Feb. 16, 2023

The “Classical Corporate Mess”

In this episode of rHatchery.live, host Matt Perez and Jose Leal discuss updating business practices that were created by people who were born towards the end of the civil war, with Niel Magsombol, Transformation Architect.

In this episode of rHatchery.live, host Matt Perez and Jose Leal discuss updating business practices that were created by people who were born towards the end of the civil war, with Niel Magsombol, Transformation Architect. 


Matt Perez (00:12):

So, hi, thank you for being here. My name is Matt Perez and I'm with Neil Magsombol today. And Neil is a transformation architect and Agile Coach. And we're going to be talking about this thing that we always talk about, which is, what are the major problems in corporate America, and what are people doing about it? And Neil is another thing. He wrote a book about doing that, about it, and called In-Vision Your Future. And you'll get the reference here at the bottom at some point. So, Neil, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Niel Magsombol (01:04):

Yeah. Hello. Thank you, gentlemen, for having me. Really appreciate it. Very excited to be here. As mentioned, I am a transformation architect. I have worked with many fortune 500 companies. I've worked with companies in manufacturing. I've worked with them in biotech. I've worked with them in insurance and finance and some of the biggest consulting companies in the world. And had a chance to you know be with several different companies, help them implement better ways of working and more agile, lean, agile ways of doing things to help keep up with the ever-growing pace of technology and digital things that are coming out there. On a side note, I'm also a martial artist, and that's kind of where I got my philosophy and some of the stuff that we'll talk about today.

Matt Perez (01:54):

Great. So if you promise not to hurt us, <laugh> <laugh>. So, the first question is what, how, what's the problem that you see? And you are obviously running into a lot of problems with that companies have and helping transform to a more agile, faster way of doing things. But what's around that? What is causing that problem to happen?

Niel Magsombol (02:26):

Yeah, so great question. I as mentioned I'm a martial artist. And Bruce Lee, when he came on the scene he had noticed several different martial arts. He trained, you know, he trained and studied many martial arts from all over the world. Not just Asian martial arts, but martial arts from Europe and all over. And the thing that he noticed about some of them, not all of them, but some of them, what he noticed was a lot of them had become overly stylized and very rigid, and consequently, they were not as practical as they could be. And he called it the classical mess. He said, “this is a classical mess”. It's just a bundle of routine ideas and tradition. When they act, they are translating every living moment. In terms of the old what I've noticed when I've gone to different companies, as mentioned, I've gone to many different industries companies in many different industries.

Niel Magsombol (03:19):

And what I've noticed is, they have a lot of similar problems. Well, why is that? Even though their prime product is different, even though one may have an insurance product, another one may have a 50-ton piece of machinery. Another one may have you know a pharmaceutical product. Right. Why did they all have somewhat similar problems? Well, Dr. Gary Hamel, he's a professor at the London School of Business. He's probably one of the most reprinted authors in the Harvard Business Review. He's got several great books. He had an article in the Harvard Business Review called Moonshots for Management. And he talked about things like workflow design, annual budgeting, return on investment analysis, product management, project management, division, divisionalization, brand management, you know, all these things that, you know, when you go to a large company these are going to be very familiar to you.

Niel Magsombol (04:17):

These, and a bunch of other of these tools and practices, they've been around since 1900. Matter of fact, the foundation of modern man-management was actually laid by people like Daniel McCullum, Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, all of these people were born before the end of the American Civil War in 1865. So, if you think about, for example, the assembly line, right? Henry Ford was he really optimized the assembly line. One of his famous statements is, you can have any color you want as long as it's black. Right? And the whole idea was that we want to reduce variability, we want to make things mass produce it, and the more we can mass produce it the same way the more we can get a return on investment and things like that. We wanted to reduce, we wanted to really optimize for efficiency, which makes sense. At the same time, it really kind of you know, it made the assembly line like very, very sequential, and linear, and as we've learned life is not linear,

Jose Leal (05:22):

<Laugh> <laugh> far from it. Right. Well, it makes it quite rigid as well, right? Which life also isn't right.

