Galen Low is joined by Jon Brombley—Product And Operations Leader at Container Exchange Services—to share his experiences with rapid, relentless change and how he found a way to thrive within it.
- Jon came into digital project management 12 years ago. He was fortunate to work on some interesting digital projects. [2:12]
- Jon moved to a company called Albion, that specialized in innovation for corporates, but also involved a lot of startup work.
- More recently, Jon has worked with fast growth businesses in more operational product roles.
- Change is inevitable, and it’s a part of the world we live in. [6:51]
- Jon always enjoyed being at the forefront of change.
- The world is moving so fast, technology is moving so fast. Everything is changing at an ever-increasing pace.
- Jon likes solving problems before they come downstream.
- Most creative minds have been strategists or operational people who are able to pull things together almost out of nothing. [9:13]
- As a PM, it’s been frustrating to be plopped into the middle of change. [10:18]
- Jon realized that a lot of the things that he was solving were actually problems from upstream. [10:38]
- The principles of Agile are more than just doing the methodology. Getting upstream and doing the broader change piece is actually part of what drives the project to success. [11:20]
- Change management is a really important process and is certainly not a bad thing. But the change that Jon’s talking about is something much broader. [13:02]
- It’s about building businesses that are resilient and can step into the unknown, and to have that adaptability and that flexibility in a world that’s changing.
- We want to build businesses that are really strong and powerful, that are able to do what they do really well and efficiently.
- Having that agility and ability to sustain and survive change is actually one of the most important things you could have in a business or in a team or as an individual. [17:36]
Sometimes even just a simple curiosity can be a really powerful tool.Jon Brombley
- The future is a good thing to be embraced. [18:52]
- Having psychological safety in organizations is important to become successful.
- You need to create the conditions in which people are unafraid.
- There’s always people over process. [20:13]
- Not every change has value. [22:07]
- A lot of change that doesn’t stick is often the bigger stuff. [30:41]
The really important thing that often gets forgotten when people are talking about change is they think of organizations as machines.Jon Brombley
- There’s some really important things about viewing organizations and ecosystems. [31:53]
- They’re incredible complex things that are capable of incredible stuff.
- The other danger people fall into is when they see the end point, they start there, which is not a bad thing. [34:12]
- Ambition is really important. Being clear about where you want to go is really important.
- If you accept where you’re at, then you can start to understand what are the conditions you need to create in order to start growing in that direction to see that growth.
- An ecosystem’s job is to survive and not just do a thing but actually survive. [36:51]
In a lot of places, the incentive for most people is to survive.Jon Brombley
- If people are incentivized to demonstrate that mindset of forward thinking, of embracing change, that’s actually where you start to unlock. [38:22]
- If you can align those individual incentives with the broader business incentives and what the business is trying to do, that’s really powerful.
- Ideal organizations don’t exist. [39:39]
Learn how to build influence. Don’t just try and bring it under your control.Jon Brombley
Meet Our Guest
Jon builds and scale teams capable of delivering world-class Products. His experience across sectors and propositions allows him to thrive even in high ambiguity situations and get teams moving forward to execute effectively.
Learning what kind of leader you want to be along the way is really important.Jon Brombley
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Jon on LinkedIn
- Check out CES (Container Exchange Services)
Related articles and podcasts:
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: They say the pace of change has never been this fast, and it will never be this slow ever again.
That certainly rings true in the world of digital as we find ourselves engaged in projects that involve machine learning, extended reality, conversational design, and mission-critical, 5G-enabled solutions.
But all too often we set our sights on new horizons and create frameworks to enable agility without taking the time to understand whether the people we lead are set up to cope with the prospect of rapid, relentless change.
If you've been looking for better ways for you and your team to thrive within a continuously transforming playing field, keep listening. We're going to be peeling back the veneer of idealized change and discussing what it really takes to achieve business agility through your people.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with the Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
All right. Today we are talking about the relentless, continuous change that seems to characterize the digital space and how individuals and businesses can build the skills to work effectively within that change without losing our humanity.
With me today is Jon Brombley, a product and operations leader whose journey has taken him through leading projects at fast-paced agencies to leading the ops strategy for ventures in hyper growth mode.
Jon Brombley: Hey, how you doing?
Galen Low: Doing well. Great to have you on the show. You're enjoying a lovely day in Sydney, Australia. I am jealous.
Jon Brombley: Yeah, it's a beautiful day here and it's nice early morning as well. So all good.
Galen Low: So, we're conquering the time zone problem already. We're already adapting to change. I'm really excited to dig into this.
I'm really fascinated by your background. I know a bit about you. I was wondering if you could tell our listeners a bit about yourself, how you've managed to get a lot of different experience under your belt, and also just like your journey through different types of projects and products and initiatives that you've been a part of in the past.
Jon Brombley: Yeah, of course. So I'll start with kind of project management. It was quite a circuitous route into project management in the first place, which probably gives some inclination as to, you know, why I'm maybe not the kind of classic project manager and haven't necessarily followed that classic path that a lot of the things I've done have sort of been weirdly interrelated and done all sorts of kind of different stuff along the way.
