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English, Gestión del conocimiento, Gestión e innovación

Going agile, the whole hog: Spotify, matrixes and knowledge management

Project managers often have a conflicting feeling with agile methodologies. They’re very effective for small to midsize projects, yes, but how do you keep a neat, synchronized general work plan for a really big project – a programme, actually? Without standard, old-style project management practices?

Well, the people at Spotify have gone and tried. They’ve built their whole story with agile methodologies. And in doing so, they’ve reinvented the programme management wheel. The surprising part is that their solution seems to keep decentralised decision making from causing havoc without completely decaffeinating it.

They run what amounts to extensive knowledge management in the shape of “guilds”; they break the work into large, self-contained areas inhabited by “tribes” (or groups of teams); they have their practice (or “chapter”) owners who seem to do a lot of HR work. They have system owners (no nick for them) to keep a unified view of the product. And most of the rest is multidisciplinary agile teams (“squads”) working on specific features, from inception to maintenance.

There are pieces missing in this picture (from the information architect to the incentives structure) but it’s interesting. Superficially it looks very much like an enlightened, KM-conscious software services firm, with matrixes and all. But look closer and it’s a very different animal. To start with, any “owner” of any sort is also a member of a feature team (no corner offices for the practice bosses). Coordination roles are really just for helping coordination and knowledge sharing; there is a vision of “what” but each team is responsible for the “how”. Almost no handoffs. And the list goes on.

Two of the people who’ve bred this strange animal have taken the time to write up the organizational methods and thinking that go with it. They’re consultants (one of them wrote the book on scaling Agile) and it shows. It makes for interesting reading, much  more than I can achieve, and it’s also quite brief and concise. Got nice pictures and all. Go read it if you’re interested in modern management practices and/or software development. If it doesn’t make you think, you can come back here and complain.

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