Product Squads

The Benefits and Basics of Product Squads

A product squad is a small, cross-functional team that is self-organized. Its members plan and work together for long-term goals and have end-to-end responsibilities. Product squads are a relatively new approach to product development. They make the most of the strengths and skills of its members to deliver the best quality or results.

Agile Methodology and the Product Squad Model

Agile has become the preferred methodology in many software companies today. Development teams find it more flexible and helpful to their work than the traditional Waterfall methodology.

Product squads emanate from a modification of the Agile methodology. They represent an attempt to make things run even more efficiently. The successful use of the model by Spotify helped to make it an interesting proposition for many other companies.

A squad usually consists of no more than eight members, including a Product Owner and developers and these squads are setup with autonomy. They does not take on projects assigned to the team – rather the team is responsible for its own work, in order to achieve a desired outcome. Each is free to determine what it needs to work on and how to successfully execute, according to their mission.

While autonomous, product squads do not work completely in isolation. Their work must remain aligned with the overall strategy and priorities of their companies. For Spotify, the idea is to be autonomous, but not to sub-optimize.

Why Product Squads Are Appealing for Development


Working with product squads can help to get things done faster – this is in part due to the autonomy.

Another reason is that these small teams are not a temporary arrangement.  This allows teams to ‘mesh’ and become more efficient in working together.

Increased knowledge

The product squad model allows members to develop greater expertise. Everyone has an opportunity to experience or take part in all aspects of work. It becomes easier to transfer and retain knowledge that can help for future work.

The Product Owner, developers, designers, and other professionals all plan and do things together. This gives each one an opportunity to learn more about what the others do. A product owner, for instance, can get a better idea of what developers can do to help achieve targeted outcomes.


The autonomy that product squads enjoy also motivates members to give in their best. This suggests that a company trusts the team to allow them to work without much interference. Squad members may see this as a challenge to see how well they can fare when allowed a free hand.

There are proofs showing that motivated people deliver the best results. This model not only increases motivation but preserves it in that members aren’t taken elsewhere when a closely-knit unit is being formed.

Silo risk mitigation

ThoughtWorks’ Sriram Narayan makes an argument for working more in a product-mode against a projects-mode. The latter involves having temporary teams with a fixed outcome while the former entails having teams working continuously to attain targeted business goals.

There are silos involved in both modes, including design, development, testing, and order management. Projects have activity-oriented silos, but products have outcome-oriented ones. Extra silos have their risks, although these reduce when they are outcome-oriented.

Product squads offer a means of further reducing the risk of new knowledge silos when working in product-mode. They make possible the setting up of teams in functional areas of a company’s product line. The model guards against a person being only knowledgeable about their particular area.

How the Product Squad Model Works

Although it now uses the squad approach, Spotify has been and still is an Agile company. It used the Scrum framework and only relaxed some of its requirements and made some changes for the current method.

The digital music service decided to make certain Scrum practices, roles, and artifacts optional. Its Scrum team gave way to squads and it replaced the Scrum Master with an Agile Coach, a role that demands being a servant-leader more. To the company, being agile is more than adhering to a framework.

What Spotify had in mind with its squads was to promote cross-pollination and reduce strict standardization. It wanted to support a culture of sharing and collaboration. Squads are created when an area seems to be too big for a single team to handle well enough. These together make up a tribe. Each squad has its specific outcomes within this structure.

The model, as practiced by Spotify, also defines chapters and guild. A chapter is a group formed on the basis of competencies, such as web development or quality assistance. A guild, on the other hand, is a community of interest in the organization in which anyone can take part for knowledge sharing.  For example, a guild might form around the topic of machine learning, and meet periodically to share learnings.

The product squad model is well suited for building more knowledgeable and better-aligned teams that get things done more rapidly. However, it won’t work for every organization. It may, for instance, not be suitable for companies offering multiple complex and inter-connected products.  It also requires a certain amount of seniority in the team to take accountability for proactively getting things done and pushing toward outcomes on its own.

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