But yeah, I kind of came into digital project management I guess 12 odd years ago, maybe a few more, I can't remember. Lost in the midst of time. So I was really fortunate to work on a bunch of really interesting digital projects on and offline projects actually as well at the same time.
So through the line campaigns worked for some really interesting agencies. Got to deliver a bunch of really exciting work, which was lots of fun. And then started to, I guess, become more immersed in kind of bigger kind of product builds. So, you know, the kind of bigger websites or bigger kind of digital apps, that kind of stuff, so I was project managing those.
Then I moved to a place called Albion, which really kind of specialized innovation for corporates, but also a lot of kind of startup work. Super exciting. And there, I guess I kind of really got into and dug into kind of particularly new product development, but alongside new product developments. So even when you're developing, whether it's digital products, services, sometimes even new brands and businesses, you know, you're doing a lot of the kind of change work around that.
It's not just here's a thing. It's like, how does that succeed in an organization? How do you help organizations to change the way they work in order to deliver this stuff? You know, for a corporate that's always done one thing, you know, how do they suddenly chunk of them at least start doing something almost completely different in a totally new way.
So what would've been called digital transformation, agile, all those things. But really around that kind of thing of doing new products, bringing new stuff to market, you know, especially for some of the kind of bigger businesses. How do you almost disrupt yourself, you know, get ahead of the curve on that stuff.
And then, after that so it was managing director of the business, led some really great projects there, and then more recently have worked with kind of fast growth businesses as you kind of mentioned in more kind of operational product roles. So really looking at, as you're going through rapid growth, as you've got this kind of product market fit, or you're kind of striving for that, pursuing a bunch of different things, how do you then grow the capability of a team to deliver good product really consistently to a really high level and often with a bunch of unknowns.
So as you double in size, there's like all sorts of stuff that you encounter, whether that's global growth, whether that's propositional stuff that doesn't scale, whatever it is. Like there's all this stuff that's happening super fast and I think, you know, I really enjoyed, and you can kind of see that through thread, I guess from the beginning of like, this makes me sound very old, but when I was back as a project manager working out like, what we could do on Facebook with a Facebook game.
Can we do this thing like it was totally unknown technology at that point, and you're going, oh, okay, well can we do this? What about this new constantly problem solving? And actually, you know, that through thread then tracks all the way through to, you know, my more recent work, where you're going actually at scale, when you're going 100 to 200 people or 200 to 400 people, like this is moving really fast.
Like we think the growth curve's gonna take this, but like that rely, if we double our marketing spend, does that mean double the customers? You know, we're gonna find that out along the way. So, yeah, so I guess that's a little bit about me and the kind of wild ride of stuff that I've done.
Galen Low: I really like that progression through like that feverish pace of agency life. We know it moves fast, we know it's kind of disorganized. There's a lot of ambiguity, but then really moving that into a bit of a strategy, right? Like disrupting ourselves, being uncomfortable so that we can develop the best stuff that we can. Being nimble about it then getting into this like hyper growth mindset where to your point, if we double this, does it double that?
What else are we gonna run into? But this like thread of steel running all the way through of just this constant feverish change. Almost like running straight at it instead of running away from it. And then finding yourself in this position where you're like, cool. Also, we need to get other people comfortable with it cuz not everybody is super comfortable with the pace of change as we see it in initiatives like you mention.
That's very cool.
Jon Brombley: Exactly.
Galen Low: I think you kind of have answered the next question, really already. But you know, we've been chatting a lot about change and it strikes me that change is something that you are really passionate about and I thought we could dig into like, why? Why is change something that you feel passionately about?
Why are you that person who's like, let's try this new Facebook thing and see what we can do.
Jon Brombley: Yeah, I think I wasn't always that way. It's funny, isn't it, how that kind of develops, you know, as I look back at probably getting into that stuff, it was like slightly terrifying. But I think I was fortunate to be like thrown in the deep end on a bunch of things and realize that actually I really enjoyed the challenge of having been thrown in, now you've gotta swim.
So I think there's a natural inclination to kind of do that stuff. And also, you know, I would recognize over that time. I've been really fortunate to be exposed to all sorts of stuff. And actually that experience you gain helps you realize there's a bunch of stuff that's like pattern matching. So you're like, oh, I've seen something like this before. And sometimes it's not even something even related, but you build up that stuff, but you get better at it. You get better, more comfortable with like, actually this is really ambiguous.
But I think in terms of my kind of passion for why I think change is really good to embrace. I think it's all around us, you know, technology. And especially if we've chosen to go into, you know, technology as a sector or you know, software or digital, you know, the pace of change is huge. It's insane to think that, you know, when we're talking about Facebook games and not really knowing about, that's like 10 years ago.
That's nothing like, you know, in lots of industries, nothing would've changed in 10 years. And actually here we are, like, who could have thought you'd be talking about like, TikTok influencers and your TikTok influencers strategy. I mean, you know, even YouTube was super nascent then. Like that's crazy to kind of think about that world.
So change is super rapid and it's happening to us whether we like it or not, in my view anyway. And I think society's changing as well, and that shows no signs of abating in terms of customer expectations, in terms of what people are doing then how people are interacting with technology, how they're embedding that with their, in their lives.
