Spotify, how we scale agile and what doesn't work the way we hoped it would

Spotify is no longer a small company comprised only of techie music enthusiasts from Sweden. It now has 2000+ employees spread across the globe and is a global major player in the music and entertainment space, and they have no intention of slowing down.

Such rapid growth carries big challenges. How can they continue to improve their product at great speed, while growing the numbers of users, employees and supported platforms and devices? How do they keep our agile values as they grow?

 

 
 

Outline/structure of the Session

Joakim Sundén and Benji Portwin, Agile Coaches at Spotify, will share how Spotify is addressing these challenges and how some things just don’t work. They will talk about autonomous squads, chapters, tribes, alliances, guilds, hack weeks, and a lots of things that have failed (and what we learnt)!

Learning Outcome

Those attending should have a few "awesome, it's not just us" moments; whilst learning about how Spotify operates, for better or worse. You will learn one method of scaling agile, including how agile coaches are now used and be able to ask questions across the board.

Target Audience

People who believe that agile can scale

Requirements

A projector for us.

A clear mind and engaged brain from the audience :)

schedule Submitted 5 months ago

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  • Niranjan N V
    By Niranjan N V  ~  3 months ago
    reply Reply

    I agree with Tathagat too. I visited in May to Boston and happen to visit Spotify organisation and was thrilled to see their scaled agile model. But the gentle man who presented us their approach cautioned us, it cant be used as is in other organisations . So, my question is, if the talk focusses  more on what  works and what doesn't work in other organisation and how the same can be used will be very useful.

    Regards

    Niranjan

  • Joakim Sunden
    By Joakim Sunden  ~  4 months ago
    reply Reply

    Organizations blindly copying "The Spotify Model" actually scares us a bit - believe it or not, not everything is perfect at Spotify! We have things that don't quite work and we continue to try to solve these problems. Thus for the purpose of this presentation, we'll try to put aside the "bubblegum and unicorns" of the Spotify Engineering Culture videos and talk about what doesn't quite work at Spotify and how we're trying to solve it. Compared to earlier material from/about Spotify this will be more of a failure / learning report for change agents and others who need encouragement that it's always hard AND it's always possible to improve.

  • Rahul Ganjoo
    By Rahul Ganjoo  ~  4 months ago
    reply Reply

    Agree with Tathagat - Spotify's deck on Agile is viral now and have seen it being used for reference at many organizations. Are you thinking about going deeper into any specific area?

  • Tathagat Varma
    By Tathagat Varma  ~  4 months ago
    reply Reply

    A story from Spotify is always welcome and is always interesting for attendees...but, given the general availability of information and knowlege about the Spotify model from white papers and videos, most people would know about it to some degree already. I think we have had some talks in the past (maybe one in 2016, IIRC). Can you elaborate on what are some of the new ideas, or challenges, etc. that you plan to address in your talk? 


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    1.1 Never limit yourself by the past

    Early in my career the CEO of the organization that I worked for shared with us what is popularly known as the “Elephant Trick” in one of the open forums. This goes like:

    The best advice I ever got was from an elephant trainer in the jungle outside Bangalore. I was doing a hike through the jungle as a tourist. I saw these large elephants tethered to a small stake. I asked him, 'How can you keep such a large elephant tied to such a small stake?' He said, 'When the elephants are small, they try to pull out the stake, and they fail. When they grow large, they never try to pull out the stake again.”

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     1.2 Perception is reality

    There are very few of us who are not surprised by the 360 degrees feedback that we get on an annual basis.

    Whatever may be the reality, how people perceive us is what determines the way they interact with us on a day to day basis. We create perception through every action that we take or do not take. As we go about the business of carrying out our life, people will make judgments about our appearance, personality and capabilities

    It is very important to constantly communicate with the stakeholders and be consistent in “Doing what you say and saying what you do”. Providing and seeking feedback regularly helps reduce the gap between perception and reality. 

    Learning 2: Change behavior, not culture

    We often hear that employees are irrational in face of change and find all possible reasons to avoid it. I do not agree with same. Majority of the times, the irrational ones are the organizations who set objectives, processes, job description in a way that people stick to them and are surprised that they resist while being exhorted to do the opposite.

    So, where does real change start ? Real organizational change starts from changing behaviors. Behaviors in turn are triggered by performance management, rewards and recognition systems. It is important that are 

    As Eliyahu Goldratt mentioned ““Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way… do not complain about illogical behavior…”

    It is also important to recognize the behaviors that lead to the outcomes as much as we recognize the outcomes themselves. This helps shape the organizational culture that we would like to build and is at the core of building light house teams with high trust and ownership that set the trend for the rest of the organization.

    Learning 3: Asking people to collaborate does not foster collaboration

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    Lesson learnt is “Don’t ask people to collaborate if they know that, in the end, there will be a winner and a loser. “ At the heart of most team / organizational dysfunction lies a non-aligned goal setting, performance management or rewards and recognition system.

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    Learning 4: Develop clarity of thought

    Wherever there is clarity of thought, there is also commitment, focus an flow. It is essential to focus on the basics like creating trust and ownership in the team, getting and acting on early customer feedback, writing excellent code, automating repetitive processes, thorough regression testing and creating continuous incremental business value. Most of the times people chase the latest fads like mob programming, latest technology without really understanding if that is really required to solve the problem on hand. 

    It is also important for the leader to ask the right questions. Leaders should focus on “why” people do what they do vs. “what” they do. Asking the powerful question “why?” forces people to think deep. They can then peel back the layers of excuses and get to the root cause of the problem. For example, if employees have failed to meet a goal and are asked “why” questions rather than “what” or “how” questions, they might give responses like, “I didn’t prioritize my time.” So, the leader must then go farther and ask, “Why didn’t you prioritize your time?” When the employees say they have too much on their plate, the leader must ask “Why?” once again. The final answer: These employees are working on many tasks and cannot distinguish between what is and what isn’t a priority. With the real problem revealed, the leader can now take appropriate action, perhaps setting up time to help them prioritize their many tasks.

     Learning 5 :Creating teams with "Purpose"

    Most of us are aware of Dr. Viktor Frankl  who became well known to the world through his book "Man's Search for Meaning" which is devoted to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.”

    In his words, as given below:

    "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

    “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

    Wherever people understand the "Why" behind what they are working for, this automatically creates an environment of high commitment, pride in work and ownership.  Storytelling is also an effective mechanism to help people relate to the situation on hand and engender higher levels of involvement.

    Usage of purpose alignment matrix and four questions (who do we serve ?, What do they need and want most ?, What do we do better than anyone else to meet those needs and wants ?, What is the best way to deliver these products / services ? ) helps establish the team's purpose

    While compensation is definitely a hygiene factor, it does not by itself motivate people toward better performance.I have personally found Dan Pink' s model of Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery quite effective when deployed at the work place.  

    Learning 6: Steer clear of common  decision making bias and pitfalls

     As leaders, we should be aware  of and steer clear of the following common biases. I will cover these in more detail during the talk with specific examples.

    • Attribution bias
    • Zero risk bias
    • Recency effect
    • Information bias
    • Ostrich effect
    • Overconfidence