Fitbit vs Spotify

01 May 2020

Marty Cagan recently wrote an article on Fitbit, Spotify and empowered product teams. I strongly recommend reading it.

A primary takeaway from the article.

Output vs Outcome

Spotify built a company worth more than $25B while competing (and winning) against heavyweights like Apple and Amazon.

If you peel away all the Agile process talk, pithy nomenclature, and clever videos, the core of the way teams work at Spotify is empowered product teams, and especially empowered engineers. In particular, the level of autonomy given to those engineers. At Spotify, the dial for autonomy is set all the way to 10.

While empowered engineering teams at Spotify helped deliver consistent innovation, Cagan goes on mention the requirement for a strong product leadership also. Empowered product teams.

Fitbit on the other hand, whilst also being in the hugely competitive wearables market, adopted the polar opposite of the empowered team model. This helped increase output but with far less innovation. In the wearables market innovation is key. This change in Fitbit’s model resulted in depreciating business value.

In stark contrast, at Fitbit, the company that the author cited as having a process he liked better for scaling Agile, they adopted the polar opposite of the empowered team model. This process uses delivery teams rather than empowered product teams, and if I’m right about the necessity of truly empowered engineers for innovation, while you might see an increase in output, you would expect to see a serious drop in the amount of innovation, and then in business results, especially in an innovation-driven market like wearable technology. And sadly for Fitbit, after they adopted this process in 2015, that’s precisely what we have witnessed.