Spotify Technology Career Steps

This is a repost from:

This is part two of a three part series on how we created a technical career path for individuals at Spotify and what we learned in the process. This post contains the actual version one of our Technical Career Steps. This is the complete document, so it is a bit long. In the next and final post, I will talk about the mistakes we made along the way and the good and bad lessons we learned. If you haven’t read the first segment, you should start with that.

Table of Contents

  1. Motivation behind the Steps Framework
  2. Career Steps for Tech employees
  3. FAQ

Motivation behind the Steps Framework

As Technology within Spotify has grown over the years we have learned that people striving to increase their impact often wanted to become a Chapter Lead or Product Owner even if they might have preferred the role of an individual contributor engineer. Everyone in Spotify Tech should have a way to grow their careers and expand the impact of their -work no matter what role they play. A shift into a Chapter Lead or PO position is not necessary.

The Steps Framework provides a way to do this.

The Steps Framework

As your career evolves within Spotify, you will likely take on a variety of roles, in a variety of contexts. You will work with multiple teams, on multiple projects, perhaps in very different domains or perhaps in a smaller area of specialty. You will build capabilities and mastery. Your impact on Spotify will grow, and so likely will your sphere of influence.

Your career development within Technology will therefore be a journey — sometimes sideways, sometimes forwards, and always flexible. There are some common patterns in the series of roles people decide to take on, and in which disciplines and expertise areas they focus, but this is not rigidly defined. It is up to you, with the help of your manager, to choose a path that aligns your interests and the company’s, and that helps you develop, grow, and meet your own unique personal goals.

Throughout this journey, as you gain experience and develop your skills, you will have greater and greater impact. In other words, the degree to which you contribute to the success of Spotify — its team and its mission — will grow over time.

The Steps Framework  is designed to provide you with:

  • The opportunity to explore new roles, skills, contexts and disciplines over time, avoiding a specific, rigidly-defined “track”
  • A way to understand your progression toward greater and greater impact, independent of specific role or discipline
  • A set of well-defined expectations corresponding to defined points in this progression

In practice: Disciplines, Roles & Steps

In practical terms, supporting this development journey requires a more complex framework than a typical vertically-oriented hierarchy or “career ladder”. There are three key elements in the Steps Framework:

  • A Discipline is a domain of expertise and impact. Examples include:
    • coaching
    • software development
    • testing
    • project management
  • A Role is a way in which you engage with a team, a project, or a discipline. They are not all formally defined, but there are some common ones. Examples include:
    • software engineer
    • tester
    • road manager
    • technical product owner
    • chapter lead
    • agile coach
  • A Step is the combination of a well-defined set of expectations and behaviors associated with a particular degree of impact on Spotify. As you take Steps on your career path, your impact grows.

In the end, your path will involve taking Steps forward, growing your impact and broadening your influence while you evolve through specific Roles in various Disciplines. Your compensation is influenced by your Step, aligning your performance to the positive impact you are able to have on your team, your product, and Spotify as a whole.

Moving to a new Step in a given domain represents both an acknowledgement of what you have done and a commitment from your manager that you will get bigger challenges in the future.

Your Step is a measure of your personal growth and is intended for use in discussions about career development between you and your manager. Your Step is private: only you and your manager can see your Step.  But we believe in transparency, and so will re-evaluate whether everyone’s Step should be public in some form after we have lived with the framework for a while.  It is much easier to share this information later than to un-share it if it becomes problematic.

Behaviors and our expectations at different Steps

We have identified five sets of behaviors that  provide a framework for understanding and talking about the expectations on all of us, at different levels of impact. They are:

  • Values team success over individual success
  • Continuously improves themselves and team
  • Holds themselves and others accountable
  • Thinks about the business impact of their work
  • Demonstrates mastery of their discipline

The greater the impact, the more we expect in each of these areas.  A “senior” technologist who’s helping to set company-wide strategy will need to make these values manifest in different (and more sophisticated) ways than a fresh-out-of-school member of a squad.

The path

There is no one path through this framework. It is up to you and your manager to navigate the set of roles and the contexts in which those roles can be played, finding good ways to align your interests and your organization’s needs. Through this process, you will always learn and grow, increasing your impact on the company, and thus moving to different Steps. There is no expected amount of time that you will spend on each Step. Some people will move through them faster, and some will go slower. Some will reach a Step and choose not push towards the next Step, instead growing in other ways. The steps themselves are a measure of professional maturity and are therefore cumulative. A Tribe/Guild-step contributor shows all the behaviors of the Individual-, Squad/Chapter- and Tribe/Guild-steps.

