Spotify Agile Model and How it is different from SAFe

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What is a Spotify Model?

The Spotify model is a man-made, independent agile framework. This model emphasizes the importance of culture and network. This method uses Squads, Tribes, Chapters, and Guilds, and the basis of this model is the team and works as a Scrum team.

History of Spotify Model

Spotify has become a popular music player and is known for providing unlimited original collections of music content. It was launched in 2008 and has become a large company with 1600 employees. Their success is due to their agile methods that focus on the use of Agile Scaling in their own way. This route is called the Spotify Tribe. Initially, a company started in a scrum way when it had a few employees but as it started to grow they thought of measuring so they started using agile measurement in their own way. They now have 30 gangs scattered throughout 4 cities in 3 different locations. So by embracing the unique approach of Agile Scaling not only helps them achieve their goals faster but also helps them to change people’s thinking.

How has Spotify Company been managed and rated from time to time?

Spotify started using a scrum, and soon their work and resources were increasing so they started using agile terms as follows.

Squads: Spotify Basic Development Unit is the squad. In general, a team is similar to a scrum team and is designed to feel like a mini-startup. In an organization, there can be many squads and each squad can have 6-12 people. Each team is committed to working for a goal All the people in the team usually work together and have all the skills and tools needed to design, develop, test, and excel in production. The group is independent, organized and self-governing. so one squad uses scrum sprints, some using Kanban and some using a mixture of scrum and kanban. Sometimes early release, teams use the most effective product process (MVP) as well.

Each squad has a long-term job such as building and improving the product. All teams always have a fast coach, which helps to improve the way it works. There is a product owner who explains the concept of the feature area. The Agile Trainer conducts back-to-back planning and retraining sessions are voluntarily maintained. Each group has direct contact with the participants and there is no dependency on other teams.

Most squads have an excellent working area including a desk area, lounge area, and a personal “drag” room. Almost all the walls are whiteboards.

Squads are encouraged to use 10% of their time on “hack days”. In the days of hacking people do whatever they want, often trying new ideas and sharing with their peers. Hacking days are not only fun but are a great way to stay up to date with new tools and techniques and sometimes lead to important brand products.

High-Level Understanding of the Squad:

  • Product Owner – The team has a dedicated product owner who prioritizes work and considers both business value and technical aspects.
  • Agile Trainer/Coach  – The team has an agile trainer who helps them identify obstacles and train them to continue to improve their process.
  • Influence work – Each team member can influence his or her work, play an active role in planning and choosing which activities to work on. All team members can spend 10% of their time on hacking days.
  • Easy to release – The squad can (and does!) get stuff live with minimal hassle and sync
  • Team-friendly process – The team senses ownership of its process and develops it continuously.
  • Purpose/Mission – The team has a goal that everyone knows and cares about, and the development/QA/DevOps stories are related to the goal.
  • Organizational Support – The team knows where to turn for problem-solving support,in technical blockers and minor issues as well

Tribes: Multiple Squads that work on a related feature area make a Tribe. The Tribe can be seen as an incubator for the squad mini-startups. The tribe has a fair degree of freedom and Autonomy. A Tribe may consist of 42-150 people but ideally, a tribe should have a maximum of 100 individuals. Each of the tribes has a lead who is responsible for creating a productive and innovative environment for the squads. The squads in a tribe are physically in the same office and the tribe lead can be part of the squads as well. Tribes hold gatherings regularly, maybe an informal get-together where they represent their work to the rest of the tribe on what they have delivered and discuss the lessons learned. Tribe leaders pay close attention to the squad dependencies and analyze to what extent those dependencies are blocking or slowing the squad down. Then tribe leaders discuss the ways to eliminate the problematic dependencies, especially blocking and cross-tribe dependencies.

Chapter: Chapter is a small family of people with the same skills and working within the same skills area, in one tribe. The chapter is a type of glue that keeps the company together, providing a scale economy without sacrificing much independence. The chapter contains people from different groups who must be united and form a tribe. The Chapter Leader is also the line manager of the chapter members and supports them in their growth and specific challenges.

The Chapter Lead is also part of the squad and tribe and involves in day-to-day work. A chapter can be like the testing chapter, the backend chapter, the frontend chapter, and the web developer chapter.

