Spotify: A Case Study in Successful Agile Culture

If you listen to music, there’s a very good chance that you use, or have used Spotify at some point in the last 10 years.

Spotify: A Very Brief History

Spotify is a music, podcast, and video streaming platform founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in Sweden. It was launched in October 2008, and on April 3rd of 2018, Spotify went public.

After just one day of trading, the streaming platform was valued at $26.5 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.

So how did this sparky company grow and expand to play in the major leagues with giants like Apple and Amazon?

The Answer is Agile

A Natural Transition from Scrum to Agile

Spotify started as a Scrum company, but over time, their rapid growth inspired them to adopt a more “agile” approach.

Scrum is a subset of Agile, or a way of implementing Agile. As you’ll read below, many of Spotify’s teams still use Scrum approaches and much of how the organisation handles larger projects is Scrum orientated.

However, expanding to become an Agile culture gave Spotify the freedom to become the market leader it is today.

Learn About Spotify's Agile Culture

Spotify’s Learning and Development channel released the video below 4 years ago, but it remains hugely relevant today.

Although Spotify is primarily a software development organisation, we challenge you not to be inspired and motivated by what you learn during this video, regardless of your industry.

The video is 13 minutes long, so we recommend grabbing a cup of coffee before starting. If you’re short on time now, here are some key take-aways from the video…

In a Nutshell: Video Key Points

1. Break Rules Like a Champ

Spotify originated as a Scrum-led organisation, a perfect environment for instilling a team culture. Rapid growth led Spotify to value Agile over Scrum. They required a “bigger picture” approach.

As Henrik Kniberg says in this video, “Rules are a good start, but then break them when needed”.

Succeed at growing and changing. Allow your “best-practices” to change, and don’t cling to a process or tool-kit. Perhaps something was the perfect fit for your business last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s your best strategy for this year.

2. Culture is Key

Throughout the video, you’ll hear Henrik refer to Spotify’s culture repeatedly. They pour a lot of resource and focus into developing and maintaining their culture.

It’s a culture based on autonomy (more on this below), innovation, and respect. Through training and support, Spotify’s leadership team instil a culture of mutual respect and trust throughout. Inflated egos, politics and a stranglehold control have no place in this forward-thinking organisation.

3. Autonomy for the Win

Autonomy very quickly became the driving force of Spotify. It’s at the core of so much of the company’s operational momentum.

The structure of the organisation is focused around ‘squads’, teams of usually less than 8 members. Each squad has a 'squad mission', and ownership of a single or multiple products.

Autonomous teams are at the heart of both Scrum and Agile principles. Autonomy is motivating, and motivated people deliver better work, faster. It also serves to minimise waiting around and unnecessary administration – another win for productivity.

The video also focuses on the importance of balancing the blend between autonomy and alignment with the organisation's overall goals and culture. For optimum productivity and quality, aim for high autonomy and high alignment.

Autonomy and Alignment

4. Collaboration is Very Cool

At Spotify, office space is optimised for collaboration. Each squad’s area includes adjustable desks, and spaces for both a daily stand up, and smaller meetings.

Knowledge sharing is actively encouraged. There are communities within Spotify called “guilds” that are geared towards promoting this element of the culture. Anyone working at Spotify can join a guild that focuses on an area they are interested in, to learn more about it, contribute ideas... and of course, share knowledge.

When teams share knowledge, problems get solved faster, ideas develop rapidly, and obstacles are removed from every project.

5. Continuous Improvement is a Game Changer

Lean principles meet Agile flexibility in Spotify’s progress over perfection mindset.

Adopting a mindset of, ‘we’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction’ enables teams to try new approaches, learn from failures, and identify what works best in every situation.

Spotify encourage trial and error, but also champion a “waste-repellent culture”. If something’s not working, learn from it – then ditch it and move on. There is no room on this innovation train for projects and processes that just don’t work!

Is It Working?

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