Career Steps for Tech employees

There are five characteristics that every individual in Tech should develop as part of their professional growth at Spotify:

  • Values team success over individual success: We are a team and not a collection of unaffiliated individuals. You may be part of several teams: your squad, your chapter, your guild(s), your tribe. Contributing to the success of each of these groups is more beneficial to the company, the product, and our customers than chasing your own success at the cost of your teams.
  • Continuously improves (self and team): Spotify believes in never settling for the status quo. We are always focused on learning and growing.
  • Holds themselves and others accountable: As a company we value transparency and autonomy. These values must be coupled with accountability if we are to succeed. Taking responsibility for your own actions and the actions of the team and holding others to this standard is critical for us to be able to trust and work with each other.
  • Thinks about business impact: Spotify is a business. If we wish to keep working within this culture that we’ve built, we need to make sure that we are aligned with that business. Understanding how the choices you make affect the company is important for your growth as a professional.
  • Mastery: While the other characteristics talk about expectations and behaviors that are independent of your domain or role, mastery is specifically about becoming a better software engineer, agile coach, technical product owner, QE, QA or TA. There are items marked for each of these disciplines. Anything that isn’t marked is expected of all roles.

We have also identified four Steps in your career path at Spotify. Each Step is marked not only by increased responsibility, but also by your increased impact within tech.

  • Individual Step. At this step, you are focused primarily on being a useful contributor, gaining experience and learning how to be effective on their team. It is not expected that a member of technology would remain at this step during their entire time at Spotify. At this step, your focus should be on growing so that you can support your team. This is the only step where there is an expectation that all members of technology should move toward the next step.
  • Squad/Chapter Step. At this step, you are a resource for your chapter or your squad, either as a domain specialist for your team, or as a generalist/problem solver for them. You should be able to lead smaller efforts coordinating with other members of your team and drive them to completion and/or dig into tough problems and solve them independently taking in feedback from your peers and focusing on the outcome.
  • Tribe/Guild Step. At this step, you have an impact across squads or chapters. You are a resource for a larger group as a domain expert or generalist. You will lead cross-team (squad/tribe/chapter) efforts involving more people and drive them to completion and/or you will take on large challenges, working with diverse stakeholders in multiple teams to solve a problem that affects your larger organization.
  • Technology/Company Step. At this step, your focus is significantly on supporting Tech-wide or company-wide initiatives. You will Road Manage projects that span tribes and be responsible for solving Tech-wide problems, and/or you will also represent Tech in company and/or industry forums, and/or you will be a go-to person across the company to solve very complex problems

On recognition and promotions

When you are consistently demonstrating the behaviors and sustained impact of someone at a wider Step, your manager should recommend you for an official promotion (as long as you are willing to accept the increased expectations going forward).

The process for promotion depends on the Step involved:

  • A chapter lead can promote one of their individual step employees to squad/chapter step without outside approval, though the chapter lead will make this decision in part based on feedback from that employee’s peers in the squad and chapter.
  • Promotions from squad/chapter step to tribe/guild step must be approved by the relevant tribe lead, after consultation with tribe-level leadership.
  • Promotions to technology/company step must be approved by the CTO, after consultation with technical leadership, including people currently at the technology/company step.

Since we place so much value at Spotify on being an effective member of a team; promotion to the next step, at all levels, should involve consultation with a varied group of the person’s peers. This can be done using the loops tool in addition to direct conversation, for example.

Formal promotion to a new Step will normally come with an immediate compensation increase, as well as an immediately increased scope of responsibilities. The promotion represents a commitment from both sides: you will keep executing at the more advanced level, and your manager will continue to provide opportunities to have broader impact.

Examples of broader responsibilities as part of being at a more senior step for a developer could include things like:

  • driving the technical implementation of a new feature for a squad at the squad/chapter step
  • figuring out how a tribe should adapt their systems for anonymization at the tribe/guild step
  • leading the CDN technology strategy for content delivery, including technical feasibility, cost/benefit analysis, and vendor selection at the technology/company step

Public recognition will frequently be decoupled from formal promotion. We believe it’s more effective to recognize people for successful completion of important projects than for reaching a (somewhat rare) career milestone.  So we expect to see more announcements like “Please join me in congratulating Jane Jones, who drove this project to completion over the last few months” and fewer announcements like “Please join me in congratulating Jane Jones, who has officially been promoted to the Tribe/Guild Step”.

On Setting the Step for a New Employee

It can be hard to tell what step a new employee is on based solely on their interviews. To give the employee time to acclimate to Spotify and their role, their official step will not be determined until their six-month review. During that review, the step is set through a discussion between the new employee and their manager.

