Driving Enterprise Agility and Innovation through Culture and Values with Spotify

By Doug Rose

Enterprise agility frameworks tend to communicate culture through manifestos and principles more than anything else. Although Spotify doesn’t exactly list its principles, the creators of its approach highlight what the organization values in terms of inequalities. As you read through this list of Spotify’s “values,” note how nearly every one of them supports squad autonomy and innovation over methodologies and practices:

  • Agile > Scrum: Being agile is more important than adhering to any agile framework, such as Scrum, Kanban, or Lean Software Development.
  • Chaos > Bureaucracy: Although Spotify doesn’t exactly yearn for chaos, it strives to have the least amount of structure and process (bureaucracy) to avoid total chaos. It relies on its foundation of community and culture to keep from tipping into chaos.
  • Community > Structure: A thriving community drives innovation, whereas a highly structured organization tends to stifle it. As Spotify puts it, “If you always need to know exactly who is making decisions, you’re in the wrong place.”
  • Cross pollination > Standardization: Allowing practices to spread from squad to squad leads to a healthier balance of consistency and flexibility than does requiring that all squads adopt a specific set of practices.
  • Enable > Serve: Facilitating other people’s work is more effective than doing it for them.
  • Failure recovery > Failure avoidance: The Spotify approach doesn’t punish failure. Learning from failure and using the lessons learned to improve the product and process is what matters most.
  • Impact > Velocity: A feature isn’t done by a certain deadline or at the end of a given sprint but when the product achieves the desired impact — when it produces the desired results.
  • Innovation > Predictability: Spotify sees innovation and predictability as opposite ends of a spectrum. It wants some predictability but prefers to be more innovative than predictable. The focus is on delivering value, not on meeting deadlines.

    When higher predictability is needed (for example, to coordinate a release with a planned marketing activity), Spotify may slide closer to the predictability end of the spectrum and use standard agile planning techniques, such as epics and user stories.

  • People > *: An organization’s people are its most valuable asset. Mutual respect is essential.
  • Principles > Practices: Guiding principles promote agility, whereas established practices may just get in the way.
  • Servant > Master: Servant leaders are more empowering than process masters. In line with this value, Spotify changed the name Scrum Master to Agile Coach.
  • Trust > Control: Trust gives people the freedom and confidence to try new things and take initiative. Control hinders agility and stifles innovation by creating a culture of politics and fear.