Niel Magsombol (05:30):

Absolutely. you know, when you think about it, and again, I worked in manufacturing, I'm a big believer in manufacturing. I think what you want to do is, you know, you look at it, you look at it, you think, if I get these inputs, I will definitely get these outputs. But again, life is not linear. It's not, it just doesn't work that way.

Matt Perez (05:52):

Life is not a machine. Right. Can you guys hear me? Yeah, yeah,

Niel Magsombol (06:00):

Yeah, yeah. We can hear you.

Matt Perez (06:02):

Yeah. I said life is not a machine. That's a big part of the system that treated everything like a machine.

Niel Magsombol (06:13):

Yep. Are you guys can you guys hear me okay? I'm sorry. I think somebody is doing something upstairs, <laugh>, I apologize. See, life is not linear, you know? Yeah. I wasn't expecting somebody to turn on the vacuum up there,

Niel Magsombol (06:29):

So, at any rate, I think the thing is, is that you know, we're now, instead of looking at an assembly line, we're looking at knowledge workers. We're looking at, you know, not pe I mean, a lot of those things on the assembly line, they're getting replaced by robotics, right? Things are getting, you know, a lot of repeatable processes. We're starting to automate those, and you don't have the human element in there where you have the human element in terms of creativity, innovation, thinking, you know, it's not as much doing those repetitive, repeatable tasks anymore, right? Right. And so now you have these practices that we've had from, for hundreds of years, you know, for over a hundred years or what have you. And now you're dealing with knowledge workers and, you know, it's a real fundamental shift. And this is where that transformation has to come in. We have to realize we're dealing with people and you know, Gary Hamel, he did a study where he found that only 20, 25% of people in the workforce felt like they could be innovative and creative.

Matt Perez (07:30):

So what do you think is the source of that? I mean, he sounds to me like you're saying these guys are operating according to, they're operating according to a system that started last century and doesn't fit the environment that we have today. And the vacuum cleaner going back and forth.

Niel Magsombol (07:59):

So, what's the cause of this? Or, what, how do we deal with this?

Matt Perez (08:04):

So, there's, there are all these weaknesses and stuff like that, and there are people that want to be creative and all those things that you mentioned, and the stuff in the middle is the, is the hierarchy, is the man top and the light bulb effect, the integration light effect, you know, that, that kind of pyramid. So, what do you think is wrong with the three?

Niel Magsombol (08:32):

Yeah, I, think we have to we really have to rethink what management really is. We really have to think rethink leadership. In addition to, you know, doing the agile stuff. I'm also a certified John Maxwell leadership coach, and he's considered the number one leadership expert in the world. He's got over a hundred books, really proud to be part of his certified leadership team. I think we have to really, really look at looking at leadership and thinking, okay, instead of trying to optimize for process, how can I optimize people? How can I develop people? Because manager, what they can do is they can have a process and they can work with that, but a leader takes a look at a person and says, how can I develop this individual? And how, and, you know, they understand the big context of what the company's doing, and how can I help this individual contribute to this, this larger hole?

Niel Magsombol (09:29):

You know, we have, we have to take a look at systems thinking. We can't just optimize for a single process. We've got to optimize people so they can work with whatever ecosystem we're trying to create. And hopefully, that ecosystem is a, you know, a growth-centered ecosystem. It's a generative ecosystem where people are learning. There was an article in the Harvard Business Review that said, the average shelf life for skills is probably about 18 months. So, you're going to constantly be skilling and re-skilling yourself. So, you know, leaders have to be very growth-minded, have to really be looking and saying, how can I optimize? How can I develop people? Right? I don't want to adjust my systems. I want to develop people.

Matt Perez (10:12):

Interrupt there. Why do you as systems stuff that's only the job of the leader? Is that what you're saying?

Niel Magsombol (10:19):

Is it the only job of the leaders?

Matt Perez (10:21):

No, no. It's, the job of the leader to that, or in my view is everybody's job.