Like all of that stuff is happening so fast. And so I think you said about it, you know, facing into it, you know, when I see a problem, I'm like, my instinct is just like, right. Okay. I'm gonna solve it, I can solve it or we can solve it. But I guess I have that front mentality, you know? So I think it's really important to kind of embrace that and I think there's a real joy in embracing it.
And also I think there's a real creativity in that as well. I think, you know, throughout the work that I've done, I actually really enjoy that creative aspect and you know, especially if you've come from an agency background, creative is often thought of as like people who concept up staff. And that's an incredible skill and an incredible part of creativity.
But I think some of the most creative minds I know have been strategists or operational people who just see through, who are able to like almost out of nothing, pull things together. And I think that's the kind of creativity that I find super inspiring cuz that actually is enabling often a bunch of other creative visions as well, you know, sometimes is a bit better, but I think that's super exciting.
So I think, you know, when you're on the front that stuff, your ability to get into those situations where there's like super cutting edge, really interesting creative thought. It is really there and I love that. So, yeah.
Galen Low: I like that notion of embracing change is actually creative. And actually I was thinking about what you were saying about your journey and your career.
And it strikes me that starting out in project management, a lot of the time change happens to us, and it strikes me that what you have done is actually not just run towards change, but in a way have gotten in front of it. I'm just wondering, was that on purpose? Was there a point in your life where you're like, you know what, I need to get ahead of the change instead of being behind it.
Jon Brombley: As I look back, I think I've always been a systems thinker. I've always thought in terms of like, what's wrong, what's broken? How do you fix that? I think that led actually to me being a very frustrated project manager. You know, if any of the old account managers who worked with me are watching, you know, I apologize. Probably very frustrated a lot of the time.
So, but I think actually that was, you know, an important experience because actually what I realized was a lot of the problems or lot of a things that I was having to solve were actually problems from upstream. Where problems that were like the consequence of something else happening or not happening, or an understanding not being there.
So I think a lot of what I've done in terms of pushing myself what has been about how do you make stuff better? And actually a lot of the time that's getting upstream. So as a project manager you might be having a terrible conversation with a client about, you know, an agile project having gone off track and they're expecting set deliverables and you're expecting agile and like, I remember those types of conversations, you know, painful.
But actually if you've spent that time and you've spent that time with the client really talking through what are the principles of Agile, is this even right for the project? Like, is this the way we want to deliver it? Like what's a must do? What's not a must do? How do we do? It's more than just doing the methodology actually that getting upstream and doing that kind of, I guess what I'd call the broader change piece is actually part of what then drives that kind of project success.
So I think that's really where the kind of genesis of, I guess my whole career came from is really being like, if we've got a problem here, is there something we can do upstream to solve that? And I think in doing that, you get that opportunity to, you know, have control of some things to shape that change, to think, well actually, what do I want this to be?
How do I want this to run? What can I do? What can I move? And also, you know, what stuff can't I? What stuff am I encountering that like my idealistic brain is going, no, it should be like this. But actually there's some really big realities that maybe if you're not upstream, you don't realize. And actually by pushing towards those and getting towards those, you start to go, actually, some of this is just difficult.
I might actually have to compromise on this. That's totally fine.
Galen Low: Cool. I love that. I love this notion of getting upstream, this creative problem solving that is kind of a tool to leverage and use within change. And something you mentioned, and I wanted to just kind of tee it up and level set for our listeners as well, because we started talking about change and a popular topic with this listenership is actually change management.
But in a way I think we're creeping beyond that like, is your passion for change about something bigger than just managing change?
Jon Brombley: Yeah, I think change management is a really important process and it has a bunch of tools and is certainly not a bad thing. But for me, I guess the change I'm talking about is something much broader and I think, you know, when I'm thinking about it, I'm thinking about it in terms of how do you build businesses that are resilient to change and have that adaptability and that flexibility in a world that's changing, like how do you help prepare for change coming? And part of that is like, being ready now before you get disrupted, but also, you know, getting ahead of it yourself.
I was thinking about this the other day and it's, I'm gonna use terrible sports analogy. Sorry, I did actually warn you that I might dip into these, but uh, this is probably the best one I've got. So, but I think, you know, a lot of businesses, a lot of kind of corporate businesses are a bit like a bodybuilder or a power lift. They're really good at the thing they do. They're really strong.
They're super optimized to that. But then, you know, if someone says, well, the rules of the game have changed and now you need to play tennis, suddenly like that's no good anymore. Like no longer optimized for that. And actually, I think, you know, we want to build businesses that are really strong and powerful, that are able to do what they do really well and really efficiently.
But there's a danger of, if we presume that's just going to be it forever. That we don't think about actually, how would we adapt? How will we respond when the rules change? How will we, you know, respond to changing customer expectations to a competitor that we didn't even think was a competitor? You know, a lot of the kind of stuff people think about and industries that get disrupted are often not disrupted by another competitor in the category.
The whole thing changes. The whole game changes. And so when I'm talking about change, I'm talking about more about building businesses with a level of adaptability built into them. So both a kind of a ability to think through the future and kind of strategize about that, but also to deliver it as well to, you know, not get too entrenched in a set of behaviors, in a set of ways of working.
