Spotify, Schmotify: Do Your Own Agile Thinking

Podcast Ep. 124: Spotify, Schmotify: Do Your Own Agile Thinking

Spotify, Schmotify: Do Your Own Agile Thinking
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by his co-host, Sam Falco, principal trainer and professional scrum trainer at AgileThought.

Together, they’re exploring a question that was sent in by a listener. They asked Dan and Sam to share their take on “the Spotify Model”. The popularized model was first introduced in 2012 by the whitepaper, “Scaling Agile @ Spotify” and described a “people-driven, autonomous approach for scaling agile that emphasizes the importance of culture and network”.

Often, organizations will look at a successful company and say, “How can we emulate what they do”? rather than, “How can we emulate how they think”? There is a desire to mimic a pattern that another organization created because it fits their context, environment, people, and processes. However, installing the Spotify model can be fraught with danger because you’re not Spotify in 2012.

If you have your own question for the Agile Coaches’ Corner that you want Dan and Sam to answer in a future episode, you can send it in at

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Why wouldn’t the Spotify Model work for your organization? 
    • Just because you see somebody do something someplace else, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you — because you’re not them
    • You shouldn’t look at a successful company and say, “How can we emulate what they do?” but rather, “How can we emulate how they think?” (i.e. “The Spotify Model” worked for Spotify, but will not work for your company — emulating is not likely to bring you success)
    • The model may not be applicable — and even if it is, there is going to be resistance and additional challenges will be exposed that will need to be addressed
  • Parallels between how organizations bring the Spotify Model vs. how they bring in the Scrum Framework:
    • With both, if you don’t do all of the elements, success is less likely
    • The Scrum Framework, however, is a lot easier to adopt (preferably, adopt the Scrum Framework and use it to find out what processes work for your organization)
    • Installing the Spotify Model can be fraught with danger because you’re not Spotify in 2012
    • You could try implementing some of the Spotify Model’s approaches (but most importantly, make sure it works for your organization)
    • When it comes to implementing any type of framework or model, the early questions should be: “What do you hope to accomplish? Why do you want to install this model or adopt this framework? What’s not working for you now and how do you think this will fix it?” This way, you can evaluate and measure regardless of what model you’re proposing, think about: What does success look like? Why are you doing it? What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Tips for adopting any model or framework:
    • Look at what’s working (and not working) within your own organization and have discussions on what to do next based on this
    • Adopt an experimental mindset
    • Be clear about the problem(s) you’re trying to solve as an organization
    • Be clear about how you’re measuring success
    • Look at all of the components of whatever you’re trying to adopt and ask, “How will this work here?”, “What will prevent this from happening?”, and “What exists in our current system that is antithetical to these components?”
    • Approach the question of “Should we adopt _______ model or framework,” with empathy and humility — whatever is being suggested (by whoever it may be) is trying to help the organization; not hurt it
  • How to ensure that implementation of a model or framework is successful:
    • Facilitate and make sure that you have all levels of the organization involved
    • Ask: “How is it that we can maintain our current system and adopt a new system and still be successful?”
    • Remember: The current system is not going to change overnight
    • Note: Your journey will not be a straight shot from point A to point B
    • No matter the model or framework, the organization’s DNA is going to respond in unexpected ways — be prepared for the unexpected
    • Bureaucracy kills innovation — if you want to be innovative, you need to kill bureaucracy
    • It can be extremely beneficial to get an outside perspective and bring someone in outside of your organization

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to this episode of the agile coaches corner. I’m your host, Dan Newman and happy again to be joined by Sam Falco, principal trainer, and Professional Scrum Trainer here at AgileThought. Thanks for joining us, Sam.

Sam Falco: [00:29] Always a pleasure, Dan.

Dan Neumann: [00:29] You know, we’ve had a pretty regular invitation for folks to contact us with questions using And we have one that you’re going to introduce, right?

Sam Falco: [00:43] Absolutely. One of our listeners notice, I did not say reader this time, so improvement.