Niel Magsombol (10:29):

Yeah. You know, the thing is, is that <laugh>, I remember I was watching John Maxwell speak one time, and he, he's up in front of thousands of people and he says, everything rises and falls with leadership, everything.

Matt Perez (10:49):


Niel Magsombol (10:49):

And you could hear the pin drop, and he said it, again, everything rises and falls with leadership. And I found that to be true in Prosi, P R O s ci, the people who do the change management they do all the change management certifications mm-hmm. <Affirmative> what they've found for the last 20 years running, they've done the research for any organizational change, for any major transformation. Doesn't matter if it's digital, agile, you know, what have you. In any organizational change, the number one critical factor is active and visible executive sponsorship, active and visitor, and visible executive sponsorship. That was the number one critical success fa factor in any major change in any organization last 20 years. Right.

Jose Leal (11:35):

In other words, if, if the management, if senior management is not on board, then nothing can happen in a traditional organization, right.

Niel Magsombol (11:44):

Field organization. Well, I don't want to say nothing can happen. I just think it makes it a lot harder. Right. You can have some grassroots things happening. But I, I, I think it, it just makes life much better. The best transformations I've been a part of is, for example, I was with one company and the CIO said, “…this is what we're doing”, and guess what? That's what we did <laugh>. Right? but you know, the ones that were the hardest is when we have to do a sell job, you know, we have to sell them on, Hey, if we do this, this can help you deliver faster. That makes life a lot more difficult. Yeah.

Jose Leal (12:21):

But I think I was, if you don't mind, Matt, I was just going to sort of follow up on your question because I think what you were asking wasn't is it required that manager leadership be there to make changes in the organization? The question I think you were asking is Neil, do we need, sorry, do we only make changes in people, people, not the organization, not corporate projects, and so forth, but in people? Oh, right. Okay. And, so if the responsibility of people growing, people changing, is the responsibility of the leadership, or is it also the responsibility of the people themselves? And I think maybe Matt, that was the question that you were trying to get at. Yeah, it's closer.

Niel Magsombol (13:18):

Okay. apologies for that. I misunderstood there, but I, I think it is definitely the responsibility of it is a responsibility of leadership to kind of create that atmosphere. But then you're right, individuals themselves have to take advantage of that opportunity to, to learn and to grow, right? There has to be a hunger desire for people to do that. And, and you know, again, going back to a John Maxwell quote he, he talks about the law of magnetism. You tend to draw who you are, right? So if you're a leader that's very hungry, that's all about growth and development, you'll tend to attract those type of people to your organization. So you know, the, he has a great quote that if you go to a leader and, you know, you say you want people who are dedicated, hardworking, you know, very focused, et cetera. The first question is, well, are you that way? <Laugh>? So mm-hmm.

Jose Leal (14:13):

<Affirmative>. So, your comment about leadership leads me to ask the question, how do you see Agile within that context? Because Agile is very much about it individuals feeling empowered and, and being able to do things themselves. What's the relationship between an agile environment and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> top-down type execution?

Niel Magsombol (14:41):

Yeah, that is a great, great question there. Basically, the way it works is this, the way I like to think of it is that the leadership kind of creates the environment or maybe the guardrails give them a strategic direction, right? Leadership should be saying, Hey, this is our vision. They should be really good at dictating not dictating but describing and articulating what the vision is and what the direction is. And then where it comes in is that they, that allows the people to say, okay, great, based on the vision, this is how we can help contribute to that vision. This is how we can, this is how we can help accomplish this. You know, again, I go back to one organization I was with where the CIO was, you know, all on board with, Hey, this is the number one thing.

Niel Magsombol (15:29):

We have been trying to build this for years. We've tried to do it the old way in a more traditional waterfall type of way. We haven't been able to do it. We're going to try this new agile thing. And really, it, it really allowed the people, it wasn't so prescriptive to say, okay, you have to do this. This traditional way of working was, you know, in a traditional waterfall method here is, here are the 850,000 requirements that we have, right? I always used to joke that a lot of those requirements documents were, the system shall to me, that sounds like it. Sunday school gone bad, right? In Agile, we have more of a direction and we say, okay, this is where we're going, and we want to provide some guidance, but then we allow the teams to use their creativity, their innovative thinking to say, this is how we're going to do that.

