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“In Tune” with Agile: The Spotify Way

The year is 2014 C.E. Two rival Tribes are converging on a grassy field littered with tables, in modern-day Stockholm. There is tension in the cold, winter air. The Squads within each Tribe shift closer together and close ranks. They aren’t used to braving the elements for this long; preferring the comfort of their climate-controlled dwellings. The green grass feels foreign beneath their feet as they trudge—unwillingly—towards the predetermined battleground.
As the two Tribes converge on the tables, laden with loot and spoils of all kinds, (set up by lesser-known nomadic groups like the Eiitsch Arr) their leaders try to offer words of encouragement:
“Don’t worry, we will be back in the office before you know it!”
“Just get whatever we need from them and we will be on our way home…”
“I mean, who DOESN’T like ‘free food’? Amirite!?”
After two hours of pitched battle with provisions and supplies of all kinds, the majority of each tribes’ members have retreated to their abodes. And yet, several people still linger around a common table. These solitary few are debating the merits of agile coaching and sharing tips on how to improve. By the end of the night, they have started calling themselves the Agile Coach Guild…

For those of you who haven’t read about the way Spotify has been scaling Agile at their organization since 2014, this fictional scenario probably had you scratching your head more than once. After all, what just happened here? Did I just read about a battle that occurred somewhere in Sweden? Or was it a party? Was there supposed to be a deeper meaning to all of this? Did I remember to pack my lunch this morning?
Woah! Hold it right there, you swashbuckling, internet-surfing, agile-practicing visitor of Seilevel blogs! I am here to help you make sense of it all. All you have to do is make sure you packed that lunch today.
With that said, let us begin with a visual:

From Scaling-Agile-at-Spotify by Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson

What we see here is a diagram of the product development organization within Spotify as of 2014. Nice, neat, and easy to make sense of visually. However, what we must keep in mind is that this model is incredibly dynamic and fluid. For all we know, this may no longer be the case at Spotify!

The Squad

The smallest unit of Spotify’s product development teams is the Squad. The Squad is, at its most basic form, very much like a Scrum team. This is generally a group of anywhere between 5 and 8 (±2), collocated, self-organizing individuals who can take a product from design to production. They work in visually-stimulating offices that also maximize functionality through the use of numerous writable surfaces, nearby meeting rooms, and fun lounge areas. They also have access to an Agile coach to help them improve the way they work.

The Product Owner

Each Squad also has a Product Owner. Although this individual is not selected from the squad, he/she has the role of prioritizing the work done by the Squad they are assigned to. This is done chiefly through the creation of a product backlog that maps to a high-level vision of where Spotify is headed.

The Tribes

Tribes then, are a collection of squads that work on a common project or area of functionality of a product. Normally, the Tribes consist of fewer than 100 people and tend to be made up of squads that are collocated. They also have a Tribe lead whose task is to provide the best possible habitat for all the squads within the Tribe.

With such a large degree of autonomy granted to each squad, you may begin to wonder, “How do all of these Squads ever get anything done if they don’t collaborate with one another?”
The solution to this problem? Chapters and Guilds.

The Chapter

The Chapter is an organization of individuals within a Tribe—across several squads—that have a similar set of skills or knowledge. These individuals meet frequently to discuss a number of issues that may have arisen with their work, and also to share knowledge and tips. Furthermore, the Chapter has a Chapter Lead (a member from one squad) who serves as a line manager for everyone in the Chapter.

The Guild

Finally, we have the Guild. This can basically be thought of as an uber-Chapter. The difference here being that it spans across Tribes and usually involves entire Chapters within it. More so than that however, it allows anybody who is interested in the work, or topics discussed, to join regardless of skill set. Important to note here is that, both Guilds and Chapters tend to be more organic, and therefore will not always have such clear delineations as pictured above.

 

Bada-bing, bada-boom! And just like that you have yourself an Agile scaling model from Spotify. Simple enough, right? Well, simple or not, this model has been working for them. With over 75 million active, and 20 million paid subscribers worldwide, Spotify has grown to become a multi-billion (yes, that’s billion with a B) enterprise that spans over 58 countries across the globe. Call it whatever you want, but Spotify can’t simply be a “phenomenon” without an innovative system to sustain it behind the scenes.
With that in mind, I wouldn’t be too surprised to read about Spotify Tribes doing “battle” over lunch in one of our fair cities in the near future…


If you are interested in learning more about Spotify’s model, please refer to the following links:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1018963/Articles/SpotifyScaling.pdf
https://labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1/
https://labs.spotify.com/2014/09/20/spotify-engineering-culture-part-2/
If you would like to learn more about Spotify’s growth and business model, click on these:
http://www.spotifyartists.com/spotify-explained/#spotifys-progress-so-far
https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies/spotify
All credit goes, as appropriately due, to Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson for their visual model and the detailed information provided in this blog post.

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