Skip to Content

Scaling up vs Scaling out

The research world has been talking about doing things “at scale” for several years now, ever since the agile model first took the world by storm about a decade ago. However, most of the time, people are talking about scaling UP, not scaling OUT.

Nikki Lavoie EVP, Innovation & Strategy 08/11/2022
In a nutshell, scaling UP is expanding resources internally while scaling OUT is replicating resources externally.
What’s the difference?

  • Scaling up is like a power-up or a boost. You take what you’ve got and add to the load or replace it with something more powerful. Think of it like when Mario eats mushrooms.
  • Scaling out, on the other hand, is adding more components in parallel to spread out a load. It takes the infrastructure you’ve got and replicates it. Scaling out is about expansion and replication.

In a nutshell, scaling UP is expanding resources internally while scaling OUT is replicating resources externally.

An example of scaling up

You have a core team of experienced researchers who know how to communicate findings effectively and are skilled moderators, familiar with a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. This research team can conduct all parts of every research project entirely on their own, whether in your home market or internationally, making your only expense that of participant incentives. In this case, you could run as many studies as your researchers have time for.

If, however, you need to do things like pay for speciality recruits or do work in additional languages, that adds substantial cost to each study, and you can only run as many studies as you have the budget and time for.

Scaling up would mean adding additional research resources to your team in areas that are designed to reduce the cost impact of each study. For example, you may add researchers with fluency in multiple languages, and/or someone who has experience with qualitative recruitment. 

This way, if you reduce your project expense to zero by having all the resources you need internally, you can do an unlimited number of studies thanks to your scaled-up team.

However, scaling up doesn’t come without challenges:

  1. Cost: Do you have enough of a need for constant research to justify building up an extensive full-time research team? For many, the answer may be no.
  2. Size: The insights/research team you build would need to be fairly robust to cover every aspect of a given study internally, and it may not even be possible.
  3. Bandwidth: Do you have enough time for your researchers to be fully immersed in every stage of the research themselves? In studies with multiple phases or markets, can you wait the number of weeks or months it might take for your team to execute everything sequentially?

An example of scaling out

Scaling out requires finding an infrastructure that works for your research projects, and then working with outside resources to replicate things as needed. Whether you only work in your home market or globally, the size and scope of the research you’re able to execute grow exponentially, allowing you to be more agile, and adapt to changing needs across markets.

You have a team of full-time researchers whose skills are complementary and strategic. While this core group may not be an expert in every single method, language, or technique needed to conduct all qual (or quant) research themselves, they ideally have strong strategic and managerial skills, so that they can replicate work successfully using outside resources.

By scaling out, you’ll be able to…

  • Oversee more: research studies that happen in locations or with approaches that are outside of their area of expertise, no longer limiting the study scope, resulting in a more diverse study
  • Get feedback faster: the team can ensure that research is happening concurrently instead of consecutively, making faster decisions possible
  • Avoid resource burnout: you have the ability to carry out research consistently, as needed, despite things that impact the human condition (such as parental leaves, unexpected injuries, or people struggling with mental health)
  • Collaborate with a network of partners: you can build up a global network of suppliers that can maintain your quality standards

In a nutshell

Replicate your internal models externally: Choose partners whose goal is to adapt to your way of working and immerse them in your process. Treat partners as members of your team, and show them how you want documents to be shared, including stylistic preferences, deadlines, who will read the reports, required formats, etc.

Use templates for consistency: In our case, Savanta has a variety of templates that we use across our work to scale out our client’s needs, and this ensures that everyone is answering the same questions at the same time and working towards the same deliverable goals.

Work. Debrief. Repeat. The more you connect with your Scaling OUT resource, the better the work will be, the quicker they get to know what you need, and the more autonomous they can become for future work.


If you find yourself looking to scale out, take a look at our 12 Principles of Agile Research or get in touch with our experts here.

Knowledge centre

Read More
Agencies & Consultancies | B2B Brands | Business & Professional Services (B2B) | Consumer Brands | Thought leadership

Women in business

21/03/2024 - by Alketa Berzani