Niel Magsombol (16:20):

And, and I'm telling you, when I was with this group, it was probably, I mean, don't get me wrong, it was definitely hard work. But to see the people really coming together and to see the people really saying, Hey, this is what we can do. We can do this, we can do that. And then kind of allowing the teams to kind of collaborate together. It was absolutely incredibly powerful. And, you know, I remember within six months we were able to bring something to production and to hear all the executives talk about how they could not believe that we got this thing done that fast. And it was a perfect example of, here's the vision, here's what we want to do, and we'll provide you the guidance, but you all kind of fill in the blanks, if you will, I have a lot of examples. I don't want to keep going on and on. Yeah.

Jose Leal (17:08):

How do you see, because I couldn't agree more. You know, the team needs to have the flexibility, the ability to mm-hmm. <Affirmative> to do the things that need to be done, which is often what happens, in corporations. The definitions are, are so prescriptive that exactly, no one actually gets a chance to think outside the box. They're, they're stuck in, in this box and, not being able to do anything else. The question that I'm struggling with is how do you see this? You're, you're saying you're getting rid of the, of this old mindset, but you're only getting rid of that mindset within a small team. Was that mindset still all around that team, right? Yeah. The leadership still has that old mindset. Other departments still have that old mindset because in most cases, agile is only operating in a small team.

Jose Leal (18:12):

Yeah. Do you see that Agile is going to get out to the sides of these other, of these small teams and push up into leadership as well? Or, do you think it's just Agile is a solution for a small problem, not redoing the organizational structure?

Niel Magsombol (18:35):

Yeah, so to answer your question I'll give you another example. I was another with one company, and to your point, we did Agile in the quote-unquote IT or technology space, right? They started doing pretty well that they started kind of outpacing the business. And then I got asked by a marketing team, can you, that agile thing that you're doing with those technology people, can you help us? I said, sure. So, I started working with them and you know, to make a long story short, they, I mean, they were just marred with the process. I mean, they had so much, they had process on top of the process, on top of the process. It, I mean, it took them like 12 weeks to do an email campaign. I mean, think about how many emails we send in a day. It took them 12 weeks to send out just an email campaign.

Niel Magsombol (19:25):

It was absolutely ridiculous. So one of the things, to make a long story short, one of the things we did is just kind of get that cross-functional team where instead of trying to do all these handoffs we, we put this cross-functional team together. And, and, you know, they started doing some amazing things. I, you know, probably the best story or best testimony I had from this marketing team, she said you know, I was really skeptical because this is like the next new thing. Here's another guy, here's Neil trying to, you know, share with us another new process. She said, I was really skeptical, I was burnt out, et cetera, et cetera. But she said, “I couldn't believe how well this worked”. And even my coworkers are noticing how happy I am. You know, I feel like I have hope now. And that, that success got me to where, you know, people in operations, not IT operations, but like, you know the non-IT side of operations.

Niel Magsombol (20:21):

They said, well, can you help us? I said, sure. So I work with them. They started doing pretty well. Then the non-IT side of the product, I'm talking the actuaries, I'm talking legal folks, people who wrote contracts, you know, all of those different people said, can you help us? I said, well, sure. And John Cotter talks about, you have to generate these quick wins. John Cotter, you know, he's a foremost expert when it comes to change. And he talks about, you know, collab, getting those quick wins, and that basically kind of buys you equity so that I can buy the other parts of the organization. So by the time I got done, not only did we have almost a thousand people working in IT and Agile, but then marketing operations, and then the non-IT of product development, they couldn't believe how well this worked. So to answer your question in kind of a roundabout way, is that, one, you need that leadership buy-in, and then number two, hopefully, you have those quick wins. You have those, I like to think of 'em as trophies that you can present to o that other leaders start hearing about. The best is when the leaders start saying, can you do this for us? Right. You see what I mean?

