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Agile & Development: Tribe Model Management

What is Tribe Model Management?

Tribe model management is part of an agile scaling strategy first used to help Spotify’s growing development department.

The approach involves breaking engineering teams into autonomous “squads” that work together on specific aspects of the product. Several squads working in the same business area—search technology, for example—are then grouped into a larger team called a tribe.

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What are the main Components of Tribe Model Management?

Spotify’s tribe engineering model includes several components, including:

Squad:

A squad is the smallest unit of development in the tribe model. Squads consist of a group of engineers who work closely together on a specific area of the product. They are designed to be autonomous teams that can have broad business objectives and can release products to the market whenever they are ready.

Tribe:

A tribe is a collection of squads grouped by a common business focus. For example, a tribe for Spotify might include a group of squads working on the mobile version of the music player.

Chapter:

A chapter is a small group of developers within a tribe but who work across different squads. These are often developers who have similar skills but who are using them to work on slightly different aspects of the product.

Guild:

While chapters are always confined to a single tribe, a guild is a broader community that can include members in multiple tribes. What unites the members of a guild is an interest in sharing knowledge, best practices, and tools.

When does Tribe Model Management make sense for an Organization?

For an organization to consider implementing the tribe model framework, it must first be prepared to adopt an agile product management strategy. The organization must be willing to work iteratively, updating, and releasing product functionality regularly, and adjusting based on feedback from the market.

Another reason an organization would consider tribe model management is that the company is large or growing rapidly. Therefore, Spotify developed its model of squads and tribes after it had built out dozens of engineering teams.

The company designed its tribe model based on the famous “Dunbar Number.” According to this concept, developed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, people can maintain stable social relationships with only about 150 people. Spotify designed its tribes to include no more than 100 people.

If your organization or engineering department is small, the tribe model might not make sense for your team.

What are the Benefits of the Tribe Model?

The tribe model can help a growing organization develop autonomy, concentrate expertise where it is most valuable, and speed product development. By rolling out a tribe engineering model, a product organization can realize several benefits, such as:

  • Shortened time to product release and updates
  • Improved domain expertise in each area of the product or portfolio
  • Minimized dependencies
  • Reduction of unnecessary processes
  • Increased transparency and accountability
  • Enhanced opportunities for innovation and creative problem-solving