The new employee should do a self-evaluation with the framework to see how much they believe each behavior represents them. The manager should talk to the peers of the employee and use their own knowledge and experience from working with the employee to do an initial evaluation of how the different behaviors in the framework describe the employee. A discussion between the manager and the employee will show where they agree and where they differ, and allow them to reach a decision on which behaviors describe the employee today. This also sets the context of areas to focus on in the near future for growth.

On Compensation

Your compensation as a Spotify Employee within Technology is influenced by the Steps Framework: having a bigger impact on the company should lead to higher pay in a straightforward and transparent way.

We want to make sure Spotify salaries are following the market. Therefore we get salary benchmarks from specialised suppliers and industry leaders in this area. Since the salary benchmarks are used as a recommendation and not as strict guidelines when setting salaries we will not share them internally. We’ve always used market data to help guide our pay principles. Since H2 of 2015 we are matching them to work within our steps framework.

The salary benchmarks for Steps overlap each other. This means that a person at the Individual Step can earn as much as someone at the Squad/Chapter Step and vice versa.

On Titles

Steps do not map to titles. We approach titles differently depending on whether we’re talking about internal or external use.


  • Scopes of impact have defined names — the Individual Step -> Technology/Company Step.
  • Roles have defined names — some more formally defined than others.
  • Roles are typically more useful for internal communications than anything else.


  • Employees have a tremendous amount of flexibility regarding how they represent themselves externally.
  • They can use their roles, they can use more standard titles that they feel are more communicable.
  • We may in the future provide examples of external titles that commonly map to our internal role names to facilitate this.
  • We expect employees and their managers to work together to come up with appropriate external title usage.

Expectations for each Step

On Requirements vs. Examples

A few questions are common around the examples provided in the framework: are the behaviors in the bubble diagrams hard requirements?  How many of behaviors must someone be demonstrating, and how consistently, and for how long *must they be demonstrating them before they are considered to be at a particular step?

The most important point is that managerial judgment is always required: this framework provides a structure for fostering conversation between managers and employees, but it cannot ever provide a detailed recipe for how to handle any particular situation.  So the answers are intentionally not black-and-white.

The intention of the Steps Framework is to describe what it looks like for an individual to have increasing levels of impact on the Spotify tech organization.  But the truth is that there are lots of ways to have big impact, and we want to support all of them.  Someone might be moving the whole company forward through their deep expertise in a particular technology, and by putting on their headphones in a corner and singlehandedly writing a huge and critical piece of infrastructure that accelerates the work of hundreds of other people.  Someone else might move the the whole company forward by spending lots of time in meetings, driving consensus and resolving conflict as the company does something new.  These, and lots of variants in between, are all valuable.

So the answer is that the behaviors in the bubbles are mostly examples: many of the bubbles describe a specific activity more than a general behavior. These “activities” are mostly meant as examples of step-appropriate behaviors, as opposed to specific activities required to demonstrate that behavior. In aggregate, they paint a picture of what we mean when we say “tribe and guild impact”, “squad and chapter impact”, etc.  But they should be treated as triggers for discussion rather than a checklist.  Are you doing this thing?  Would your work have more impact if you did?  In general, we think these are all valuable things that people in tech should do.  But it’s not about seeing a behavior once and checking it off, or seeing a behavior consistently and checking it off, or about checking off 80% of the bubbles at some level or 100% of the bubbles.  It’s about the impact that your work has over time, and these bubbles are a loose proxy.


What about my special situation?

These guidelines should never trump common sense. People are complicated, and there may be some special cases that this framework does not address well. Managerial judgement will always be needed, in all cases.

I do not see myself as a developer, QA, TPO or a coach. My discipline is not mentioned in the framework, what expectations are set on me?

The framework provides examples for four of the most common disciplines within tech, but there are others. It would not be possible to define good examples for all possible disciplines or combinations of these. The existing examples should inspire and help you and your manager to set the expectations for you even if the names of the disciplines are not a perfect match. If a tribe after evaluating the framework later comes to the conclusion that the present disciplines are not helpful enough and need arises to define new examples for other disciplines they can introduce new ones.

Is there a set of formally-defined roles?

No. As context and ways of working differ across Technology, formal, pre-defined roles would not fit into a lot of squads. We do have disciplines (e.g. coaching, software development, toolsmithing, quality assisting, …) to guide skill sets and expectations, but as an individual contributor at Tech we do not forcefully limit our work to one of these.

