Nostalgia is not agile

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

The nostalgia for a startups early can be the very thing that makes a startup brittle. Trying to live forever in that fluid embryonic moment simply ignores the real issues that come up when a business gets bigger. This can only lead to frustration.


Of all the allures of startup culture, few are more desireable than the speed and nimbleness of a small team. Maintaining that feeling as a company grows is a challenge. In 2012, Spotify shared its way of working and suggested it had figured it out.1

I was excited to see the Spotify model in action when I interviewed for a product management role at its Stockholm headquarters in 2017. However, the recruiter surprised me before the first interview. She cautioned me to not expect Spotify to be an Agile utopia.

I joined the company after it had tripled in size to 3,000 people over 18 months. I learned the famed squad model was only ever aspirational and never fully implemented. I witnessed organizational chaos as the company’s leaders incrementally transitioned to more traditional management structures.

When I asked my coworkers why the content was not removed or updated to reflect reality, I never got a good answer. Many people ironically thought the posts were great for recruiting. I no longer work at Spotify, so I am sharing my experience to set the record straight. The Spotify squad model failed Spotify and it will fail your company too.

…Matrix management solved the wrong problem

The “full stack” agile team worked well, but the matrix management of software engineers introduced more problems than it solved.

Without a single engineering manager responsible for the engineers on a team, the product manager lacked an equivalent peer—the mini-CTO to their mini-CEO role. There was no single person accountable for the engineering team’s delivery or who could negotiate prioritization of work at an equivalent level of responsibility.

When disagreements within the engineering team arose, the product manager needed to negotiate with all of the engineers on the team. If the engineers could not reach a consensus, the product manager needed to escalate to as many engineering managers as there were engineering specializations within the team. A team with backend, Web app, and mobile app engineers would have at least 3 engineering managers who might need to get involved. If those engineering managers could not reach a consensus, a single team’s issue would have to escalate to the department’s engineering director.