I have always been a fan of the way that Quebec creates a level playing field for young people. Regardless of one’s family circumstances, Quebecers go out of their way to give young people a chance at achieving their dreams. Having lived in and outside of Quebec, this attribute stands out more than any other, especially in Gatineau – from their sports and academia to culture and even politics.
In my mind, the biggest differentiator is the role of the community college (CEGEP). With 2-year pre-university, and 3-year career-oriented programs, students are provided with an opportunity to get a high-quality education that is within the reach of youth from even the most modest of backgrounds (about $400/year). Regardless of the program, all students are exposed to literature, philosophy, and even physical education. They finish programs with a college diploma and are ready to face the world with a well-rounded education (and in general, with extremely well-developed analysis and writing skills for their age).
In the interest of continuous improvement and innovation, Quebec has taken the role of the community college to the next level by creating the Collegiate Centres for Transfer of Technologies (CCTT). From modern farming to cybersecurity, a small business can partner with the colleges to innovate and be more competitive in their industry. This also provides students with the opportunity to get hands-on experience that is relevant to the career they are pursuing and allows professors to be more in tune with their respective industries. This creates a scenario where the education system has a more direct impact on the growth of the economy.
Becker-Carroll was one of the first companies in the Outaouais region to write a letter of support to have a cybersecurity CCTT established at our local CEGEP. We were happy to be there when the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, announced its launch. We have since become a customer, have used its students, and have found it to be a great resource. We have partnered with them on a self-sovereign identity research and development project, and we are even having discussions with them about setting up training programs for government and business around trust ecosystems. It is clear that the role of the community college has changed.
Lean approaches drive benefits far beyond their profit-driven, private-sector roots
I hear it often. “This
lean and agile stuff is cool, but it’s not really applicable to me.” “We’re not
a startup.” “We create programs, not products.” “We deliver government services.”
“We’re a non-profit.”
I have seen lean and agile approaches drive value in all of those cases and elsewhere. Not convinced? Here is an example that is about as “elsewhere” as you can get.
A small difference makes for great distance
I used to teach navigation using magnetic compasses and paper maps. Once someone asked, “Being off by one degree isn’t such a big deal, is it?” It can be a very big deal, as the impact of even a small error expands over time. For example, if two people leave the same point on headings one degree apart and walk only the length of a soccer field (100 meters), they will be roughly 1.75 meters (~5 feet, 9 inches) apart when the reach the end. That’s not much, but it’s enough to put someone on the wrong side of an obstacle depending upon the terrain. And if our travelers continued at a leisurely pace (typically near 5 km/hour), the distance between them would increase by over 87 meters every hour they walked. They would be more than 2 kilometers apart after one day.
It doesn’t take long for that small error to create a large problem for one of our travelers. Now, suppose they made a second minor error and became two degrees off. What if they had to work their way around an obstacle like a steep mountain or swamp and were put off course? Unchecked, the impact of every error grows, and each new error can exacerbate the impact of the ones that came before it.
For centuries, navigators have used a lean/agile approach to mitigate these risks. Periodically, experienced navigators ask themselves questions like “Do I know where I am?”, “Am I still moving toward the objective?”, and “Should we still be headed there?” They check their bearings to validate the hypothesis that they are still on course. They use maps, charts, and landmarks to determine their location. They observe their surroundings and the weather to determine whether their original objective is still the right objective. Sometimes they adjust their course toward a better objective, or away from a dangerous one. The modern GPS’ infamous “recalculating” message is evidence that even today’s high-tech navigators still use this approach.
Experiment, Inspect, and Adapt
Whether you are building incremental technology, a new program idea, or the next disruptive breakthrough, a similar approach can increase your odds of success. Learning from our navigators:
Run small experiments to validate your hypotheses (e.g.: Our program will achieve our objectives)
Experiment frequently since conditions may change
Inspect and adapt based upon what you learn to ensure you create something people will want
“Listen to” your data
The last is, perhaps, the most important of these.
“Firm commitments, weakly held”
If their charts and data tell them they are not where they should be, navigators don’t ignore it or try to explain away the evidence. They may validate their data if it is unexpected, but they are willing to believe their hypothesis was flawed or that some event beyond their control has changed their circumstances. They are able to overcome their own bias. Unfortunately, I have seen innovative people succumb to their own bias, ignore their data and their advisors, and run out of funding or have their program cancelled.
I am not claiming Magellan read the Agile Manifesto. However, I do believe that, regardless of whether you are a start-up or a large government agency – profit-focused or altruistic – the great work of lean and agile pioneers like Taiichi Ohno, Kent Beck, and Martin Fowler may be much more helpful to you than may be initially obvious.
About the Author
transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled
businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems,
deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and
delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural
network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest
private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.
As VP of
Strategy for a multi-billion dollar technology company he was responsible for
global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design
and operation of an innovative accelerator program.
George WattWhat Wilderness Navigation Taught Me About Lean Transformation
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