Spotify: The Agile Nirvana?

Spotify Logo

What is the Spotify Model?

One reason for their success from a technology perspective is the Spotify Model. The Spotify Model describes how Spotify Engineering organises itself around agile principles. They care so deeply about this that CTO Daniel Ek describes himself as the first agile coach at Spotify.

Spotify Engineering Culture Pt.1 video
Spotify model structure

Why did Spotify Do This?

Spotify adopted this model primarily to encourage autonomy in its teams. As a startup in a crowded market, the main advantage of Spotify was speed. This could only be achieved if teams were able to make their own decisions and act fast. They prioritised this over everything else.

Example structure for one of the tribes

What were the problems?

The Spotify model has been far from perfect. Whilst solving for the problems stated above, it introduced a litany of issues, as described by former Spotify Agile Coach Joakim Sunden.

  • Ownership of team delivery — no one had clear accountability for delivery of the teams. This sat between product and engineering, with no clear ownership. This often meant deadlines slipped as no one was accountable for hitting them.
  • Matrix Management — engineers were managed by their chapter lead rather than someone related to their squads and tribes. This could lead to misaligned incentives between who sees their day-to-day work and who manages their performance.
  • Agile engineering practices — Spotify had the same issue as nearly every other company — consistently delivering engineering practices such as TDD, maintainable code and pair programming.
  • Disciple of agile process — despite agile being a core focus, there was still a lack of discipline around the scrum process. Missing sprint reviews, carrying work over between sprints and not following up on actions, were all common problems.

The real lesson

Spotify never expected the model to become something that is copied so widely — they were simply sharing their experience of what worked for them. It is far from a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all their problems — developing the right agile culture and principles is still an uphill struggle at Spotify.

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Edward Lowe

Edward Lowe

Agile Delivery Manager at Babylon Health, interested in how to organise software teams to build great products.