Tribification of Agile

Imitation is the best form of flattery, but what Spotify did to Agile and what industry doing to it by trying to replicate is atrocious. If something works for a company and it is different from the norm, it means that company has stepped on a self-exploratory journey and discovered the things that are unique to their company and company’s culture and then they put a structure around it. This structure may have gone through a lot of iterations and fine tunings before what was shown to the outside world as a working process or mechanism.

Spotify Engineering Culture

Image credit from Emilia’s 2017 blog
  1. A Squad – The smallest unit for the team
  2. A Tribe – The Grouped Squads
  3. A Chapter – The Specialists
  4. A Guild – An Informal Structure

What follows is a mad rush to imitate and adopt that model, in a quest to achieve similar if not same results of success. What that leads to, is something like the image below.

Back in 2017, in one of the blogs, Emilia Barska very neatly summarized the concept of Squads, Tribes, Chapters, and Guilds what forms the core of Spotify engineering and what came after it was a blizzard from various companies to emulate the same structure. Instead of copying the structure what a company needs to understand?

Their own Culture

Culture is a loose word to define an organization, but I’ll go by what is industry established understanding of the same. As per Harvard Business review (fondly known as HBR) there are Six components of culture in an organization. These are Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative and lastly the Place. Companies that are driven with strong leadership show many of these traits very well defined and taken care of on a regular basis. As Culture is not a one-time thing, it is living and breathing soul of the company.

Now if you’re introducing a big change of changing your way to work to Agile way, the first thing that gets impacted is the Mindset. The Mindset has a huge bearing on the culture of the organization. You can’t expect people who have been beaten black and blue for their minor failures to suddenly become more adventurous and start believing in the idea of “it is safe to fail”.

Banks are the biggest examples of this mindset challenge. A career banker who has spent 20 or 30 years by showing how risk averse and safe he is to build a strong reputation can’t be expected to start taking chances with technology. There was a reason why Banks were always considered as laggards in tech advancements as the idea of “If it works then why change it” was deeply engrained in them.

The only change that used to happen was when it was forced upon them due to lifecycle management of software or hardware, commonly known as EOS / EOL upgrades. If a company is not focusing on evolving its culture and basic mindset then playing with keywords like Squads, Tribes, Chapters and Guilds is just an exercise in vain or just for generating the feel that something is happening.

I would say it again, Don’t confuse activity with actions taken and displacement with distance traveled.

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2 comments

  1. Good article!
    One of the reasons, Spotify called them squads and not scrum teams was because teams were empowered to choose any framework they wished to adopt. So Scrum, Kanban, RAD or any other framework was upto the team.
    Empowering teams and harnessing their collective genius is at the core of agility

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