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The Scale Excuse

by Hank Barnes  |  October 29, 2019  |  4 Comments

I’m sick of the word scale and would be ecstatic to not hear it again for the remainder of the year (and maybe longer).  Why?  Because in most cases, it comes across as an excuse. Yes, the ability to scale is important, but here is what I hear when scale comes into many of my conversations of late.

When folks say,  “That’s a great idea, but I don’t think it would scale across our organization,” they usually mean:

  • “That would require us to have a good training program, and we are not willing to invest in that.”
  • “That would require us to have people that think, but we don’t have people that can think. (which is patently ridiculous, but I hear it).”
  • “That might work for top performers, but the rest of our workforce can’t do that.”
  • “That might work now, but we could never do that for all our customers, so let’s not try it now.”

In cases, some of this might be true, but it usually ends up meaning that they fail to even try something new.  It is the key to maintaining the status quo.

In other cases, it gets worse, and we optimize for mediocre.  We institute checks and balances that force the mediocre to follow the basic steps for acceptable performance, while penalizing the top performers with added work and expectations that just gets in the way.  We strive for volume, asking for more calls, more leads, more pipeline coverage with the full on expectation that we will have lower quality and lower conversion.   We create generic templates that speak to everyone, thereby speaking to no one and then wonder why customers don’t care.

All of this might cause scale to really bite you.

Source: Pixabay @ pexels.com

To me, a few things need to change to get out of this cycle.

  1. Scale concerns should never be the reason not to try something.   Try it, if it works, then figure out how to scale it.  Look for elegant solutions to make the idea simpler (but not simple!).
  2. When the focus is scale, take a hard look at the approach.  If what you are really doing is scaling mediocrity, rethink it.
  3. When thinking about scale, instead of thinking about how it can scale to “everyone,” think about how it can scale to “more people.”  Everyone is probably an aspirational goal that just serves to delude and depress.
  4. If fighting the battle against “it won’t scale,” consider measuring mediocrity—what are the incremental costs of accepting being average.   Include in that the morale drain on top performers as processes and practices get instituted for the many that frustrate the few.

The scale excuse.  Enough is enough.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: growth  scale  strategy  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Scale Excuse


  1. Hi Hank
    I share your thoughts on most aspects
    But there is in my opinion one valid excuse
    ” We are not ready to scale.”
    While erroneously used in many if not most occasions – attempting to scale when you are not ready can be exceptionally damaging to the organisation. To know if you should scale is as important as to see how you should scale.
    But – I get you on the excuse part – people twist the term to suit their excuses.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Fair comment…and I did go with the over the top “scale is bad” approach to try to highlight the excuse. Your point is a good one…..are you ready to scale?

  2. Keep up the interesting posts

  3. Just for fun:

    “Before Melt Shop, the first restaurant idea Rubin, Rigos, and Stern worked on was a doughnut concept. Rubin says the team developed the idea for about six months, but eventually decided that it wasn’t something with legs.

    “I just didn’t feel like it had 1,000 units scale potential,” he says. “And it just didn’t feel like something that drove frequency at the level that I think you need to have a really sustainable, growing concept.

    I’m sure there are some amazing doughnut concepts out there, don’t get me wrong, but I just wasn’t that jazzed about it.””

    https://www.qsrmagazine.com/fast-casual/how-evolve-and-thrive-trend-centric-industry



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