Guild: An informal group constituted of people from different tribes. A Guild is a more organic and wide-reaching “community of Interest”. A guild is a group of people that share knowledge, tools, code, and practices. A Person from any squad, chapter, or tribe can be part of a guild.  

The purpose of having a chapter and a guild is the same; ensuring transparency by solving problems and keeping teams aligned and focused. Whereas the chapters are always local to a tribe, while a guild usually cuts across the whole organization. A guild often includes all the chapters working in that area and their members e.g. Web developer guild includes all the web developers in all web developing chapters, but the benefits of having guild are anybody, who is interested can join any guild.

Now I will explain in simple terms with an example as to how a guild works. There is a tester from a particular squad, let’s say from squad A, who is struggling with a problem. There is another tester in squad B who can easily solve the same problem because he has already done it, so if both of them are in the same chapter then they can share their problem and find a solution.

But if both of them are not in the same chapter, then they would have a guild i.e. guild for testers, so both the testers can share their knowledge and help each other.

As we have understood that each chapter meets regularly to discuss their area of expertise and discuss their challenges. But a guild usually conducts workshops and the guild workshops are like hackathons and guild workshops are very critical activities for guild members. 

Trio / Alliance Leader: A Trio is formed when for every tribe there is a design, product area, and tribe lead. They can also be called as Alliance lead.

Alliance: A combination of three trios makes an alliance. it is led by product, design, and a tribe leads.

Chief Architect: A critical member of the organization that articulates the concept of architecture, guides in design, and deals with the system architecture dependency issues.

Distribution over Delegation: The Whole system greatly changes the leadership structure within the company- especially as squads have no hierarchy. But this can be a daunting prospect for all the traditional companies as the Spotify model required to have agile coaches to help organizations set it up for. Usually, while implementing Agile the following concerns will bound to raise i.e. how do you ensure employees aren’t slacking off? if everyone is equal, how do workers map a career path? Who is in place to delegate tasks? But we all have to remember that the adoption of agile processes increases productivity by a massive 87%. so the number itself answers everything. If productivity increased by 87% then it’s obvious relates to the team and its members and it happened only because when they feel motivated. They feel motivated as everyone is on a level playing field working towards a commonly defined goal. Also, the process will be quicker and more efficient, in return employees will benefit from more inclusive and dynamic company culture. 

SAFe v/s Spotify: The SAFe framework 4.5 is a lean-agile framework for working for several scrum teams together within the same structure. it offers a complete set of tools that range from scrum teams to portfolios. it also offers courses for its implementation and certifications to create coaches of the framework. SAFe offers a complete and detailed framework that reassures its interlocutors. But some experts see it as a framework much too detailed. SAFe tells you how to work, how to coordinate, how to train, and how to put it in place. Whether we like it or not, we must admit that it is incredibly complete. There is a small lean side to want to define everything and optimize. Overall SAFe is a heavy framework.

Spotify had set up a large-scale agile model which later on became very famous in the name of the Spotify model. It was Henrik Kniberg and Anders Ivarsson who communicated it in 2012. However, this model has become a reference and many companies are inspired by it from 2012. The Spotify model doesn’t want to be a big toolbox. The Spotify emphasizes the need to create many interactions to limit the silo side created by the squad. it will be essential to define how each team has to work in a general way or by leaving the autonomy to the teams at 100% usually Spotify model doesn’t detail anything at this level. Moreover, the Spotify model doesn’t bring any solution to manage the portfolio unlike SAFe. Spotify provides complete freedom and the team has to define everything. Overall Spotify is a lightweight framework.

Conclusion: There are no losers or winners, the SAFe framework and the Spotify model both have their advantages and disadvantages. The Spotify model offers some interesting concepts that you can use. However, it will be essential to have an agile coach to help you set up. Whereas SAFe offers training and certification to understand their framework and to create coaches who can guide the team on the framework. One side Spotify provides complete freedom to the team to decide their way of working and on the other side, SAFe will ask you to follow a set of recommendations for its implementation, which is much more reassuring by its strict framework side. The best option would be to use a mix of SAFe and Spotify model and it can produce a very interesting outcome when we blend the Spotify model with SAFe tools.