And actually, you know, I'm not saying you'd want to just create change for change state, but there is something to be said for, you continually thinking like how do we optimize, how do we grow even what we currently have and change and maybe respond to new tools or, you know, and you look at, it's really interesting, you know, you go through a global pandemic, like shocked everyone into this new ways of working.
And suddenly a bunch of objections that classically would've been in big corporate businesses about you can't work from home. No one can do their job remotely, nothing's possible, suddenly like just get swept away by an external factor. And it's really interesting, like something like that is super interesting and you know, I think we're still working out what that means in the longer term? But what it shows is like often stuff can be changed more than you realize.
And actually a lot of the tools that already exist are possibly just not being used very well or whatever it is. So actually, you know, it's really interesting, like even something like that can come along and you know, get people thinking in a different way. Obviously lots of downsides to it as well. I'm not suggesting it was a good thing, but that kind of shock to the system sometimes can be incredibly enlightening in terms of, I guess, you know, what happens next.
So yeah, when I'm talking about change, I'm talking about that broader piece of change. You know, change management is an amazing skill. I've worked with some great people who are very good at then, you know, how do you see that through? What are the ways in which you operationalize that? You spread that through an organization, you know, how do you track that?
How do you track progress against that if you've got a big change goal, like how are you tracking out stuffs? So there's a bunch of stuff that's really important along, so that, but that for me is always, you know, the tooling side of ultimately a bigger piece, which is how do we get this business moving forward, but in a way that allows us to be much more nimble, much more agile.
Galen Low: I really like that. I like the word business agility sort of comes to mind thinking about something you said earlier, especially about methodology, right? Humans, we kind of psychologically are wired to clinging, to stability, and resist change, but often that would be our downfall. And then something you said earlier, which is like, you know, don't just do the methodology like question it upstream.
Agile might not be the right approach. And the whole reason why we have Agile frameworks is to be nimble. And yet here we are at the precipice of just saying, oh, agile must be the thing and it's gonna stay the same, and let's cling to the stability and never change. Because now we've figured it out. Look through history and be like, no, that's kind of dumb.
Like we need to always be creatively thinking about what's changing around us and disrupting ourselves and being ready for change. Because to your point, we don't always pick the time. It might not be a competitor in your space. The ground underneath you might shift. There might be a global pandemic.
Having that agility and disability to sustain and survive change is actually one of the most important things you could have in a business or in a team or as an individual. Which I think maybe that's a good segue to just kind of lift the lid on this because we're talking about change. We're talking about constant, relentless, rapid change, you know, an environment of continuous change.
And we're also talking about, you know, having the right mindset to kind of accept that and thrive within that instead of being decimated by it. Do you have any thoughts on like, what those ingredients are? Like what are the characteristics of a team or an organization that is set up to thrive within relentless and rapid change?
Jon Brombley: It's interesting you mentioned there in the question even that mentality piece. And I think that there's a big part of, you know, being set up as a team in an organization, which is that sense of front foot, that not being scared of it, not being afraid of what's gonna come down and being ready to embrace it.
I think, you know, whenever we'd go into organizations and do this kind of work, we were often looking for those people who were like, yeah, I'll try some. You know? Yeah. I'll try, try something new. Like just an openness and a, sometimes even just a simple curiosity can be a really powerful tool actually, in terms of that.
So I think, I'm always looking for people to have that kind of sense that the future is a good thing to be embraced. And part of that is that kind of notion of psychological safety. You know, you talk about that in organizations being successful. I think that's one of the reasons it's so important because pushing into the future is ambiguous and therefore will have failure in it.
So actually you need to create the conditions in which people are unafraid. They aren't, you know, worrying for their jobs or how you know what's gonna happen. And we are prepared to have that sense of, as you move forward. If there's something's not right or whatever, you have that kind of curiosity like, okay, what's not worth, what do we learn from that?
That continuous learning culture I think is really important and I think that for me, that kind of mindset, that kind of sense that we are all in this and we feel like we can push into the unknown together is really important. I think, you know, far above any other process, you know. I think we get attached to process cuz it's an easy thing for us to kind of get ourselves and be like, right, well okay, this must be the thing.
And the reality is like it isn't the thing. And even if it is now, it might not be in the future as you said, like, but also, you know, our context is so different and you know, you go to Silicon Valley startup, they probably don't do Scrum. But they're also a Silicon Valley startup and they're doing a certain thing in a certain way, you know, versus maybe a big bank corporate who are like there are agile framework in itself its like terrifying.
So it's like that might be the way to do it because actually that's a relatively structured way of doing something that gives them, takes a step towards that. So I think as I say that, that mentality is really the kind of thing. So it's always, for me, the phrase, there's always people over process because, you know, it's easy to think we need to go and do this thing.
And actually it's that mentality of we will embrace what's coming. That is much more important. And then I think beyond that, when you're looking at a team kind of organization, you know, who potentially are facing change or need to think about change, I always think like, where can you start? Like, okay, let's just get going, get some momentum into this.
