So I was fortunate to spend some time with Joakim Sundén a week or two ago. We were doing a Leading SAFe course and we invited him over to do a compare and contrast between SAFe and the Spotify Model. (We did a video to advertise it!) Joakim spent years as an agile coach with Spotify and he has also worked with SAFe and is an SPC. So he’s in the rare position of being able to speak knowledgeably about both approaches.

It was a very interesting morning. Superficially, SAFe and the Spotify Model look similar. As we joked in the video, a Train is like a Tribe, an Agile Team like a Squad, etc. However, what became very clear to me from Joakim’s presentation, was that the core values are different. The Spotify Model placed huge emphasis on the concept of an autonomous team. All management functions – and there are more than you think in the Spotify Model – were dedicated to supporting and growing the maturity and performance of the teams. In fact, the organigram could be considered to be inverted, with empowered autonomous teams at the top and management underneath supporting them. And there were plenty of managers – each chapter lead is in effect a manager. They are not responsible for the performance and delivery of the chapter members, but rather for growing them into productive proactive members of the company. So, although the Spotify Model is a matrix organisation (as the chapters go across the squads), it is not a classical matrix organisation where the managers are responsible for the performance of their chapter members. In fact, they would never be called “direct reports”, as they are not reporting to them!

Yet another important point, was that Spotify never had to do an Agile Transformation – it was continuously evolving an already agile environment. SAFe does offer a “Shu” approach to help a company to move from traditional waterfall thinking to a more agile approach. As such it can be of great benefit to many companies – you can’t make the jump from a sclerotic behemoth to an adaptive business in one go. There are many steps on the way and SAFe can be one of them.