Saturday 21 July 2018

Agile and the Spotify Yardstick

I was lucky enough to attend LAST Conference 2018 last week and it reminded me to finish my reflections on a session I attended 3 years ago at LAST Conference 2015!

At the time, one session in particular made me really stop and think about 'agile' and how organisations and teams just starting on their journey can so easily get lost in information overload. I believe this is just as true today as it was 3 years ago.

The session was @muir_maria's session "It's okay to be Hybrid" that started it all. @muir_maria very rightly pointed out that there is a spectrum (a very wide one) where at one end exists 'Waterfall' and the other 'Agile', and at the agile end, she has put Spotify as the yardstick. This represents what many in the industry believe (or seem to), that they aren't really agile until they have copied all the practices that Spotify are using.

Don't get me wrong, Spotify must be a great place to work, and they are extremely advanced in their agile practices, however, I'm not convinced that the Spotify model is the right model for every other organisation on the planet, nor do I believe that the Spotify model is perfect (their marketing machine has to be commended for the impact that this has had, I'm sure that their subscriber base is significantly higher because of it).

I believe that the key to their success is that they are continually identifying possible ways to improve, being brave enough to have a go at these new ways, and keeping the things that work while discarding the things that don't. If you rinse and repeat that enough times, you are going to be in a great place. They are doing great things, but if another company in another industry was that aggressive with continuous improvement, would they end up with the same model? Possibly. But I'm tipping they would end up with a different model, one that was appropriate for the problem domain that they are solving.

There are a number of problems with continually measuring ourselves against the Spotify, or Netflix, or Atlassian, or any other specific organisation's Model. The first is that it stifles innovation, we have all these organisations and intelligent people who are so focused on whether they are as good as 'Org X' that they try to apply aspects of the 'Org X' model to their business instead of identifying an improvement that is based around their problem domain (the team, the business model, the regulatory environment, etc.).

The bigger problem is that for organisations new to agile (and even a number of organisations who have been practicing agile for a while), they think that the only way they can be agile is to do all the things that 'Org X' does. That isn't going to be achievable, as it is a huge mountain to climb, and I'm not surprised that a lot of organisations aren't signing up to drop everything they know to do what 'Org X' does.

I'm not advocating that we stop observing and copying practices from successful teams, that definitely needs to continue, I'm proposing that the culture and practices of regular reflection, resulting in experimentation and further reflection using the shortest possible cycle time (weeks and days, not months) is the more important goal to be chasing.

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