And that doesn't have to be huge. I think there's a danger whenever we think about change, and there's nothing wrong with that being ambitious like, probably get the sense, you know, I love big wholesale change seeing massive, you know, impact of like totally reworking stuff. Love that. But actually, like a lot of that ambition starts with like really simple stuff.
You know, it could be refactoring a couple of meetings to give people some time back or be more efficient, or show some of the principles, you know, stand up. Really good example an artifact from Scrum, or actually probably technically not, but whatever. You kind of from Agile anyway, but like it isn't just having a standup, it's like what's really good about it?
Well, you create instant visibility with no discussion of status and then let people self-manage. Right? Okay. Well that might be the thing we do. We might just go for 10 minutes every day, the team are gonna go round and just create visibility. Now I've also been in standups that have been long status meetings and I've had to set alarms and all sorts to stop that happening.
You know, a standup in itself doesn't solve the problem, but actually like if you're prioritizing like and talking to people, look, this is what we wanna do. We want to create visibility. This is the purpose of this. So let's try this. Let's try it. And if it does that thing, if you've got that kind of thing that you're trying to do and it's starting to do it and people can see that, rather than it just being like, oh, right now we have to give a data update in a meeting, you know, that stuff can be really important.
So it's about if you make good changes and people start to see the value of them. And I think that's really important because not every change has value and sometimes even in the stuff that I do, I know I'm not right a hundred percent of the time for sure. Like there's changes you think, ah, this would be really good cause I've seen it work here.
It just doesn't work. It doesn't stick with the team, it doesn't fulfill that need. But actually if you're going, you know, with a team, like, okay, well can we try this thing? And does it work? If it works, it has value, it sticks, then great. Then you can start thinking about the next iteration of change. You can start thinking about, okay, well, what's the bigger change?
And you build that trust as well. And I think, you know, I talked about that kind of mindset for change, that psychological safety. I think for me it's really important as I'm going in, you know, being an agitator for change, to be demonstrating a lot of those things, which is you know, I'm prepared to fail. I'm prepared to be open.
I'm prepared to be challenged, and I'm prepared to be curious about this stuff. I'm not coming in and saying, right, got my textbook out, right? You guys need to do these four things. Let's go. That's not the approach I'd want to take. It is like, let's say people over process. It's like working with people to say, look, here's what I think will be really valuable.
Here's why I think it would be valuable. What do you think? Can we give it a well, like there's nothing wrong with trying stuff, you know, and give it a well, but four weeks or two weeks or whatever it is, and see where we go. And I think when you're talking about this kind of wholesale change, it's easy to think big structural changes and those can be really important.
That's not against that. I've done those times when it's really important to totally refactor stuff but actually sometimes it's as simple as, you know, helping a team week to week, communicate better, collaborate better, create more visibility. And that then actually enables them to do their roles better, which enables them, you know, when one person learns from a piece of information on a Monday, it isn't three weeks later that it gets surfaced.
It's actually the next day in that standup and actually like that, that organization that's ready for rapid change. Cause changing information gets disseminated really quickly. So I think, you know, it's easy to think, as I say about this kind of big change, but I think often it's those small changes and laddering those up and building those up and letting those kind of, I guess, spread through an organization, hopefully through that building that kind of momentum and that ability of people to get that mindset and be thinking front for actually, yes, we can do this.
Yes, we can embrace ambiguity. Yes, that's fine. Yes, I'm safe in my job if I try something new or think creatively about a problem or you know, suggest that, oh, this process actually blocks us rather than helps us, can we do that? You know, that kind of mentality is super important.
Galen Low: I've got this picture coming into my head of like these concentric circles that create a environment where people can be on the front foot, and that's kind of what it's all about.
It doesn't have to be massive change. It can be small and incremental, but it all has to work together. And everyone has to understand that it's not the structures and the mechanisms and the tools that make these things work. They are tools to allow folks to be on the front foot and feel safe to be on the front foot and to be able to fail and get up again and know that's part of it because the change is iterative.
And by the way, if we're not failing, we're probably not pushing the envelope far enough. And meanwhile, there is this risk that we run that we're probably all in some ways at the brink of running into, which is just that, okay, well if someone wrote the manual, then now that's safe now. If there's a Scrum framework for me that I can follow rigidly and never change, and that's perfect. That's great.
But actually these are just tools to help us get comfortable with the idea and to create environments where there is the safety, psychological or otherwise to just be on the front foot and run towards it, rather than shrinking back into, okay, we'll just keep doing the same thing we do every day because routine is safe. But it's not necessarily the thing that's going to breed that business agility.
Jon Brombley: Yeah, and I think the other thing that maybe has helped me in terms of getting into that mindset a little bit more is, you know, take something like Scrum, for example, potentially great for a software team working on a particular type of problem, even if that framework works for them, that's great, but that doesn't work in the rest of the business necessarily.
So you can say, well, that's gonna be our central methodology for our cross-functional teams. Great. And that can be really effective, but like, how does regulatory work with that? You know, I don't want my lawyer like deciding that they're gonna deliver a contract Agile. Like it's not gonna work, like I need them to be on top of that and not just like sending through, you know, iterations now and again that we may or may not sign.
