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Spotify Agile Model Explained

Spotify is a freemium music streaming service that has achieved remarkable success in its agile product development methods and its market penetration strategies.

In the early days, Spotify followed the traditional Scrum approach, but as they grew bigger, the limitations of standard scrum practices and ceremonies began hindering their growth.

So, Spotify their own Spotify Agile Model based on Agile principles.

How Does Spotify Agile Model Works?

The Spotify Agile Model AKA the Spotify Tribes Model is not a product development framework like Scrum. Instead, it is a tailored people-centric approach to scaling Agile that Spotify developed as it was expanding.

The Spotify model does not advocate following scrum practices/ceremonies religiously. Instead, teams are given autonomy, creative control, and total responsibility for their product.

It focuses on motivation, community, and trust rather than archaic structures and controls. The guiding philosophy when the model was made was that agility in product development is more important than Scrum practices.

In the shift from Scrum to S.A.M (Spotify Agile Model), several roles were reinvented. For example, a scrum master became an agile coach, a scrum team became an autonomous squad, etc.

The Spotify model lets squads choose the development framework that works best for them. Thus, in one company, you might have each squad using a different framework, like Scrum, Kanban, etc.

The model takes development decisions out of the hands of managers and committees and into the hands of the developers who are responsible for the day-to-day building of a product. This move helped the company avoid delays caused by handoffs and bureaucracy.

Components of the Spotify Agile Model

Squads

Instead of Scrum teams, the Spotify model has squads. A squad is a small cross-functional and autonomous team usually with less than 8 people. Ideally, each squad typically focuses on a single feature. However, in reality, some squads might have several responsibilities. Squads maintain full accountability for the design, deployment, and maintenance of their product.

Each squad at Spotify has the freedom to choose their own optimal framework to achieve their mission. Hence, you might have one squad using Kanban, another using Scrum, etcetera;

There is no strict standardization and uniformity in how squads tackle a problem. Instead, methods and tools spread through cross-pollination, which means if one squad uses a tool/method with great success, other squads may often adapt their strategies to also achieve similar results.

Squads need the support of an agile coach and a product owner for the best outcomes.

Tribes

When several squads work together on a common feature set, they are bundled into tribes. Tribes should have from 40 members to a maximum of 150. Each tribe must have a tribe lead, the person who facilitates coordination across multiple squads.

Guilds

A guild is a community bound together by their interests. Any member is free to join or leave a guild as they are a complementary support structure meant to help the system. A guild helps with knowledge and methods transfer within the organization.

Chapters

Each developer is a member of a squad and a chapter. A chapter is formed by members, with similar specialties, from different squads within a tribe. The chapter has a dedicated manager called a Chapter Lead, who mentors and supports other developers in their personal growth. The chapter lead is also a squad member.

Trio

It is the trinity of a design lead, product lead, and the tribe lead. Each tribe has a dedicated trio that ensures that all squads are aligned and synchronized in all three development aspects.

Alliance

An alliance is formed when tribes work together for a common larger goal. It is formed from trios who are led by design, product, and tribe leads

Chief Architect

The Chief Architect is the cornerstone of the whole Spotify agile model. He/She is responsible for directing the architectural vision for the whole organization.

Spotify Agile Model Benefits

These are but a few benefits you stand to gain by adopting the model.

Flexible Practices and Ceremonies: the Spotify model made practices and ceremonies optional. Teams are free to do what is best for them, even if it means skipping unnecessary practices and meetings.

Decentralized Decisions and Autonomy: A leader only needs to communicate “the why” of an issue and lets the people responsible for building figure out “the how.” The leaders are under less stress as they don’t have to all the decisions in a growing or huge organization.

People-Driven: The Spotify model prioritizes its people. Keeping a happy and motivated staff translates into a better product in the end. It also promotes personal growth, with structures in place for guidance and support.

Faster Development Cycles: Because squads make decisions about how best to solve a problem, they avoid waiting for replies from executives and committees which translates into more time for development.

Spotify Agile Model Best Practices

According to Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, their goal is to fail fast so they learn fast and improve even faster. This principle builds a culture of trust and accountability within the organization.

Squads can fully exploit opportunities without fear of reprisals when they fail. However, the model has measures, where in the event of failure, the effects are limited to a small blast radius.

Here are 2 recommended practices when implementing the model.

Don’t Copy and Paste

The Spotify Tribe Model was tailored for Spotify. Do not just take the model and force it upon your company. Instead, take the time to understand why Spotify did what it did – draw comparisons, find alternatives, create solutions until you have a tweaked model that is also tailored for you.

Encourage Experimentation and Plan for Failure

Encourage experimentation but also put protections in place to prevent total system breakdown. You will inevitably meet with failure, so do not victimize employees who do fail. Instead, build accountability and trust and make sure every failure is a learning opportunity.

This way, employees feel more comfortable introducing innovative ideas.

Conclusion – Spotify Agile Model

The Spotify Agile Model is not a static method. Instead, it is always evolving as Spotify grows and matures. In fact. Spotify no longer uses the standard Spotify Agile Model as it was just a stage in their growth.

However, many organizations have adopted the model to varying levels of success. In most situations where implementation failed badly, it was because the organizations did not have the right culture in place.

If you want to use the model, make sure you have also built the right culture of motivation, trust, autonomy, accountability, efficient communication, etc. Without these elements, you are likely to be disappointed.

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