What is the connection between Roles and Steps? Do I have to be at a specific Step to take on certain Roles?

Not for most roles – but some. Examples: You won’t be a good chapter lead if your sphere of influence is Individual, hence being squad/chapter step or above is needed. To be a Chief Architect your sphere of influence needs to be on a company level.

Is this a reporting hierarchy?

Reporting is based on your Role and Discipline, and not your Step. Based on their role, a Software engineer of any step can still report to a Chapter Lead.

Are Steps like “Senior”/etc. designations?  

Steps are a tool to facilitate career development and do not confer any title.

Do I have to demonstrate the behaviors in all value areas to be considered for a wider Step?

As a rule, yes. Steps are intended to reflect growing spheres of influence and impact. We believe all the competencies listed are necessary for someone to really have the increased level of impact that a new Step represents.  However, people are complicated, and there may be cases where someone’s strength in one area compensates for a weakness in another.

Do I need to continuously move through steps during my career at Spotify?

This is something to discuss with your manager. While we expect engineers to continuously improve their skills there is no rule that one must also continuously increase their sphere of influence. Individual step is considered an introductory step for an inexperienced contributor. We do expect that employees will move from the individual step as they become contributing members of their squad.

What happens if I want to move to a step with less impact?

You may choose to embrace a new discipline where you have a significantly lower level of mastery. There may be other situations that lead you toward this choice. Again people are complicated and we neither can or should try to anticipate every situation. If you decide that you want to make this kind of change, discuss it with your manager. Note that your compensation is tied with your Step.

How does this relate to loops?

Loops is a tool focused on performance development that puts employees in the driving seat. It can be very useful for your career evolution. Promotions are a separate process from Loops.

How does this relate to Priorities and Achievements?

Priorities and Achievements are a way for you to make commitments to goals and measure your performance against them. This can help determine your salary adjustments within your range year to year, but it is not tied to your step which will determine your salary range itself. As you increase your impact by moving to wider steps, your priorities and achievements should reflect that.

When can I get promoted?

When you and your manager agree that you are consistently operating at the next Step. Specifically, promotions do not need to be tied to the annual salary review cycle. See “On Recognitions and Promotions” for the details on how the promotion process works.

To what extent is this a tool, guidance, or a formal policy?

This framework is intended to provide a concrete toolset for employees and their managers. It is the model all of Technology is using. While deviations may make sense and be needed in some cases, that is the exception and is something that should be discussed at the tribe leadership level.

How does my Career Step affect my salary?

Your career step is used to determine a range of pay based on people at a similar sphere of impact in similar disciplines. This pay range gives guidance to managers on competitive rates of pay in the industry. It does not set your salary from year to year. Your pay change set in your yearly salary review is based on your performance based on expectations during the previous year.

Do I need to be promoted to increase my salary?

No. You can stay at a step and continue to increase your salary year over year. The salary ranges from step to step overlap significantly and they track the market (which is evaluated every year). Your salary increase is based on your performance, your behaviors, and the market.

How do I as an introvert fulfill the expectations on communication and networking in this framework? It seems to be tailored for more extroverted people.

The important thing is to make a positive impact. Given that, you have to find your own way, something that you feel comfortable with. Some people prefer the written language, others the vocal one. Some people share their ideas right away, others prefer to take time to think and elaborate. You just need to make sure you are communicating in an effective and constructive manner.

Building a technical career path at Spotify

This is a repost from:

Spotify launched a career path framework for individuals last year. Since then, I’ve spoken to leaders at several other companies about it. This seems to be a bit of a hot topic, so I’ve decided to write about our model and how we arrived at it. Hopefully, this may be useful to your company.

This will be a three part series. In this, the first part, I will talk about how we created our framework. In the second segment, I will talk about the framework itself. I will talk about the hard lessons learned in rolling out this kind of program in the third part.

The road is more important than the destination

If you are trying to figure out how to approach career paths in your company, it will be tempting to take ours (or someone else’s) and just use that, cargo-cult style. I would highly recommend against this though. How a person matures within your company is a critical part of your company’s culture. As I’ve written before, your culture is unique; a career path framework from another company will not build on or reinforce the values that make your company great.

When should you create a career path framework?

I saw a YouTube video of a panel on career pathing for tech startups at some point. One of the speakers made the argument that you should create a career ladder later than you think you need it, a little bit after it is really necessary. I think this is very good advice for a few reasons. A career path framework is unnecessary in the early days of a company and creates unnecessary process that can be as much of a distraction as a benefit. One of the great things about the early stages of a company is that roles people have are constantly evolving. Formalizing them too early can stunt the natural development of the organization and the individuals within it.