Matt Perez (21:31):


Niel Magsombol (21:31):

In my experience.

Matt Perez (21:32):

I got a few questions from the audience in particular Tony Morrow asked, how do you convince them and bring them on board with a lean Agile mindset? That's number one. Yes. And he also asked, how do we build the, "Know, Like, and Trust" with stakeholders stuck in the traditional command and control / functional / waterfall mindset? which are similar.

Niel Magsombol (22:01):

Question. Yeah, absolutely. So that is a fantastic question. That's a question we get asked a lot. And that's, a lot of times when I come into companies that's what happens. First and foremost you know, we have to start somewhere, right? You, you asked me at the beginning, you know, like, your podcast is all around, you know, what is the problem, what problem are we trying to deal with? My very first mentor in Agile, you know, the very first thing he told me was, Neil, when you go in, figure out what problem are we trying to solve, right? So when I talk with leaders, I just ask them, okay, you know, why am I here? Normally, <laugh> people don't bring an agile coach in because things are going well, right? I just ask him, what, what are your pa what's, what's hurting you?

Niel Magsombol (22:49):

What keeps you up at night? What is, what are the things, you know, what are the things that are really hindering you from achieving whatever business outcomes you want? What is the problem you're trying to solve? And Mike Coyer has a great, great podcast called The Language of Gain and the Language of Loss. Typically, people in our profession, in the agile space, like to come in and say, your command and control, you have your bachelor licenses are too big. You have too many manual pros. And, essentially what you're doing is you're, you're telling this executive or what have you, “…your baby's ugly”, right? <Laugh> and <laugh>. That's not necessarily the best approach, the better approach. Or one of the things he talks about is saying, “based on what your problems are, here's what I can do to help”. So I was working with a huge, huge, probably one of the biggest financial companies in the world.

Niel Magsombol (23:37):

And I was working with a senior VP who was a couple of spots away from probably one of the richest female CEOs in the world. And, you know, before I went in to talk with her, you know, some of my colleagues were like, Neil, you got to be careful because she doesn't like Angela, she doesn't like coaches, she doesn't like, I said, okay, great. So I went in and, you know, she basically pulls out her stuff. So, here's my Jira board, here are the things I'm doing, da, da, da. And she was kind of going over all the different quote-unquote agile processes that she was doing. And it felt very much like, look, here, I'm Agile. D I don't need you, you know, leave me alone. That, that was kind of her posture. And I just asked her very simply, I said, okay, great.

Niel Magsombol (24:18):

I said, that's great that you're doing these things, but if you don't mind me asking, what are you guys trying to accomplish? Help me understand what you're trying to do, and then we can figure out whatever agile practices will work for you. She stopped and looked at me and she opened her mouth open. She said, “…you are the first guy that came in here that asked me that”. I was kind of shocked because that's how I always engage with things. But she said you were the first one to ever ask me that. Everybody always tries to shove all this stuff down my, you know, gimme these checklists that I have to do. And I said, well, no, I don't do checklists. I, I what do you need help with? And, and I just, it was that simple of a conversation. And to this day, she and I developed an incredible rapport.

Niel Magsombol (25:03):

I mean, we text each other during holidays and everything, even though it's been years since I've been at that company. But to me, if we go in with that problem-based approach and then figure out what practices to use to help solve that problem mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, and then hopefully again, those become quick wins that have for me, that's what I have found work best. That's worked. That's my approach at almost every company. And you know, Bruce Lee said, be formless, be shapeless. Be like water. What he found, again, getting back to his original statement about the classical mess, a lot of people have a bunch of processes and you know, my first Agile mentor said, if you have, if all you have is a hammer, every problem you see is going to be a nail. So all you have is processes. What you're going to do is just try to hammer people with your processes, and figure out the problem to solve. And what I've realized is that people really appreciate that approach, and even if it is, you know, several processes I have to bring in, they at least are much more apt to listen and develop that trust that Tony was talking about if they know that we are trying to help them with things that they're concerned about.

