Comparisons of Agile flavors: Scrum, Safe, and Spotify

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INTRODUCTION

Agile experts are familiar with the different flavors and will float easily through this comparison, however for Agile virgins this article might bring the necessary insights in the Agile framework. Over this piece of paper, we will make a comparison of Scrum, the Spotify model and Scaled Agile Framework (Safe).

THE SPOTIFY MODEL

It is a success story, which has been widely re-adapted by large institutions. When the Swedish music company launched its platform in 2008, it worked at first according to the scrum rules. However, as the company stated, when it started to expand its activities and increased the number of teams, the scrum framework was not efficient anymore. Thanks to continuous improvement, Spotify emerged with a new flavor with key concepts as below:

·        Renaming of leader: Scrum Master is replaced by an Agile Coach

·       Cross pollination: the main goal is little standardization of the process as much as possible. Once a few squads deploy precise practices or tools, they are then replicate by other squads. There is a learning curve of practice by doing.

·       Decoupling release: as presented in the picture below, each squad is working on a specific part of the platform. Each one is responsible for its feature frequent release but they do help each other to make the solution progress.

 

COMPARISON OF SCRUM, SAFE AND SPOTIFY

Context of implementation

Originally, Scrum was used for software development. Nonetheless, over time, its usage has spread over other disciplines. Scrum works the best in a context where a product or a service has to be delivered. Because of its iterative approach, the team(s) can start working on a project immediately without having a precise project roadmap to follow. The frequent delivery, feedback from end users, project reviews, etc. enable continuous improvement and adaptation to a changing environment.

Safe is generally applied when large companies already working under Agile are willing to expand the “agile way of working” beyond the teams. It provides specific guidelines that include all the dimensions of the company: projects coordination, operations, budget, and planning across departments. Besides that, Safe framework is based on 3 levels of organization: the team, the program, and the portfolio.

The Spotify model has started in the context of an increasing number of teams that were all working on a same product. As illustrated on the picture below, each team works independently and is dedicated to a specific part of the “prototype” being developed.

Source: Agile Scrum Group NL

Source: Agile Scrum Group NL

Team structure and roles

Within the Scrum frameworks, there are 2 main groups: First, there is the squad, a multi-disciplinary team working on delivering a product or service in short iteration (sprints).

The Business Line  Governance & Project  has published the  CookBook Project Management , a compilation of different themes related to project & change management varying from a description of different project methodologies ranging from Waterfall approach to Agile newest framework .

The Business Line Governance & Project has published the CookBook Project Management, a compilation of different themes related to project & change management varying from a description of different project methodologies ranging from Waterfall approach to Agile newest framework .

Secondly, we find the tribe which corresponds to a set of squads under the same business field. Eventually, the Scrum team usually gathers 7 to 11 persons with the following main roles:

·       The Product Owner in charge of the product backlog and delivery, who represents stakeholders’ interests

·       The Scrum Master coordinates, supports and facilitates the process

·       The Team Members implements what has been agreed upon during the Sprint planning

As stated earlier, Safe is organized around three stages of management. At the team level, roles are similar as in Scrum. It gathers different agile teams responsible to deliver the product/service. Within the program level, called “Agile Release Train”, 50 to 125 people ensure tracking of several projects, and prioritization. We find new roles such as System Architect, Product Manager, and Release Train Engineer. At the portfolio stage, namely the top-management, Epic Owners, Enterprise Architect and Lean Portfolio Managers are dealing with budget allocation for programs and project, strategy and governance.

Concerning the Spotify model, it is built around 4 clusters: Squads, Tribes, Chapters, Guilds.  

·       The Autonomous squads: they are independent and act as mini start-ups. They tend to look like Scrum squads with a few differences. They have the authority on what they build from design to delivery. Moreover, each one of them has a long-term mission and their actions must always be aligned with the company mission, product strategy and long-term goals.

·       Tribes and Chapter: The Tribes operate like in a Scrum environment. What is new in the Spotify model is the Chapter. The latter is also part a of a Tribe, and can be seen as a “skill group”; it gathers people from different squads that have the same expertise. The chapter leader will make sure that people meet frequently to share experience, knowledge and best practices.

·       Guilds: They are considered as communities of interests. Guilds are informal, they gather employees across the company that have knowledge within a particular domain e.g.  Guilds on leadership, web development, continuous delivery, etc. As Spotify declared, “Anyone can join or leave a guild at any time”.

Team Dependencies

Under Scrum and Safe, the Scrum Master deals with the potential issues preventing the squad to progress. This person communicates with every stakeholder of the project to remove impediments. However, within the Spotify approach, the “dependency factor” is treated differently. As each squad is responsible for a part of the music platform, it might happen that one team needs the input from the other to release its product. To avoid any delays at all, each squad will keep working on their own feature but at a certain time, they will meet up to discuss the issue, and coordinate their work. This meeting is called Scrum of Scrums.

One observation that can be made is that within Scrum and Spotify, the level of team dependencies tends to be lower than within Safe; With the Scrum approach, squads works independently and with Spotify, the “dependency factor” is cancelled thanks to the Scrum of Scrums ceremonies. In comparison, Safe requires a high level of coordination and alignment across teams and management levels which increase work dependency.

Ceremonies and timeframes

Within Spotify and Scrum, projects are conducted during a sprint, a specific timebox where various ceremonies occurred: sprint planning, daily scrum meetings, sprint review and sprint retrospective. Usually, a cycle last from 1 to 4 weeks.

Safe follows more or less the same structure. As per its guidelines, one main goal is to have the “shortest sustainable lead time” which means 2 weeks duration is recommended. Therefore, during this period, the teams will follow the plan-do-check-adjust (PDCA) method:

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FURTHER INSIGHTS

The context for implementing Scrum, Spotify or Safe can vary from product development with minimal planned work and an iterative cycle to project implementation with detailed guidelines with various level of coordination.

Scrum and Spotify have a lot of similarities regarding the structure of the team and roles as the latter is a direct extension of Scrum. Nonetheless, we can note that the Spotify models tends to better manage knowledge sharing across the teams since it has created new groups for this purpose (Tribes, Chapters, Guilds). Concerning the Safe framework, because of its more complex nature, it seems more rigid with heavy policies. One might thus think it will be difficult to implement.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, there is not a framework which is better than the other. There are a few elements to consider when selecting an Agile flavor:

·       Objective: Is the “Agile” implementation directed to specific teams (locally) or is it aimed for the entire organization (globally)?

·       Management: How deep the top and middle management needs to be included within the project?

·       Size: How many employees are working within the company? Depending on of the number of employees one flavor might be easier to adapt than the other one.

And, most importantly:

·       The company structure,

·       The type of project to manage

·       The stakeholders.

The Author

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Melissa Manga Nanga graduated from a Master of Science in Strategy and Influence at SKEMA Business School in Paris. She had the opportunity to work in Toronto- Canada as a Credit Officer for B2B Bank, a Canadian commercial bank. Before joining Initio in 2019, she worked for Puilaetco Dewaay within the Private Banking department.