Since the publication of the Spotify Engineering Culture movies on Spotify Labs companies try to follow the same ‘model‘. But what are they really doing….
In April 2015 I started my assignment for a Dutch bank. This client of mine has a history that traces back to 1881 and employs around 100.000 people in over 40 countries. Quite a difference compared to Spotify, a company founded in 2006 and employing 1500+ employees in about 18 countries. But although the difference, this bank has decided to implement the Spotify ‘model‘ in their company, and with this model I mean the organizational structure with squads, tribes, chapters and guilds. In the banks tradition of implementing changes, they did this overnight and June the 15th 2015 was the date.
I wondered how a company can force a change upon itself overnight, let alone one of this magnitude. A strange and, for me, unexpected side effect was how fast the mindset took shape within the organization. People were adapting to the new structure within months if not weeks. The change to this ‘model‘ did come with growing pains for the organization of course. We are still inspecting and adapting to overcome those pains.
This bank has been in a transformation from the traditional way of working to the Agile way of working for several years now. Some departments were very successful with this and some were less successful. I think one of the problems the company was struggling with was their culture that started to develop way back in 1881. How can you change a company to become agile that has a history that is that long? In my opinion this is where the Spotify ‘model‘ fits the company’s picture. Because there is no Spotify ‘model‘, it just doesn’t exist! All there is, is an article and two movies on the internet about the ‘Spotify Engineering Culture’ (part 1 and part 2).
And that is what it is, a culture, not a model on its own. The model is a part of the culture but this culture contains a lot more besides the model. This organization just looked at this relative young company called Spotify and at their cultural values and then decided to start changing their own culture by changing their cultural values. While the Spotify Engineering Culture evolved over time while they were growing, this bank had to adapt their existing values to those of Spotify. After the changes took place I start seeing gaps between what I thought the Spotify culture was and what I saw at the bank. I questioned myself how I could validate if we were on the right track.
I’ve been watching the two Spotify Engineering Culture movies on the internet over and over again to find the values and principles of Spotify. With my agile mindset that I developed over the years I tried to grasp the Spotify mindset as Henrik Kniberg explained it in the movies. I tried to capture these values in a checklist that I created to help my client and others to monitor their progress when implementing this culture. However, that is just how I understood it, but is that the way Henrik meant it? I had to check with him so I did sent him the checklist. His answer couldn’t be more clear: “What an awesome checklist!” so here it is for all of you to use, the Spotify Engineering Culture Checklist. And while Spotify is light years ahead of my client I like to end with the note Henrik gave me:
“This is aspirational. Spotify doesn’t claim to be doing all these things. But they try.”
…and so do we, making this Spotifying journey to a higher agility!