It doesn't work like that. A lot of the work I've been fortunate to do has enabled to step outside the software space as well, which therefore gives you that like, okay, so what does agility mean in a broader sense? How do I, a regulatory team on a piece of software to interface with the product team in a way that's super productive, that fulfills their need in terms of like, they've got stuff they've gotta make. Like otherwise, it doesn't matter whether do we ship out the door or not. Like if we get shut down, then you know, that's the end of it anyway.
So, you know, how do you help those two things work together? So yes, you might have Scrum working in one place, but actually then what you need is you need a regulatory team.
How do you help them have that mindset of like, you know, problem solving together, getting ahead of that stuff, thinking stuff through as a group, collaborating coming it early, working through problems, talking about risks, talking about the kind of understanding also in the product life cycle we are, what position are we in?
Like, but then also for a scrum team, like what artifacts are we gonna need to still produce actually to fulfill certain obligations? You know, if you work in highly regulated industries, it's no good, you know? I've done both sides of this. In fact, the two last businesses will probably far opposites from one way you could like think of an idea and the next day have it stick an experiment up in your latest version in the app store.
Don't just smoke test it fine through to like, if you release something, it has to be sure that it's medically safe, like those are two totally different extremes and necessitate two quite different ways of working. So I think, yeah, as you said, it's like it's easy to think this is the way forward, or this is our rule book, and there's nothing wrong with like having some frameworks in place.
I love frameworks. But what you often realize, I think especially, again, very fortunate to step into lots of different situations, it's like it's often not the framework itself that is the thing. In fact, it definitely isn't the framework. That's the thing. It's, if that gives structure to really important work, and that works a structure that's fantastic.
And there are things at work, it's like, you know, if you're building a bridge, there are certain engineering principles that are super important to follow, otherwise it falls down. And, you know, I'm not suggesting the structure, you know, from a kind of a process point, it isn't important to exactly help support those things we need to happen.
But actually that is not the end. That is only ever the means by which we are working. So it should always be open to change. It should always be open to optimization and also maybe look very different in different contexts. And you know, success might be different in different contexts.
Galen Low: I think context is such a important word there because you were talking earlier about understanding the context of change. Like you could be on the front foot, like totally open to change, but not understanding the world around you and what that change impacts. And obviously in a lot of folks who've been like, oh, I wish that, you know, I wish that we could just do this, make this change really fast, and you know, why are we so bloated and slow and we should be changing every day without realizing that yes, for example, to your point, they work within a highly regulated industry. There is necessary red tape. There is physical consumer safety. There is, you know, just other reasons why an organization might not be structured to change all the time.
But to your point in actually following your career path, like as you get more upstream, and maybe not even like your role, but your perspective of understanding an organization and you know the product it's creating and why it kind of contextualizes that change and why things are the way they are.
And getting from that point where you're like, this isn't imperfect, why can't we do this thing? To being like, okay, now I know my parameters and can be creative within that, which is probably the more important thing. And probably the theme that we keep coming back to about what change is. It's not just shooting from the hip all the time, but it's, you know, making appropriate change and having the right structures and tools to enable that change, even if those structures and tools aren't in and of themselves to solutions.
I wonder if we could talk about change can be done wrong. And as we know, a lot of organizations kind of suck at change and they fail at it. And I was just wondering, are there any other sort of common reasons why you see people and organizations fail at being adaptable to change time and time again?
Jon Brombley: Yeah, so I suppose we have touched on this, a lot of the kind of ethos of how I kind of approach change and that kind of people centered stuff. I think, you know, a lot of change that doesn't stick is often the bigger stuff where someone's like, we're doing a thing, it doesn't get seen through, or like it doesn't resonate, or, I don't know. There's a bunch of factors around that. I think for me, the really important thing that I think often gets forgotten when people are talking about change is they think of organizations as machines.
And actually even when you talk about, when you actually get interesting, when you look at a lot of the kind of framework, they almost like use a factory analogy. And yes, it's a factory operating scrum and super, but ultimately it's like, it's a factory analogy, which is like everyone has a job, it is defined.
Here's the thing, da. But we're gonna have lots of them doing maybe slightly different things in an agile way, but ultimately, like it can be quite structured, you know, even if you talk about things like value streams, a lot of the kind of more academic layer on that, you know, uses sort of factory style analogies and I think it just doesn't represent what a modern business is now. Because actually when you are in the knowledge economy and it's no longer about like moving something from A to B, it's like from A to, you know, who knows where. I think the analogy I prefer is much more of an ecosystem.
And there's some really important things about viewing organizations and ecosystem, I think so. Firstly, like they're incredible complex things that are capable of incredible stuff, which is great. Like there's that kind of positive thing where you know, if something happens, you know, tree falls, something new grows like, I think that organizations are incredible for that kind of adaptability and that when stuff happens, new stuff happens, stuff goes away and people rise the challenge or whatever it is, like, I think there's something great about that.
There's also an inherent complexity to that, which is like, it's not as simple as you put A do B, you get C. It just isn't that. It's like actually there's more around, like you change certain conditions and certain things will thrive, but that change might actually cause you know, a slightly different piece of the environment to not survive in the same way or not to thrive in the same way.