Eventually, as a leader, you will start hearing about people wanting to know what their future at the company looks like or how they can take on more responsibility.  When this shifts from an occasional idle question to a more of a groundswell, then you know that it is truly time to create something more formal.

At Spotify, we’d waited almost eight years before deciding that it was time to create a career pathing framework. The company’s anti-hierarchical culture probably was a large part of the reason for not seeing this as a need. Honestly, this was likely too long to wait, and some of the issues we had when we rolled it out were presumably due to the fact that we hadn’t done it sooner.

There were a few things that made it clear that it was now past time to do this. There was no formal way to acknowledge career growth (via title, salary or responsibility increases) in the individual contributor role. There was a strong belief within the organization that the way to be “promoted” was to become a Chapter Lead (line manager) or a product owner. In fact, switching to these roles at Spotify is more akin to a career change (to management or product) than it is to developing as an individual contributor.

In the spring of 2014, at a technology leadership offsite, we decided to create a “career ladder” for Spotify and quickly drew up something simple to start with. I was made the Road Manager (driver/leader) of the effort to flesh it out and then roll it out to our large organization. It seemed like a straightforward task at the time. That assumption turned out to be very naïve.

Defining technical career progression, the Spotify way

At other companies, especially companies the size of Spotify, creating a career ladder would be something that would probably originate from and be driven by the human resources organization. Within the technology organization at Spotify though, we tend to take a more direct responsibility for the things that impact our culture. We feel strongly that our culture is an important advantage in the effort to build our product. So in Spotify Tech we take these kinds of projects very seriously and are vocal and involved partners with our HR peers. Even to the extent of driving some of these programs ourselves in partnership with HR instead of the other way around.

The goal was to create a framework that would make sense with our culture, would work for employees from a diversity of backgrounds, in the US and Sweden, at all levels of experience, and in many different (some unique) roles. It was clear that this would require a team that could represent, as much as possible, the whole organization.

Build a working group that is representative of the organization

I put out a call to the technology organization for people who were interested in solving this challenge and who were also willing to commit the time to do it right. From the responses I received, I selected the group based on location (to maximize the number of offices represented) and on the role of the volunteer (to have a good cross-section of technology).

I also tried to get a diversity of opinions on the concept of career development. We had a few people who had been vocal in their skepticism of career ladders in general. I wanted to make sure that those voices were present as well.

We were lucky enough to have our CHRO join for several of the early meetings. Naturally our HR Business Partners for technology were also involved. Their domain expertise was critical throughout the process.

Doing it right takes a lot longer than you’d expect

At first, I thought that a few months of twice-a-week meetings would be sufficient to conceive and launch the program.  That turned out to be ridiculously optimistic. We were able to largely define the framework in a few months, but to create something like this, in an organic, bottom-up manner, for a large organization, requires many cycles of feedback gathering and incorporation. In the end, it took nearly six months from the beginning of the working group to the official RFC. It is now over 18 months since that initial working group meeting, and it still feels like we’re getting used to having the program in place, even as we prepare for the second iteration. We definitely have spent a lot of the last year supporting the rollout and adoption of the framework.

Some guiding principles

The working group began as you might expect, talking about the aspirations for the effort and comparing our own past experiences with career ladders at other companies. We talked about which of those elements made sense in Spotify’s culture. Quickly, we realized that the simple career ladder proposed by the tech leadership group wouldn’t make sense. Within the first or second meeting, that proposal was officially dead, and we started from scratch.

We agreed on a few principles early on:

  • This would not be a “ladder,” with an up-or-out mentality. We wanted to support people who wished to maintain their current level of responsibility.
  • The basis for advancement was a demonstration of behaviors and not achievements. We wanted our framework to be a true model of professional development. It should be about who you are, and not about what you’ve done. In a failure-safe environment like Spotify, we didn’t want to penalize people for taking big chances.
  • We wanted to support the changing of roles without punishing people for developing themselves. In other career ladders we’d seen, the role becomes a silo. Switching roles could mean a literal demotion since the requirements of a level are  tied to specific areas of achievement in a specific role.
  • We wanted this framework to reflect our team-oriented and autonomy-driven culture. Teamwork is critical to our way of working and we wanted to make sure that this was part of personal development.
  • We wanted to support both generalists and specialists. Many folks at Spotify move around the organization to develop a breadth of skills, while others like to get especially deep in specific technology areas. We wanted to support both of these types of people.
  • We believed that career progression is marked by the impact you have on progressively larger areas of the organization, your sphere of influence.

