Spotify’s agile model has been very effective for Spotify; however, using it blindly for your own company may not be the best approach, unless you are a Swedish streaming company, founded in 2006.

Personally, I have been using agile-based principles for much of my career, but completely adopting the Spotify model requires careful assessment of its suitability for your company’s unique context and culture.

Spotify’s model

There are four core elements to the structure of the Spotify model, namely squads, tribes, chapters, and guilds.

  1. Squads are simply cross-functional teams consisting of around six to 12 people, and each squad would be a multidisciplinary team made up of designers, developers, and business analysts.
  2. Tribes are groups of teams organized into a department. It may consist of 50 to 150 people, but ideally should not be more than 100 individuals. Having these allows a larger number of people to work on a large feature.
  3. Chapters serve as communities for all functional specialists from different teams, allowing them to discuss their areas of expertise and specific challenges. A chapter lead is assigned per chapter to serve as a line manager for all chapter members.
  4. Guilds are very similar to chapters in that they are organized around a specialism, such as engineering or architecture. The difference is that a chapter is open to anyone who has an interest in the topic. This is almost the same concept as Communities of Practice in agile, just with a different name.

Issues encountered

The Spotify model was created over 10 years ago so although Spotify became successful by using this model, it has its shortcomings. Some of these are:

  • The original content that Spotify released explaining their method was called Spotify Engineering Culture. Though they did outline an organizational structure, it was primarily about their engineering culture and their core working principles.
  • The model was an ambition and it was not fully adopted when Spotify released their white paper. Therefore it was a vision and not a reality at the time.
  • The model optimized for complete team autonomy and as the size of the teams grew, Spotify did not define a common process for cross-team collaboration.
  • Collaboration between teams was an assumed competency so as the number of teams grew it was recognized that dedicated support to guide and structure collaboration between teams as needed.

Spotify is a company that is constantly learning and growing, so they will have evolved this model many times since the original white paper. However, there is still much we can learn, even if you should not apply the model directly.

Engineering principles

The true power of the Spotify approach lies in the engineering and product development culture created for fast, motivated, decoupled agile teams. With that, several powerful core working principles were developed to produce high performance. Specifically, 11 things are highlighted when using Spotify’s agile model:

  • Productivity is closely linked to motivation. That said, Spotify uses the formula Productivity = Effort x Competence x Environment x Motivation.
  • There is a need for a balance between alignment and autonomy. Alignment is characterized as the central direction, while autonomy is team self-organization.
  • The decoupling of dependencies allows for more frequent production releases that can be independent across teams.
  • Trusting and supporting your people is better than controlling them.
  • Managers are servant leaders; they do their best to supervise and guide teams, rather than simply reminding them of deadlines.
  • The maximization of value over busyness allows for team productivity and efficiency.
  • The improvement of the work culture results in easier and better work for teams.
  • Healthy culture heals broken processes.
  • Without a vision, you would not know where to go. That said, teams are encouraged to define their concept of awesome and to track team health for continuous improvement.
  • Employee satisfaction is of the utmost importance.
  • Mistakes inevitably happen when pushing for innovation. As such, Spotify has developed systems that limit the effects of failures.

Should you use Spotify’s model?

The question you should ask yourself should not be “Should I adopt Spotify’s model?”, instead you should ask yourself “What are the context, culture, and objectives of my organization?” and “Where am I starting from?” These inquiries are essential to answer to know how you can create your own target model that suits your organization’s needs.

Although it may be tempting to simply copy the model of successful, and reputable companies, such as Spotify and Google, this should not be the case. What you can do is to draw inspiration from their approach and find what works best for your organization. Remember, you should highly consider your context, culture, objectives, and starting point before taking action.