Dan Neumann: [00:50] But we do have slash podcast. For those more reading inclined.

Sam Falco: [00:56] A listener contacted me and said, I would love to hear some of the opinions about the quote “Spotify Model” and quotes since the company I am currently with, seems to think copy and paste is a good idea.

Dan Neumann: [01:12] Did they actually say copy and paste?

Sam Falco: [01:14] That’s that was the phrase. I don’t think they’re saying it at his company, but that was the listener’s comment.

Dan Neumann: [01:19]
Probably a career limiting move.

Sam Falco: [01:21] He didn’t identify his company and we aren’t identifying him or her.

Dan Neumann: [01:31] My son has me trained the, they, them pronouns mean singular and I’m becoming much more, uh, much more aware of things like this.

Sam Falco: [01:38] My old office mate from grad school still hates that we were both in the English department at university of South Florida. And he just know, I am not a vain. I’m not a plural, like, alright, chill, dude. I know, I know you have to teach this, but I live in the real world.

Dan Neumann: [01:54] There’s more important stuff to talk about. Like the Spotify model.

Sam Falco: [01:58]
So concurrently, when I got this email, I’m still reading human ocracy, which I mentioned on a previous podcast. This is a really dense book. It is not one you blow through. So I read really quickly, but I am taking my time. I get through a chapter or sometimes part of a chapter and I have to put it down thinking about what I just read. So at the same time, as I got the email from our listener, I was reading part of that book. And one of the things that the authors say is that, and this is not a direct quote, too many organizations look at a successful company and say, how can we emulate what they do rather than how can we emulate how they think? And that really resonated with me because that’s one of the things we coach organizations on is just because you see somebody do this someplace else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you because you’re not them.

Dan Neumann: [02:49]
Yeah. And what a time honored management school type of thing, right? Oh, let’s go look at GE. Let’s do what they do. Let’s chop the bottom 10% of our workforce out periodically. Uh, let’s look at Apple let’s what did Apple do? We should, we should do that. You know? So we should, you know, one of our first products should be an illegal phone dialer, I guess. Right, right. Yeah.

Sam Falco: [03:13] And I actually had one of our clients, one of the first things they said was, you know, we’re really thinking about the Spotify model. What do you think? And I said, well, are you Spotify? Are you Spotify in 2012? Because even they don’t do that anymore. This was that engineering blog post. I think it was a series that was just saying, Hey, here’s something we’re trying. And people said, well, Spotify is successful. We should do that. And Spotify even had said, don’t, don’t do that.

Dan Neumann: [03:38] And why, and why wouldn’t we do that? Yeah. Right.

Sam Falco: [03:41] And later they said, we’re not even doing that anymore. That was something we tried. And I think they even said it didn’t work all that well. So they’ve moved on. Other organizations need to do the same kind of thing of looking at what’s working, having some really good conversations about what’s working. What’s not working. What can we try next and adopting an experimental mindset.

Dan Neumann: [04:04] Yeah. I know Adam Ulery and I did an episode back a while ago on experimental mindset. So if people want to, um, take an additional foray into experimental mindset that would be wanting to go back and listen to, so are you anti-Spotify model?

Sam Falco: [04:21] I have no feelings one way or the other about the Spotify model. I think it’s a misnomer to even say that again, this was Spotify. Wasn’t trying to create a model. They were trying some things that they hoped would work for them. And they wrote about them. And as I said, I think people saw, Oh, successful company is doing X. We should do X and tried to make it a model in much the same way. I was just thinking about our team’s episode recently, where Tuckman’s Model, wasn’t supposed to be a model. It was some observations that people then turned into a model. And that happens so often waterfall was described in a paper by Winston Royce in 1970. And one of the things he said in it is, I don’t think this will work. People glommed onto it, chop that part out. And they did it for and still are doing it decades later, even though he was right. It doesn’t work all that well.

