The top 3 points you should have paid attention to in the Spotify Engineering Culture videos that aren’t Squads, Chapters, Tribes, Guilds

  1. Aligned autonomy;
  2. Creating trust-at-scale (across boundaries);
  3. Decoupling (to enable autonomy)

Aligned autonomy

From part 1,

Alignment vs autonomy in a 2x2 matrix
Alignment vs Autonomy (picture extracted from part 1, drawn by Henrik Kniberg)
  • Leaders communicate what problem needs to be solved and why;
  • Teams collaborate to find the best solution.
  1. (alignment) A clearly expressed product strategy;
  2. (autonomy) Empowered Product Teams (aka Squads)

Clearly expressed product strategy

There are many different ways to express a product strategy. The specific format depends on your specific context and organisational preferences. However, good product strategies have a structure that follows what Richard Rumelt calls the kernel:

  1. A diagnosis based on data and insights;
  2. A guiding policy, that is, a set of beliefs that describe the general approach to overcome the identified problems;
  3. A key set of coherent actions (or more accurately, bets).

Empowered Product Teams (aka Squads)

Empowered Product Teams:

  • Are multi-disciplinary (Tech, Product, Design, Insights). All skills needed to progress exist on the team;
  • Have a mission;
  • Are expected, and have the authority to, figure out for themselves how to achieve their mission.

Creating trust-at-scale (across boundaries)

From part 1,

  • A strong culture of cross-pollination;
  • A strong culture of mutual respect (aka People > *). This is associated with the shared belief that we’re all in it together and need to help each other to succeed

Cross-pollination encourages trust

Cross-pollination encourages trust by humanising across boundaries.

  1. Embedding: someone temporarily transfers to another team;
  2. Liaisons: someone acts as the primary point-of-contact to another group. Effective liaisons are deliberately selected based on being well-respected and reliably good at developing relationships;
  3. Internal movement: someone permanently transfers to another team but still has relationships with their previous team.

Mutual respect encourages trust

Mutual respect is established by the interaction habits of influential role models, the design of systems to encourage respectful behaviour and discourage disrespectful behaviour, and the stories that are told of what is considered good or bad.

Trust-at-scale requires acknowledging the humanity of politics and fear

Decoupling (to enable autonomy)

From part 2,

Architecture follows strategy

Architecture should be coupled where product capabilities should be coupled and decoupled where product capabilities should be decoupled. Architecture should follow product strategy.

Stage #1: Market Development; Stage #2: Growth; Stage #3: Maturity; Stage #4: Decline
From “Exploit the Product Life Cycle” by Theodore Leavitt, Harvard Business Review Nov 1965
Product capability dependent on a single technical service (fine); product capability dependent on two technical services (fine); two product capabilities dependent on one technical service (might not be fine)
Don’t couple product capabilities (especially at different life cycle stages)
“Market Development” services can depend on “Growth” or “Mature” services; “Growth” services can depend on “Mature” services
Services should only depend on other services that are as stable or more stable

Spotify Models are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise

The next time you hear about the “Spotify Model” please think of it as an example and not something to blindly copy AND at least, instead of Squads, Chapters, Tribes, Guilds, think aligned autonomy, creating trust-at-scale (across boundaries), and decoupling (to enable autonomy).



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Jason Yip

Jason Yip

Staff Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl