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This blog is about how not to introduce agile ways of work.

The promise of Agile

When I first saw the films about how Spotify had organised itself, I was immediately inspired. This is it, I thought. This is how organisations should function. Organically aligned, flexible, purpose-driven. I remember showing it to my colleagues in the executive committee in 2015.

Many organisations want to embrace the principles of agile. And they all watch the Spotify movies as a source of inspiration. But they forget one thing. The agile way of working is inherent to the DNA of the organisation. It adapted and adopted the principles of agile working as it grew.
An organisation with cultural legacy has a harder time doing that. It’s like changing brains. You cannot do it.
In my work as advisor I meet many organisations who try to become agile. But often they implement the agile principles in their own familiar way. A hierarchical organisation implements them in a hierarchical way. A controlling manager uses the agile methods to exert more control. He does not change overnight. An executive committee wants to make their organisation agile, but does not apply the principles for themselves.
Companies should stop wanting to be like Spotify. They are not. And they should integrate principles of agile as they go along. And they can look for ways how they can use the past to shape the future in a more agile way.
The promise of agile is strong. But the delivery is difficult.

Shift of Culture

It’s a shift of culture, more than it is the implementation of a method.
And this is not new. There are many examples of organisational innovation that faced similar problems.

  • When an organisation introduces a quality system that is culturally incompatible, it becomes a burdening administrative system.
  • If a hospital introduces JCI – a quality system for health care organisations – without integrating it culturally, it becomes a nuisance.
  • An organisation that wants to introduce lean thinking without changing the leadership approach, creates an empty box.
  • And when an organisation introduces autonomous work with the sole purpose of cutting cost, it won’t work.


So when managers yell “we need to become just like Spotify”, they make a terrible mistake. It says more about what they think of their own company, than about what they think about agile ways of working.
Wanting to be just like another company is naive and unproductive. And even when you copy its products and services, you cannot copy its culture.

So, don’t copy Spotify. Find your own way to thrive.

I will be speaking on the Conference on Agile in Berlin on August 29th.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • I couldn’t leave your blog without commenting on this post. There’s an epidemic (at least here in the Boston, MA area) of this rote copying.
    “So when managers yell ‘we need to become just like Spotify…’ – I think your assessment of this stance is charitable. I believe managers/leadership is taking (yet another) shortcut to what they believe is another Silver Bullet (Agile) and will end up as disappointed as they were with the last Silver Bullet adoption (“Innovation”, “Knowledge Management”, etc.) All require personal and organization culture change (as you noted.)

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