Dan Neumann: [05:18] Cause he would have had to read more than the first page to get to the reasons that model wouldn’t work.

Sam Falco: [05:23] Right. Or plus short attempts diagrams are really, really, you know, compelling.

Dan Neumann: [05:29]
Ooh. So as we think, I, I think about, you know, this Spotify model and um, you know, I’ve seen organizations that try to take pieces of it or, you know, they create squads and whatever, all the other different bits and pieces of the Spotify model, it might work, um, much like I think I’ve seen people do that same thing with Scrum. So Hey, let’s grab the Scrum thing. Let’s install Scrum events. Let’s call somebody a product owner and a Scrum Master we’ll, uh, do a daily standup and we’ll do a sprint demo. Right. They kind of start butchering the terms cause they don’t quite even get the model. Right. Um, do you see parallels between an interest in an organization bringing on a Spotify model and the way sometimes organizations bring in the Scrum framework?

Sam Falco: [06:21]
Yeah. And this is kind of tricky ground because the Scrum Guide does say, Hey, if you don’t use all of the elements, you’re not doing Scrum and it may become useless to you. And so, and we’ve talked about that in previous episodes about how that becomes a gotcha aha. You know, Scrum, isn’t really agile because it says you can’t change anything. And Scrum is saying, look, this is a system. If you change part of the system, it’s not the same system anymore. And so yes, what happens is companies, I think even companies that say they’re interested in the Spotify model, they would do the same thing with that. There they’re going to bastardize it. They’re going to turn it into, Oh, we’re going to make it our version of that and include all of the dysfunction that there that is causing them problem, but not fix it. Scrum is I think the reason it is called a lightweight framework, as there’s not much to it, it’s a lot easier to adopt. So adopt that and use it to figure out what process has worked for you. I think that’s the, I don’t want to talk too long about Scrum. Although love Scrum love to talk about Scrum, but I don’t want to make this a Scrum episode. But the beauty of Scrum is that it helps you figure out what your processes are, which ones are effective and helps you figure out how to improve or develop new ones and abandon ones that aren’t working. So there’s nothing wrong with having processes as tools. The manifestor does not say don’t do the things on the right. Rather explicitly says that those things can be valuable. The ideas when they stop working, there can be value in things on the right.

Dan Neumann: [08:04] Yeah. And even a little bit more firmly. I think they say there is value in the things on the right. They just value the left more. So we can be agile and use JIRA.

Sam Falco: [08:15] Yeah. But the point is, and the power of Scrum is it allows you to say regularly say, is that working for us? Is there a better way, even if it is working for us, is there something that would work better? Let’s try it. So when companies adopt Scrum, but they just, as we’ve talked about before, man, we’re, we’re sub referencing earlier episodes a lot. This is like the podcast equivalent of a clip show.

Dan Neumann: [08:44]
Oh no sitcom. If I had more skills we’d go back and pull those episodes but we’ll excerpt them. But uh, but anyway, we’ll just keep rolling. Yeah. We’ll just keep Oh.

Sam Falco: [08:57] I forgot what I was saying.

Dan Neumann: [08:58] Oh, that’s okay. I’ll take over. I’ll grab the wheel. You’re veered into the ditch. Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. So, uh, I have no idea what caused tiger woods crash. I guess that’s part of the investigation. Yeah. But having been a passenger in a car where the driver actually had a seizure, that’s scary stuff. Yeah. So yeah. Anyway, bringing it back. Um, so there’s the Spotify model and a desire to mimic a pattern that somebody, some other organization created because it fit their context. It fit their environment, their people, their processes, et cetera. Um, installing the Spotify model can, um, be fraught with danger. And because you’re not Spotify, you’re not Spotify in 2012. You’re somebody else. Uh, not to say don’t do it. And don’t maybe start there. You could start and say, Hey, this squad thing might work here. Let’s try that this, um, whatever iteration based approach might work here. Right. But then needing a place to, to change.

