The Spotify Model: Agile and Scrum for Large Organisations

Organisations with Agile thinking are distinguished by self-managing teams. When it comes to project execution, they use Agile concepts like Scrum. But how do multiple independent teams handle the development of one and the same product/service? How do you ensure optimal collaboration between the teams? Who is responsible for the overall project? Spotify found a way to embed Agile-style working methods into the DNA of its organisation. The Spotify organisational model now serves as a standard for a number of different multinationals. This includes companies like ING bank. This article takes a closer look at what has become known as the ‘Spotify model’.

Agile and Scrum for large organisations

A Scrum team generally comprises seven to eleven people. They take on a number of different roles:

  • Product Owner: represents the stakeholders and manages the product backlog.
  • Scrum Master: supports the Scrum team and facilitates the process flow.
  • Development Team: a multidisciplinary group of five to nine employees responsible for delivery of a product or service after each sprint.

But how do you approach a project of a scope and complexity beyond that of an eleven-person team? For instance, one that requires 1,000 or more people working on it? Will this require multiple teams? And will the individual Scrum teams be larger? And how will the different teams work together? Who is responsible for the overall supervision?

The Spotify organisational model

Spotify, the music and video streaming service that originated in Sweden, has developed an organisational model based on the application of various Agile methods. It is now commonly known as the Spotify model. Since its founding in 2006, Spotify has grown into a service with 140 million active users per month. They have access to some 50 million titles. Their workforce boasts around 1,600 employees. By 2015, their turnover had grown to 2.18 billion USD. So it is little wonder that many organisations, like ING bank, have copied the Spotify model and made it their own.

The Spotify model

The Spotify model consists of: squads, tribes, chapters and guilds.

spotify model

Squads

Squads form the foundation of the Spotify model.

A squad is comparable to a Scrum team. It is self-managing. Spotify wants squads to be like mini-start-ups. They should be multidisciplinary teams with all of the knowledge and skills needed to develop the particular product or service – from the initial rough sketches, to final delivery. At Spotify, a long-term mission is defined for every squad. All squads are responsible for the development and improvement of parts of the music service.

There are no team leaders, because the squads are self-managing. However, a Product Owner is designated. The Product Owner prioritises tasks for the team to complete. The Scrum team decides on its own organisation and working methods.

Product Owners from different squads work together to develop a road map. They visualise the strategic course of the organisation. Next, each Product Owner uses the road map to draft a suitable product backlog for the team.

In addition, each squad has access to an Agile Coach. He or she helps identify and remove any obstacles. In addition, the Agile Coach provides support for the continuous improvement of working methods. Moreover, the Agile Coach organises retrospectives and the sprint planning meeting.

Tribes

A tribe is a group of squads working either on the same product or service, or on related products or services.

tribes

A tribe may be regarded as a kind of incubator with a certain degree of freedom and autonomy. It consists of multiple mini-start-ups. Each tribe has its own lead. The lead is responsible for creating an optimal working environment for the squads. The squads from a single team normally work in the same office building. This enhances their collaboration.

A tribe is typically no more than 100 people. The reason for this upper limit on tribes is that people are generally not able to build up and maintain more than 100 social relationships.

Regular meetings keep tribe members abreast of the work of other members. The tribe teams present their work at these meetings.

Scrum(s)

Squads working on the same product are often dependent on one another. For instance, one squad may need to test a sub-product before another squad can implement it.

One or more scrums are held to minimise bottlenecks to the project due to the various different squads. A scrum is a meeting at which each team is represented by a single member. This enables the teams to coordinate with others.

Chapters and guilds

Employees in the organisation with the same area of expertise are allocated to different multidisciplinary squads. For this reason, the model features what are known as ‘chapters’ and ‘guilds’. These bring together people with the same skills and capabilities.

chapters and guilds

A chapter consists of members of the same tribe that have the same area of expertise. For instance, one chapter may be made up of web developers. The members regularly exchange information under the supervision of the chapter lead, who also belongs to a squad. They share the experiences and knowledge they have gained. They also discuss the specific challenges they face in their field. The chapter lead is also responsible for guiding members in their development, supporting them in acquiring new skills and assisting them in determining an appropriate salary.

Guilds

A guild is a group of employees with the same expertise and/or interests. Guilds are not limited to a single tribe, but rather span the entire organisation. For instance, an organisation may feature a web developer guild, or an Agile coach guild. Guilds organise regular coordinator meetings. These bring together employees from the same discipline to exchange knowledge and experience, support the organisation as a whole and improve themselves.

guilds
If multiple teams are working on one and the same sub-product, a specific person must take on responsibility for the overall sub-product and/or the complete finished product. Spotify uses the ‘System Owner’ role for this. This person handles tasks such as ensuring that Spotify runs smoothly on operating systems like Android or Windows. Another role is the ‘Chief Architect’. This person oversees the entire Spotify architecture and ensures that it is harmonised for the latest version of Spotify.

The strength of the Spotify model

On the one hand, the strength of the Spotify model is that it brings employees with different areas of knowledge together into a group (squads). This allows them to develop a product or service independently. On the other hand, the model enables employees with the same knowledge to exchange experience (in chapters and guilds). It also provides them with the opportunity for personal development within their disciplines. The change process is, in fact, somewhat demanding on an Agile HR department. However, that is no reason not to introduce the change.

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