We shunned the word ladder from the start, influenced in part by our career ladder skeptics and our desire to support multiple ways of development. Struggling for a way to describe our model of career pathing, we eventually came upon the word “steps” thinking more about rocks in a stream than a staircase. The rocks would let you move side to side, or even backwards in order to eventually move forward. The framework was named Spotify Career Steps.

A set of five characteristics

We were able to build on some of the efforts that had come before in the technology organization. Specifically, the Agile Coaches guild had spent time developing a common set of core capabilities they thought each Spotify developer should have. This became the basis for the areas of development of our framework. We then added two additional areas to reflect professional development within our culture.

The five characteristics of Spotify employees that we identified were:

  • Values team success over individual success
  • Continuously improves themselves and their team
  • Holds themselves and others accountable
  • Thinks about the business impact of their work
  • Demonstrates mastery of their discipline

I will go further into these characteristics in the next part of the series.

A set of four steps

There was some discussion around the number of “levels” to have. We decided that it was easier to add more levels later than to remove them if we created too many. Given that we had decided that being more senior meant being a resource for larger and larger parts of the organization, mapping “levels” to our levels of organization seemed like a reasonable first approach.

The four steps of career development at Spotify that we decided on were:

  • Individual — at this level, you are new to working and are figuring out how to be productive and contributing member of the company.
  • Squad / Chapter (these are the teams that people primarily belong to) — you are now a contributing member of a team and are a resource for the people you work with every day.
  • Tribe / Guild (these are the larger teams organizationally or functionality that people are part of) — now you are a resource beyond your immediate team. Either because you have depth in a technology (and help others or other teams around that technology); because you are skilled at solving difficult problems that span teams; or because you can be counted on to lead other developers in your tribe to solve large cross-squad problems.
  • Technology / Company (the highest levels of the organization) — The developers at this level are resources for the entire company based on their technical and leadership skills and are expected to spend a significant amount of their time working across the organization.

A map of career growth at Spotify

The five characteristics and four steps created a map of professional development at Spotify. We then spent significant amounts of time defining each of the characteristics for each step.

One decision we made that I think was especially good was that mastery was only one of the five characteristics. That is the only area where we differentiate based on role (since mastery as a coach is significantly different than mastery as a mobile developer). This also helped reinforce that switching roles didn’t necessarily mean moving backwards in your career development as most of the characteristics were universal.

Much of the focus of the feedback we got was on the content of this map. This makes sense because this was essentially where the model got concrete for people. We were defining would be expected of employees in technology, after all.

A group editing process

We settled into a rhythm of working in a shared google document, mob editing. Non-pair changes followed our code review guidelines: an edit was made in the doc as a suggestion, and two separate approval comments to the suggestion were needed to accept the change.

The current version of the document (we would “fork” or create a new copy of the document on a regular basis) was then shared with progressively larger groups of managers and employees to get their feedback. Their comments and suggestions were then incorporated, after which a new version would be shared.

The rounds of feedback and tweaking were extremely valuable. We realized that we weren’t doing enough to support introverts in the initial versions, for example, and had to go back and make significant changes.

After several months of revisions and sharing to larger and larger groups, we finally created an official RFC version, which was then shared with the entire organization for comments, and suggestions.

This particular collaborative editing and progressive review process ended up working quite well. There were some improvements that I will recommend in the third part of this series.

At this time, I want to recognize the initial working group that was instrumental in the creation of the process and the document. We worked so well as a group that in retrospect it is hard to remember whose ideas were whose. Any idea that any of us had was definitely improved by the others involved. While I am writing about what we did, the work itself was a true collective effort by Chris Angove, Daniel Prata, David Poblador I Garcia, Eli Daniel, Henrique Imbertti, Jessica Joelsson, Kevin Goldsmith, Kinshuk Mishra, Olof Svedström, and Will Meyer.

Part two: the result of the process

In the next post, I will share the framework itself that was the end result of this process.

Innovation, Autonomy and Accountability: my talk to the UK Department of Media, Culture and Sport

I was asked to speak at the UK Department of Media, Culture and Sport in January. One thing that often comes up when you talk to people about autonomous organizations is the subject of accountability. This is something that we even discuss within Spotify, from time to time.

When talking to a government organization, especially one who is responsible for distributing funding for programs, like the DCMS, the concern around accountability is paramount. At the same time, governmental organizations are also looking to innovate to provide better services to their constituents.

My goal with this talk was to present the idea of how a governmental organization could innovate by using autonomous teams while maintaining accountability by picking good metrics to measure success of programs and measuring those metrics on an ongoing basis. This would allow the programs to have autonomous control of their work and innovate, while having a objective measurement of the value that they were returning.

