My critique of “the Spotify Model”: Part 2

Jason Yip
8 min readJan 28, 2023

Part 1 here

NOTE: Although I was at Spotify for around 8 years, I‘m not familiar with how every area worked and I have my own biases, preferences, etc.

I define “Spotify Model” as any concept or practice mentioned in the Spotify Engineering Culture videos. I’m only covering part 2 in this post.

Fail fast to learn fast

“we aim to to make mistakes faster than anyone else”

“fail fast → learn fast → improve fast”

“failure recovery > failure avoidance”

This failure tolerant, learning focused mindset seemed to vary with both tenure and area of the company. I’d say old-timers were generally more likely to be learning-focused than newcomers.

Depending on the product life cycle stage, there might be different tolerances for failure (or at least what kind of failure is tolerated) and what kind of learning is valued. This makes sense. Fail fast to learn fast should be interpreted differently for innovation capabilities vs differentiation capabilities vs commodity capabilities.

One interesting thing I noticed was the ongoing allure of shifting to larger changes. The more was learned, the more likely there was creeping overconfidence about what was known, the more it seemed wasteful taking small steps to learn fast. Given we know more, why not take bigger Bets? Why not have bigger, splashier, market launches? Why do we need to be embarrassed by our first MVP? Why can’t everyone love our first MVP?

Sequence showing the iterative evolution of a product from a skateboard to a scooter to a bicycle to a motorcycle to a car. Pointing to the skateboard: “Do we actually learn anything from this?” Pointing to the car: “Why aren’t we more ambitious?” Statement at the bottom: “Do we really need so many iterations?”
The allure of shifting to larger changes

Fail fast to learn fast? Yes, BUT adjust learning focus based on product life cycle stage AND watch out for creeping overconfidence.

I’d also expect recent layoffs to undermine the sense of safety required to fail fast.

A culture of continuous improvement

“a strong culture of continuous improvement, driven from below and supported from above.”

“This is never about ”who’s fault was it”. It’s about ”What happened, What did we learn, What will we change”.”

There are generally two ways to undermine a culture of continuous improvement: blame and ignoring problems. A…

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl