DEV3L on Scaling Agile @ Spotify

dev3l profile image Justin Beall ・3 min read

The summary of notes I took while watching the video. In general, a lot of forward thinking concepts that tends to be at odds with output based management techniques.


This is the list of Spotify principles Henrik displays throughout the talk.

  1. Trust > Control
  2. Innovation > Predictability
  3. Failure Recovery > Failure Avoidance
  4. Experiments > Arguments
  5. Chaos > Bureaucracy
  6. Culture > Process


There is a saying that 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast'. Spotify has codified this by creating a small algorithm that emphasizes the importance of employee satisfaction and culture. Focus on what motivates teams. It sounds like #happycows produce more milk. When the why comes first, products change (or create) industries.

productivity = effort x competence x environment x motivation^2

Scrum first to establish order...

  • relax on practices, focus on principles
  • renamed scrum master to agile coach
  • Can't delegate for someone to own culture
    • YOU are the culture
  • Sum of everyone's behavior and attitude


"Manage for the normal, treat exceptions as exceptional."

Don't scale agile, descale your organization. Spotify believes in enablement of autonomy. Then, it uses that as a guiding principle for the company.

Autonomy is:

  • Speed enabler
  • Scale
  • Motivation
  • How and Next decided as a team

Complex systems will have normal accidents...
Fail Fast, Learn Fast - Become the "Fastest learner"

Organizational Structure

He goes over the Spotify organizational model... If this is novel for you, welcome to what awesome can look like.


  • Squad (team) -> Tribe (group of teams)
  • Chapter: competencies
  • Guild: areas of interest

Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is the ultimate business advantage. Learning fast is impossible when feedback loops are in periods of weeks instead of minutes. Without a stable delivery pipeline, a company will be left in the dust to die with the other dinosaurs. The organization is to live by the principle that, every commit is a release candidate.

"The key thing to make this whole thing work, small frequent releases"
"Deployment should be so easy that even an agile coach can do it"

Instead of adding structure to a complicated release, make releases easy!

Spotify lives by the DevOps self service model. It has entire platform teams that enable the rest of the organization. Live by the DevOps mantra, with, not for. Hidden behind feature flags, everything gets released, even the stuff that is not finished. In addition, decoupled architecture creates limited blast radius for failures. Best practices such as zero down time deployments and canary roll outs enable the entire organization to move as independent speed boats!

A counter intuitive note: more bugs != less quality

Discover Process

Think it, Build It, Ship It, Tweak It

The ENTIRE process is enabled by the platforms build by the internal teams.

Think it:

  • Press release before - narrative
    • "If you cannot come out with a compelling narrative, don't build the product" ### Build It:
  • Same squad, avoid handoffs
  • MVP -- Minimal lovable product
  • How to build the right product + How to build it right

    Ship It:

  • Canary roll outs 1%
  • Watch and learn

Tweak It:

  • Tune towards the measurable objective


We work this way to enable innovation. The more autonomous and diverse the pool is, the more surprised you will be of the outcomes.

Two times a year the company has a hack week. This is a free for all innovation-fest. The whole company participates. Ideas are nurtured. Entire products get shipped. It is healthy for the company as new connections are established, which further reinforces the innovation engine.


Servant leadership is the guiding management principle. Managers do not ask 'What are you doing?', instead they ask 'What do you need?'. Create environments that enable high autonomy and high alignment.

Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

  • "It's easier to fix chaos than it is to fix bureaucracy"
  • "Healthy culture heals broken process"
  • "Waste repellant culture"
  • Not HIPPO
  • There is no right or wrong, it is all trade offs
  • 1 > 2 > 0
  • Spotify is NOT an agile nirvana

Continuous Improvement Engine

If the goal is to learn faster than everyone else, not methodically applying those learnings to every aspect of work is a unacceptable. Henrik did not mention the Toyota Production System (TPS) Improvement Kata, but it seems a process like it is implemented apart of the Spotify culture.

Teams should know what their top impediments are.

Definition of Awesome: "If you can't agree what awesome looks like, it makes it hard to get there"


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