So be thinking I think a lot more like a gardener or you know, whatever. I'm not a very good gardener, so this is where my analogy gets really bad probably. But think of it, this kind of ecosystem, you start to realize like actually small changes that you think will cause one thing. You know, you've gotta kind of observe the results a little bit.
You've gotta kind of see how that's gonna play through, because what really works for one area might not work for another. And actually that's okay because we're complex individuals and we bring ourselves to work and we have a bunch of stuff going on and. But, and that's the thing with the knowledge economy, you are, is ultimately a group of individuals at its component parts.
Yes. You know, if you're managing a thousand person, 2000, 10,000 person organization, one single person, maybe a small percentage of that, but it still adds up. Like it's still those individual decisions, those individual mindsets that become organizational change at wholesale way. You know, and where you see organizations who are very good at that, they often have a very strong culture.
You know, people talk a lot about culture, but I think that's what it is. Both in terms of attracting, identifying and hiring the people suitable for that culture, but also then, you know, bringing people along that way. Essentially you're going, this is the ecosystem. You fit in with it and you thrive. If you don't.
Yeah. So I think organizations are often thinking about that kind of end goal and think about a series of mechanized changes rather than how do we grow towards that? And I think, you know, you've probably got that sense talking about that kind of iterative way, and that can still be pretty radical. And sometimes you need to chop a tree down and be like that's gotta go, like that's fine. But being really clear about the fact that has other stuff to it and other knock on effect.
And I think, you know, if you think about the kind of organization as an ecosystem, the other danger I think people fall into is they sort of see the end point and they start there, which is not a bad thing in terms of like, ambition is really important. Being clear about where you want to get to is really important. But I think there often isn't the consequent acceptance of where people around. And being real about that and being real about what an organization is really optimized for. You know, it's really interesting, like, you know, sometimes organizations are really optimized for a thing, whether you like it or not.
Now that can be really functional, you know, you can have really great sales-driven organizations who are like, you know, ultimately numbers focus and they're just really effective. And like, to be honest, if you haven't got a number on it, no one's interested and that's optimized. Now, that may not be what you need for like doing this big, long term, long burn strategic change, but that's still where you are at.
You've got to kind of be honest about that because actually if that is the way things thrive in your environment, then trying to suddenly go like, oh no, we're gonna do this long term R&D project. It's two years da. Suddenly feels like totally counterintuitive to people because people are like, well, it's not delivering any revenue.
You know, I'm judged on revenue. Like I'm, you know, month to month, day to day. Like, people are ringing a bell. What? Like, who's this guy in the corner who's got like six months before he even has to show anyone anything? So I think if you accept where you are at, then you can start to understand what the conditions are you need to create in order to start growing in that direction to see that growth, you know?
And there's obviously the ability to bring teams in, to bring external people in to like change stuff quite rapidly if you want to. And I've seen that work really effectively. But ultimately, I think, organizational health that needs to still ultimately be an acceptance of where you are, an ambition for where you want to get to, and really sensitive, if that's the right word, plan for like actually what are we prepared to do?
What do we need to do? What big changes might we need to make? Do we need to make those now? How are we gonna train stuff in that direction? And that's where I think a lot of organizations get it wrong actually is they sort of go, right, we're agile now, and they start there and everyone's like, well, we don't even know what that means.
Like, and you know, I've been there as well, like I've given talks to people on like scrum methodology and they're looking at me like, cool, that thanks. Like I work in finance, how would you apply this to like the processing of supplier invoices? I'm like, that probably just wasted an hour of your time.
Sorry. Good to know though. You know, good to be abreast of it, but like that just is, know, so I think it's easy to sort of go, we're gonna do a thing, because that's the big, bold statement and that's important. But actually that seeing that through really starts with that acceptance of where you are and really pushing from there.
Galen Low: I really like that. And I think the other interesting thing in terms of your line of thinking is this notion of, you know, machines and ecosystems. And I think humans, we like machines because they're designed to do a job, but in a way, an organization or a team, yes, it's meant to do a job, but when you look at it from the perspective of an ecosystem's job is to survive and not just do a thing but actually survive.
Even if a tree falls over, like we need to keep going. And starting from a point and then going to a point, right? And an ecosystem does not just immediately transform. And we've got these, you know, buzzwords and misunderstood concepts about agility and change. Being instant and just needing to have a North star without actually like understanding where we're at and meeting people where they're at. Now, I think that's really cool.
Jon Brombley: Yeah, I think a lot of the stuff I, I kinda work with, you know, a lot of the time I'm looking at what are the incentives in this any given situation. And I don't necessarily mean just financial incentives, but ultimately like how are people incentivized by embracing this change?
And you know, in a lot of places the incentive for most people is to survive. Like keep their head down, you know, keep doing what they're doing. Definitely don't get seen as like doing something wrong or too crazy or being a wild card. Like that's a bad thing. So, you know, they're actually just trying to survive and you know, if this bunch of changes comes in, a lot of the time they're working out how do I just doing kind of as sufficient as possible given all this stuff that's happening and I'm gonna try and, you know, protect what I've got for as long as possible.
And like, actually that explains a lot of people's resistance to change. So, you know, coming back to that thing I said about mindset. If people are incentivized to demonstrate that mindset of forward thinking, of embracing change, that's actually where you start to unlock. Because actually then people are like, oh, actually like this benefits me. I can see how this benefits me. So if you can align those individual incentives with the kind of broader business incentives and what the business is trying to do, I think that's really powerful.
Galen Low: I think it ties back to what you were saying about, you know, culture as well, right? In a culture where putting your head down is survival, that's what people will do.
In a culture where actually adapting and moving forward is what's gonna be survival, then that's what's gonna happen as well. So I think that's important. I just wanted to round out with this, because earlier you mentioned about how you were a frustrated project manager, right? And it can be really frustrating as a project manager or someone who's just not like necessarily in control of change or the way that change happens.
But now that you are where you are, what advice would you give to your younger self about understanding change and how it works?
Jon Brombley: Yeah. Well I think it's interesting, a lot of the stuff that I've said so far is the learning on that journey I think, from a very idealistic place of, you know, if we can just do this thing, it'll be fine.
It'll all be different, which has some truth in it. But I think, you know, I go back and thing that I probably didn't realize is these ideal organizations just don't exist. You know, talked about the kind of fame Spotify model, Spotify don't even use or certainly, you know, stopped using. It's like you read all this stuff and it's easy to kind of get into it and be like, right, we need to work like this.
And you know, you read Empowered and you read whatever, and you're like, oh, this is the way it works. Like in Silicon Valley it'll work here. And actually a lot of the time those ideal organizations don't really exist. Or like, some of them are like the one percenters or the probably even smaller than one percenters.
And actually like, it probably isn't right for the context you are in. So even then, you know, there's a lot of stuff we can learn. I'm very positive about absorbing all this information, but I think I'd go back and I'd be like, look, it's okay. There's no perfection. And the other thing is also when you start becoming responsible for all this stuff and all these factors that suddenly you don't have to consider as a project manager, you get this empathy as like, oh, okay, actually some of these leadership decisions are actually really difficult.
I think, I guess my advice going back to me would be like to absorb, still continue to absorb that stuff, to continue to strive for change. I think that's really important. I think also learning what kind of leader you want to be along the way is really important.
I think, you know, I was very fortunate to work with some, you know, really good change forward leaders and soaking that in the way they conduct themselves, the way they talk to people, the way that they operate, like was hugely important. I think that's one of those things, like you can feel like you're at the kind of end of a convey belt actually sometimes to project manager who just being handed all this stuff comes down the line, but actually like that learning, that understanding that building is really important.
And then, I think one of the things I probably didn't realize was like, actually you do have some stuff in your control and you know, if you go back the ecosystem, it might be a small part and actually it may be you can't affect certain parts of it, but there are things within your control. Actually, you do have the ability to change certain things.
And I'm probably a bit more zen about it now and maybe because I actually have more in my control. Maybe I actually haven't solved that room problem. But I think you talk about, it's a kind of cliche, but to control the controllables. And I think as a project manager, the more you can understand that and separate that stuff out and go, okay, right, this stuff isn't working and I'm gonna try to change it.
Actually, really good exercise I've done with a team that was struggling was concentric circles. You're in the middle, stuff you can control. Now as project manager, that might be relatively small, but you can get that stuff and then you've got stuff you can influence. And I think that probably for me, going back, I'd be like, actually the stuff you can influence, learn how to influence it.
Learn how to build influence. Don't just like try and bring it under your control. Sometimes that'll work, but often it won't. Think about like influencing skills, your ability to impact that stuff, your ability to change that, like that influence fear is really important. And then just say there's some stuff beyond that is just like can't do anything about whatever happens.
And I think doing that, like understanding that is really important. Cause it stops you trying to control everything, which I think, you know, it's a big trade in project management, so I'm to control things. Cause that's what partly our job is to control things. So we instinctively like try and bring everything in, but then actually that kind of influencing level is really important.
And actually that enables you to think actually a bit more about your broader impact and touch on stuff like actually it would never be in your control. And that never changes, like nothing's ever totally in your control, even if you're a CEO. Like, it's never directly in your control. It sort of is but it isn't really, like a lot of that is really done through the sphere of influence.
So I think, you know, getting to that mindset and thinking about change in that way is a really much more productive, you know, a way of thinking about it than a, you know, the young, idealistic, frustrated project manager that I undoubtedly was.
Galen Low: That's the danger, right? Is that, you know, we idealize and idolize and put up on a pedestal.
Sometimes a notion of change that doesn't exist, and then this sort of sphere of change is something that we think we should control all of, whereas actually it is a lot more about what you can change, which is also important, and what you can influence, which is probably broader. And then actually just paying attention to how change is actually happening by keeping an eye and watching your mentors and how they are adapting to change and what you can learn from that.
I think that's super cool.
Jon, such a pleasure to have you on the show. This is great. I really enjoy the way that you look at the world and I think that our listeners all have a lot to learn from it. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
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