The Spotify Tribe: My talk from Spark The Change last week

The organizers of Spark the Change in London asked me to speak about the Spotify matrix model. I was only too happy to comply. It was a great conference, and I met a ton of good people. As usual, I tend to talk to my slides, as opposed to putting a ton of text on them. Hopefully, you can still get something useful from it.

The Spotify model: how to create, dissolve, and remix teams to be more dynamic and more innovative

One of the most challenging parts of managing a traditional, hierarchical, organization is being responsive to new opportunities; especially those that require leveraging skillsets outside your own team. At Spotify, our organizational model allows us to create, dissolve, and remix teams with a minimal disruption to individuals or managers. This gives us tremendous abilities to address both temporary and long term opportunities.

This post was originally written by request and posted on Special thanks to Kate Stull for requesting the article, and helping me with editing.


One of the most challenging parts of managing a traditional, hierarchical, organization is being responsive to new opportunities; especially those that require leveraging skillsets outside your own team. At Spotify, our organizational model allows us to create, dissolve, and remix teams with a minimal disruption to individuals or managers. This gives us tremendous abilities to address both temporary and long term opportunities.

How it used to be

As a manager at Microsoft and Adobe, I was always challenged when there was a problem or opportunity that required repurposing a team or adding on additional scope to an existing team.

This kind of thing comes up all the time: a business development opportunity, or integration with another product. Often, this would require small efforts from multiple specialized teams.

It would cause disruption as those teams had to change their current plans and had to coordinate around a new challenge while still making progress towards their existing goals. Given that people and resources were managed within the team, and managers were still responsible for delivery of their existing commitments, often it would be hard to motivate them towards supporting this new effort.

Creating a new “tiger” team is often the solution in these situations, but that isn’t always an adequate solution for long-term or permanent projects since it essentially punishes the managers of the existing teams and requires finding a new temporary manager for the new team.

Another problem in existing organizations is figuring out what to do with a team whose project has been cancelled.

If the team is a high-performing team you may try to turn the team onto a new problem, which may or may not be a good fit for their skills and experience. You may instead dissolve the team, assigning the members to new teams based on the needs of those teams rather than the preferences of the individuals. You may leave it up to the individuals to find new roles in the company or face layoffs if they are unsuccessful.

These solutions end up punishing both the individuals on the teams and their managers, often for reasons beyond their control. In an organization seeking to innovate (which requires some amount of failure), it sends a counter message to one of experimenting and taking chances.

How we remix teams at Spotify

At Spotify, we wanted to create an organization that allowed us to be dynamic around our staffing, and adaptable in our teams.

We embrace failure as being important to learning and innovation, so we didn’t want dissolving a team to be a punishment. We put this new organizational model into effect over two years ago and have been working with it since. In that time, the technical organization has grown from 250 to over 600 people. We went from having three engineering offices to five, and from having 30 teams to over 70.

We focused on building full-stack, autonomous teams, built around a single, clear, mission. The expectation is that once the team’s mission has been fulfilled that it will dissolve.

To this end, new teams are constantly being created and old teams dissolving, with their members building new teams or moving into existing teams if they need additional staffing. Rather than create a formal manager role for these teams, we decided instead to make the teams collectively responsible for fulfilling their mission.

With this model, changing teams does not mean changing your manager, and dissolving a team doesn’t leave a manager looking for a new role.

We do have a strong belief in role of the manager as mentor to their reports, so we have a strong managerial culture; it just is manifested in a matrix, rather than hierarchical model.

Why Chapter Leads work better than traditional managers

Our technical managers are called Chapter Leads. They are usually responsible for managing a narrow range of developer disciplines within their larger organizations, for example: mobile developers, or backend developers. A Chapter Lead usually has direct reports in multiple teams in the organization.

For an individual, it is common to change teams, but it is less common to change managers. As each team is responsible for their full stack and all platforms, a team may include members from several chapters.

An example is the search team in my organization. Its members come from five different chapters: the backend chapter, the mobile chapter, the keyboard and mouse (desktop and web) chapter, the agile coach chapter, and the test chapter. Additionally, there is a product owner and a UX designer, both of whom are part of the product organization (which is organized more traditionally).

The Chapter Leads are not responsible for deliverables directly. Instead, the Chapter Leads are responsible for staffing the teams appropriately; for working with the individuals in the team to help them grow; and for working with the Product Owner and the Agile Coach to make sure that the team is performing well together.