Sam Falco: [10:07] Yeah. And I think whenever anybody proposes any type of model or framework, the first question should be, what do you hope to accomplish? Why do you want to install this model or adopt this framework? What’s not working for you now. And how do you think this will fix it? Because that way we can, we can evaluate, we can measure, let’s say we, uh, adopt, Oh, let’s, let’s go for an old throwback. There’s a, uh, an agile framework called crystal. And we decided that crystal is what we’re going to use. And we’re going to use it for six months and we’re going to measure it against how we were before. And is this helpful to us just because I wanted to get away from Scrum for a minute, plus. Yeah. I liked that the full name of it is crystal methods. So crystal meth.

Dan Neumann: [10:54] And I live in Indiana. We’ve got more crystal meth than crystal methods. I’m pretty sure at this point. Sorry. Yeah. Going on with Crystal.

Sam Falco: [11:04]
So if someone were to say, let’s do this, well, why, what, what do we think it will give us? Oh, well we think that because it has various levels, we can run crystal clear with our, if I’m remembering this correctly in a long time, since I read up on crystal, but I think crystal clear has the least amount of control, but we have some, some products that really don’t require that level of oversight, but we can go all the way up. And again, nobody should quote me on this, but I think crystal red is the most restrictive stuff. When you’ve got a lot of oversight, like regulatory stuff you’ve got to handle and we’ve got some things that will, so we can scale up and down. Okay, great. How are we going to measure whether this is effective or not, regardless of what model you’re proposing, think about what the success looks like, why are you doing it? And that will, that will serve you better than just saying we need to be agile. So let’s just drop Scrum again and now never look at well, what processes are in place now that might need to change.

Dan Neumann: [12:06]
Yeah. So a couple different ways to phrase that I like the, what does success look like? Um, what do we want to accomplish? What’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Uh, and that can help eliminate some new possibilities. For a person, maybe like our reader. And I’m imagining part reasonably. Now you’re doing it. Oh, goodness gracious. That stuff’s contagious. Yeah. So, so for our listener, yeah. Good for the listener who I’m imagining is not a C-suite executive who is setting the direction. They’re probably not, uh, uh, direct to a C you know, imagine somebody solidly in the middle who is in an organization that has said, this is what we’re doing. I think it might be helpful to have some, um, I don’t know, some, some thoughts for them right. Going and tilting against that windmill is probably not a solid career move like saying right. I’m not doing it well. Okay. Yeah. This might not be the company for you. It would probably be the response. Um, I think there’s some things in there about, um, at least being clear about the problem we’re trying to solve. You know, not saying we shouldn’t do a Spotify, but as you’re in an environment that is quite likely going to go down this path, just being clear about the problems that we’re trying to solve, or how do we measure success better.

Sam Falco: [13:36] And looking at all of the components of whatever you’re trying to adopt and saying, how will this work here? What will, what will prevent this from happening? What will, what will push back? What, what exists in our current system that is antithetical to these components? So if, again, if we’re, if we’re using Spotify, what happens if we use squads, how does that challenge somebody’s preconceived notions or challenged somebody’s power. What’s going to happen if we do that, what could happen? And that’s hard. And I think, again, this is why often organizations just want to grab something and plop it in, but have those conversations going back to Scrum again? Well, what’s going to happen if we have a Product Owner. Oh, well, we’re, we’re just gonna, you know, have everybody make a committee okay. Automatically you’re ruling out doing Scrum. Well, so maybe that’s not for you or can you, what would it take to get there?

Dan Neumann: [14:43] Yeah. The product owner example where we talk about them having the knowledge, the authority, and the time to fulfill the role, if that product owner has to take everything to a committee because they really don’t have authority or autonomy, that’s going to be a problem. When we talk about self-managing teams in the Scrum framework, a team that cannot self-manage, um, you know, maybe because another manager relinquishes control or they’re too siloed to effectively, self-manage, you know, that that’s going to be a problem, right? Spotify created squads. If that requires some level of dedication in your organization, habitually time slices people into many different projects, that will be a problem. And somebody farther up in the food chain is going to hopefully address that behavior in your organizations so that you have a fighting chance of the model being successful.

Sam Falco: [15:52] Right. And you know, then going back to the conversations, I’m suggesting, you know, facilitate, make sure you have all levels of the organization involved from if it’s, you know, let’s say it’s coming from the C-suite. I don’t know, but let’s say it is that this directive, okay, well, let’s get the person who’s saying this and let’s get some folks from maybe middle management who don’t report up to that person. So they have a little more leeway to disagree. Um, some people, you know, line workers, basically the people are going to have to live with this decision and really have some powerful conversations. There’s a website, has a lot of great exercises to facilitate that kind of conversation. And I’m thinking one of them is called wicked questions. And the way this plays out is we start asking about opposing it, complimentary strategies we need to pursue simultaneously in order to be successful. So how is it that we can maintain our current system, but adopt a new system or, and adopt a new system and still be successful. What’s going to happen? That’s just one idea off the top of my head.

Dan Neumann: [17:13] And I like, you know, the, the current system isn’t going to change overnight, right? Quincy, Jordan and I had recently did an episode about agile journeys. You know, it’s not a straight shot from Point A to Point B, where you lay out your waterfall plan for your agile adoption. It’s much more wandering. And yes, as a Spotify model, as a Scrum framework, as a SAFe a nexus or a, you know, crystal, whatever, pick your framework as you bring that in the organizational DNA is going to behave ways you don’t expect. You’re going to have to respond to that over time.

Sam Falco: [17:56]
Right. Because you’re dealing with a bureaucracy and going back to Humanocracy, this book is all about the fact that bureaucracy kills innovation. And if we’re going to be innovative, we need to kill bureaucracy. But while it’s there, it resists. I’ve done some work on resistance to new change. And it’s always been about the people. Well, sometimes you can, I think, have everybody willing to change, but the system is so resistant and so resilient that it is really difficult to change. And culture, a very simplified definition of culture I’ve seen is culture is the way we do things around here. I have a friend who’s an anthropologist and she loses her mind when you say that, because it’s way over simplified. It’s fun to say it at a party after she’s had a couple drinks and watch her lose her mind. But, um, when you use that simplified definition, yeah, that, that makes a lot of sense. Culture is the way we do things around here and you are proposing to change the way we do things around here. So you’re not just dropping in a new system and it’s going to work. It’s going to clash with the existing system, the existing bureaucracy. And once again, go back to what’s that going to look like? What’s that likely to look like you’re not going to predict it, but by trying to and brainstorming some things that might happen and what you might do in response gives you some ammunition when things go weird.

Dan Neumann: [19:23] So, Sam, in, in summary, we, we had a great question from a listener who maybe reads the show notes as well. And, and, uh, kind of the, the framework of, Hey, the company is going to install the Spotify model, you know, shared some thoughts on that and really keeping the eyes open for that model might not be applicable if it is applicable, there are certainly going to be other resistances in the organization. Other changes, other needs to address within the organization, just like when organizations bring in the Scrum framework, it exposes some challenges that need to be addressed organizationally beyond that team. So hopefully there are some good takeaways for that person.

Sam Falco: [20:09] Right. And one more thing I just wanted to add is as we as always approach this question with empathy, empathy, and humility, these folks that are suggesting whatever it is, they’re suggesting again, in this case, Spotify model of whatever they’re trying to help, they may be actually be in some distress about something. So empathy, humility asking why they’re interested in this and how can I help you? We’ll go a lot farther than what I used to do early in my career. Cause I had not got, uh, at the time, much empathy or humility. I would just, that’s a terrible idea or no, it’s not going to work because empathy and humility will take you along the way as well.

