Explore Spotify's example of successful Agile at Scale.
It is always difficult to deal with multiple teams in a product development company. The music service Spotify is an impressive example of how you can successfully work with a large number of teams from different cities or countries and quickly achieve success.
This wonderful company has transformed the entire music industry and has succeeded in Agile at scale. Today it has millions of active users.
One of the Agile co-founders, Alistair Cockburn (he signed the Agile Manifesto) once went to Spotify and remarked, “I’ve been looking for a business that can implement this format since 1992, so I’m really excited to see it.”
Many people want to know how a company with hundreds of developers works according to Agile. This article is just about that – about the Spotify model.
What Is the Spotify Model?
The Spotify model is an autonomous, people-driven approach for scaling Agile. This approach highlights the importance of culture and network. It helped Spotify and other famous businesses to boost productivity and innovation by focusing on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality. The key goal of this concept is to accelerate production turnover by increasing the number of employees without losing the speed of decision-making and flexibility. This model is not a framework. It just represents Spotify’s view on Agile scaling from cultural and technical perspectives.
The Spotify model is a vivid example of bringing together multiple teams in a product development organization, which outlines the need for culture and networks.
It is valued all over the world because it is focused on organizing work around tasks rather than following certain practices. The Spotify concept emphasizes how businesses can be structured to enable agility. As the Spotify model supports team autonomy, every team can select their framework (Kanban or Scrum, for example). The teams (Squads) are organized into Tribes and Guilds that keep people aligned.
What Are the Origins of the Spotify Model?
Spotify is a Swedish music streaming company founded in 2006. The company began its activity as a usual start-up. It used Scrum methodology to manage its innovative projects. Then they applied a creative approach to accommodate the new scale without losing its Agile culture just when business took off and new hires started flooding the office. Their creative solution was called the Spotify model.
The model is focused on team autonomy and relies on individuals in order to reach objectives and complete their goals. This approach was highly adapted to their corporate culture and formed a network of interconnected team members to encourage the free flow of ideas.
The success of Spotify has led Agile experts to study their experience and explore this Agile model. The thoughts about it were documented by Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson.
How Does the Spotify Model Work?
To learn more about how this approach works, you need to take a closer look at its main components.
What Are the Key Elements of the Spotify Model?
When the Spotify company began organizing their work, they highlighted some essential elements on how teams should be structured. Here are these elements:
Squads are cross-functional teams that consist of 6–12 people. They are pretty similar to Scrum teams. Each squad includes developers, designers, and business analysts — all required to work end-to-end on one feature area, without the need to rely on another team. Squads are responsible for defining which Agile framework will be used.
A tribe in this context is a group of teams organized into a department. When multiple squads coordinate on the same feature area, they form a tribe. It usually consists of 50–150 individuals. However, ideally, it should not be more than 100 people. Tribes demonstrate a scaling mechanism allowing a great number of people to work on a large feature.
It is rather important for specialists to align on best practices even though Squads are autonomous. A chapter is a family that each specialist has. It assists to keep engineering standards in place across a discipline. Chapters are usually led by senior technology leads. They may also be managers for the team members in that Chapter.
A guild may consist of team members who are passionate about a topic. Such a guild will be a community of interest. Anyone can join it, and there is no formal leader of a guild. Guilds can cross different tribes.
A trio includes a tribe lead, product lead, and design lead. Their combination ensures that there is continuous alignment between these three perspectives when working on feature areas.
Sometimes several tribes need to closely work together to accomplish a goal. An alliance is a combination of tribe trios (2 or 3) that work together to help their tribes to collaborate on a goal that is bigger than any tribe.
What Are the Advantages of the Spotify Model?
Striving to change the way Spotify scaled Agile, they wanted to enable Squads to move fast, deliver software quickly with no pain and overhead. The company realized these advantages and more as they took their model and evolved it.
The benefits of implementing the Spotify model include:
- Less formal process and ceremony
- More autonomy and self-management
- Increased velocity
- Minimized dependencies
- Minimum control
- It addresses short term challenges
- It processes are reduced to a minimum
- It promotes transparency and clarity
- It works best for what suits your working environment
All this can lead to better products, engaged employees, and happier customers.
Are There Any Challenges?
This approach was initially based on one company’s way of working. Many teams strive to get the same benefits of the model as Spotify got. Therefore, they try to emulate what the music streaming company did.
In this way, some businesses experienced more success than others. However, no one faced the same success as Spotify. The reason is in the individual way of working, the specific culture of the company, and its structure. Managers should be able to adapt various approaches to fit the complexities they face.
There are businesses that simply copy the Spotify model. Some of them consider the concept a simple matrix structure of an organization where people report to a functional area working with a cross-functional team.
In reality, it’s more complex than that. All the core cultural elements of the model must be in place to allow the structure to thrive (for example, trust, and autonomy). When a company doesn’t shift its behaviors, the benefits of the Spotify model will never be realized.
Defining the Best Practices of the Spotify Model
The Spotify model is what you really need in case you are striving to enable a culture of trust, autonomy, and rapid learning. If you consider the model as a means to help you approach Agile at scale, pay attention to the following list of best model’s practices:
Do not copy the model
Your key goal should be the understanding of the structure, practices, and mindset behind the Spotify model. Tweak all the aspects of the approach to fit your own environment. Do not try to be Spotify, but use their model to improve how your company works together.
Consider autonomy and trust
Spotify provided its workers with the autonomy to help them pivot quickly. To give a few examples, you can allow teams to pick the development tools and modify another team’s code.
Remember about transparency with the community
The success of the Spotify model is credited to their focus on creating community and transparency around their work. You should also build your first Guild around the model adoption and encourage everyone’s participation. Enhance trust by creating inclusive and transparent ways to receive feedback and gain alignment on how your company wants to perform in the future.
You will probably face many mistakes but that’s okay. Improvement is about experimenting and learning from both successes and failures. Spotify also went through many iterations before it achieved success. They have continued to experiment to find new ways to improve how they work. So, encourage the same within your business!
Should you try this model?
If you want to use the Spotify organizational model within your business, you should consider a few things that will be critical to success. By implementing only parts of the method or by trying to impose it on a different corporate culture, you will face difficulties while achieving the same level of success that Spotify had.
Remember that the organizational model assumes that engineering is doing development with Agile methodologies. Any Squad choosing to work with the traditional Waterfall model would not be able to keep up with the rapidly changing teams around them. So, the critical requirement in making the model work well is that the whole company works with Agile practices and processes.
If your development teams work in parallel, but legal or marketing does not support an Agile approach, they will become a bottleneck that will slow down the overall company’s speed.
It is worth adding that trying to layer the Tribe and Squads approach over a traditional hierarchy would be problematic. You may gain some of the benefits of the Spotify model by creating full-stack teams in a traditional hierarchy, but you will definitely lose so many speed benefits.
Hopefully, this brief guide about the Spotify model has given you a better idea of what this model entails, and how it can bring value to other companies.
As scaling Agile is progressing, organizations have increasingly started adopting scaled Agile practices through different frameworks or their derivatives.
Your customers may choose the SAFe or the Spotify approach, each tailored to their unique company flavor. Remember that each model has its own strengths and origins.