strict adherence to your command.

Bring others along for the ride. Take advantage of your internal processes and systems, then package them into something for companies who want to leverage your economies of scale.


How can we help you reach your development goals?