Dan Neumann: [20:55] It makes me think of the retrospective prime directive. That’s attributed to Norma Kurth, which is, you know, again, don’t quote me, but I’ll paraphrase effectively. People are doing the best they can given what they know and the situation and the resources available at the time. So you know this is quite likely the best thing that could happen at this point or at least people are doing the best they can give, given the current situation.

Sam Falco: [21:20] That was a pretty good paraphrase. Kudos.

Dan Neumann: [21:22] Thanks. I’m going to go Google it later and we’ll probably put, put the actual code in the show notes. Okay. Okay. That brings us to, um, the continuous learning journey. Right. But, uh, what’s on your Sam.

Sam Falco: [21:36] As I mentioned earlier, I’m still reading Humanocracy and this is a really powerful book. I think everyone should read it and think about how can I tackle bureaucracy at my organization, whether you’re high in the chain or low in the chain. What can I do to foster innovation by getting rid of the bureaucracy that kills it? I also recently read a book called biology, B U Y O L O G Y by Martin Lindstrom. And this was recommended by our own Dr. Jerry Smith, the subtitle truth and lies about why we buy. And some folks might find this insightful into what makes us buy something.

Dan Neumann: [22:19] The purchasing decisions that people make.

Sam Falco: [22:23] For example, I’m talking about this book right now and it might make someone buy it while I’m on the subject of Dr. Jerry Smith. I also want to point out to listeners that he has a new podcast series coming up soon. So keep your eyes peeled for that.

Dan Neumann: [22:38] Very good. A little teaser build some anticipation. Maybe people will buy, even though it’ll be free based, based on that anticipation. Very nice.

Sam Falco: [22:46] That’s all I got. What about you?

Dan Neumann: [22:50] I’d rather run than read, which is an impediment when it comes to learning. Uh, but related to running, I apparently have injured my back and it’s gone. I mean, it only hurt for a year before I went to a physician. And then, um, that led to some imagery. We did the x-ray thing. We did the MRI thing and it was interesting. So they gave me the CD of all the pictures and I Googled some stuff about how to read MRIs. And I looked at my pictures and I’m like, it just looks like a crab, no clue. And I think bringing it back to what the hell does that have to do with this? Um, I think a lot of organizations, when it comes to agility, the look at the manifesto and they’ll look at their organization and then maybe they have a notion, uh, but at times you just really need that expert outside perspective on this is what you’re seeing. I know it kind of looks that way, but this is why it looks weird, but it’s okay or it looks normal, but there’s actually a subtle problem. That’s having big, uh, big downsides to your performance as an organization. So that for me, um, is kind of my, um, my thought nugget of just sometimes you need an expert to look at stuff and help you figure out what on earth is going on.

Sam Falco: [24:11] Right. And there’s only so far we can take ourselves via self-education. I got better as a guitarist when I went and took some lessons, even though I’d been playing guitar for years discovered well I was holding my hand in a weird way, here’s a better way to, Oh wow. Now I can hit that cord. I got better as a writer when I went to an editor and said, Hey, take a look at this and paid them to critique my manuscript and discovered some serious flaws. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Is that outside view from someone who really knows the subject matter or the, uh, the knowledge domain. Well, yeah. Yep.

Dan Neumann: [24:49] Well put, so with that, we’ll put a little bow on this one to thank folks for listening. And if this was a valuable outside perspective, you know, would invite you to, uh, recommend it and, or leave a review on one of the, uh, podcast platforms of your choice and, uh, we’d appreciate it. Um, and hopefully the person you recommend it to, or, uh, sees the recommendation would also get some benefit. So thanks again.

Sam Falco: [25:13] Tell two friends and they tell two friends.

Dan Neumann: [25:15] Is that how this works?

Sam Falco: [25:17] Yeah. It was an old shampoo commercial.

Dan Neumann: [25:19] I think I’ll Google that later. Okay. Well, thanks again. And there was a bow and it just unraveled.

Sam Falco: [25:32] I’m gonna drop my mic now.

Dan Neumann: [25:33] Until next time. Ciao.

Outro: [25:38] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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