Since the Chapter Lead has visibility into multiple teams, they can often identify short or long-term skill set needs and are empowered to resolve them.

Sometimes, this means switching two developers in two teams temporarily for a skill set need. Sometimes this means moving a developer into a different team to address a short term staffing need. This also means that if there is a new mission to be addressed, the chapter leads can work together to staff a new team to address that mission out of the existing teams in the organization.

A benefit of this model for an individual is that there are many opportunities for them to work on new projects or develop new skillsets since there are new projects spinning up on a regular clip.

When and how we remix and dissolve teams

This remixing is not constant throughout the technology team. We do have several very long-lived teams that are focused on features in the product, but even those teams will shift people between each other based on short or long-term needs. In some parts of the organization, specifically the infrastructure teams, they tend to be focused on short-term projects and are creating new teams more often. Those teams dissolve when they have completed their project.

We will also dissolve teams if we believe that their mission is no longer necessary. Usually this is the result of the team invalidating their mission themselves. We celebrate these conclusions just as much as the successful completion of the project, since we value the lessons from a “failed” project. Celebrating your failures as valuable lessons encourages risk taking, experimentation and innovation.

By striving towards a model that gives the individual consistency (their manager, and their Chapter) while still giving the organization fluidity and adaptability, we’ve found a happy balance that lets us extend our agile-first values beyond the work that a team performs to the organization as a whole. This has allowed us to focus on innovation and leverage opportunities that slower-moving organizations would have difficulty addressing.

Several companies have attempted to adapt our model but there is something critical to understand. Our organization model itself is fluid and continues to change and evolve to support the needs of the organization. The specifics of our implementation are less important than the underlying values and ideals that created it.

If you want the benefits of a dynamic organization, you will need to build something that is suited to the values of your own organization. I would argue that a central requirement is endowing teams with autonomy and decision-making authority. If you cannot support this, then you should look instead to adapt your existing model to remove impediments and bottlenecks instead.

Slides from the Godel talk in September

Was delighted to be invited by Godel Technologies to kick off their IT Breakfast series in London. Stuart Hughes, the CTO of LateRooms, also gave a great talk on the culture that they have built. What they have done sounds really great, very similar in feeling to what we’ve built at Spotify. It was a wonderful morning.

I realized that it has been two years since the Scaling Agile @ Spotify whitepaper was published, so I decided to focus on what we’ve kept and what we’ve changed since then. I also spent a bit of time talking about how we hire, as this also fit into the theme of the morning.

Here are my slides:

Product Tank Stockholm video

The video from my August talk at ProductTank Stockholm has been posted. I get started around 18:08, but the other talks were pretty good too, so you should watch them all if you can.

ProductTank Sthlm – August from MindTheProduct on Vimeo.

ProductTank Sthlm August was all about “Creating drive in product development”. It featured three great speakers:

Siavash Ghorbani (@siavashq), CTO & Co Founder of Tictail, talked about Building a Product Driven Organisation:

“I’m planning to talk about the different phases we as an organisation went through as we grew from 4 to 30 over the past two years and how we’ve recruited and structured our organization for high throughput without penalizing creativity.”

Kevin Goldsmith (@KevinGoldsmith), Director of Engineering at Spotify, talked about Autonomous Teams:

“Spotify has made a central bet that we can move faster, be happier and be more effective with autonomous, full-stack teams. We’ve had some great success with this approach, but it hasn’t been without some tweaking and adjustments. I’ll talk about what is critical to think about if you want to try this with your product. ”

Tuva Palm (@tuvapalm), Group Product Manager Platform at Klarna, talked about Growing from 1 Customer to 3.5 Billion:

“I will talk about how the PM role changes when you grow and what critical ingredients remain the same no matter the size.”

Drinks and a light snack were be provided by Logi Analytics, fueling the energy behind these talks and the great conversations throughout the evening.

My slides from ProductTank Sthlm

I was asked to speak about how we align around the product while we maintain autonomous teams. Given that this was a talk to product people rather than engineers or coaches, I tried to keep it focused around product definition and prioritization. As usual, I don’t like to put many words in the slides, so hopefully you get the gist. There is a recording being made, so hopefully that will get posted and then I will link to it here.

A recording of my talk from SudWeb 2014

Forgot that I had a head cold when I gave this talk, so my voice sounds a bit rough, and I start a bit slow. So sorry about that, but I’m so grateful for the high quality recording that the SudWeb team did.

Culture leads, everything else follows – Kevin Goldsmith from Sud Web on Vimeo.

Spotify Lead Engineer explains why there are no strong teams without the manifestation of shared values.
From the culture comes anything else.