Matt Perez (26:18):

So, what do you, what would you do in an organization with there's no, you know, no titles, no hierarchy? It is just people doing their work, and it turns out that people can do their work and can coordinate all those things. What are you doing in a case like that?

Niel Magsombol (26:39):

Where like, you don't have that nice CIO or CEO or whatever, whatever that's saying. Yeah. “Go Neil, go ahead and do this”, where you almost have to, like, convince people.

Matt Perez (26:48):

Yeah, yeah. No, you don't have to convince anybody. If they, let's say that one area has a problem and, and they heard of you and they say, “okay, let's bring 'em in”. And so what is the question that you're asked?

Niel Magsombol (27:02):

Very similar, right? I kind of look around and that's actually how I got involved with Agile in the first place. The way I got involved with Agile was that I was working in a very traditional manufacturing company that was under some government regulations. You know, they've been building machines for the last hundred years, and obviously, they had a very rigid way of working. And you know, I got very good at asking or saying two things, you know, locked requirements hit the date, locked requirements hit the date. And that was my view of project management at the time. And then what happened was we were getting late, we did lock our requirements, but guess what? Things changed. And then basically what ended up happening was, you know, this was a very critical initiative.

Niel Magsombol (27:51):

You know, upper management was very concerned about it. So they said, well, what do we do? Well, there was a senior leader there that said, Hey, why don't we, I've got an idea. Give me, you know, X amount of engineers, let me, don't let them work on anything. Just let me do this. He said, okay, great. Got these engineers. I was meeting with them every day. We were talking with them every couple of weeks. We would kind of show we were doing 3D modeling of stuff, and we would show them, you know, we would show our stakeholders, Hey, this is what we've done, get the feedback. And you know, I look back at that, I'm like, oh, well I didn't know it was agile. It wasn't, we didn't have all the terminology. Then I'm like, well in manufacturing we call that rapid prototyping, right?

Niel Magsombol (28:31):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> sometimes for me it's about the verbiage you use. I've tricked a lot of people into doing Agile just by <laugh>, you know, using different verbiage. When I speak at PMI, Project Management Institute, there's a, there is one phrase in their Pemba, the project management Body of knowledge that talks about progressive elaboration. They know that you may not be able to plan everything all at once. It may be progressive, and they call it rolling wave planning. So I just use that, you know, rapid prototyping, rolling wave planning, whatever. And basically, you start seeing the results. And again, those results, hopefully, that gives you that, that, you know, that ammunition or, or that equity you can use to start, you know, trying to broaden it out. That's most of the places I've been, if I've had to do it bottoms up, that's basically what happens. Start with a small area, get some results. I work, actually, I work with a colleague where they literally, and I'm not joking, literally had something like 800% increase in productivity. It was so dramatic. They actually had to lie about it and say it was like, you know, a hundred and a hundred percent increase in productivity because they didn't think management will believe 800%.

Matt Perez (29:42):

Okay. I think we're, we're coming up against the time here, and thank you, thank you very much for your, for your time and energy. Really appreciate it. Next week we're going to have Jean-Claude Artonne. There you go. Jean-Claude, and he's the founder and CEO of Fortuite, and I don't, we'll be talking about similar things and I'm looking forward to that as well. Thank you very much, Neil, for your time, and thank you, gentlemen. Thank you, Neil.


Niel Magsombol Profile Photo

Niel Magsombol

Transformation Architect | Executive Leadership Coach |Keynote Speaker

Niel is a Transformation Architect, Executive Leadership Coach & Keynote Speaker that has helped lead Enterprise Agile Transformations in Global Fortune 100 Companies such as Caterpillar, Prudential, Pfizer, Boston Consulting & Fidelity. He is also a proud member of the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team, & DISC Behavioral Analysis Trainer, and is one of only 140 people worldwide to have earned an SPCT, the highest level of certification from Scaled Agile. He’s known as an insightful, energetic, and humorous motivational speaker that has presented at several Fortune 100 Companies, PMI, IIBA & Agile events around the world, universities, professional sports teams, and non-profit Organizations.