Should I use Scaling Up or Traction?

This article offers 8 ideas on how to decide between two alternative operating systems for your company: Scaling Up (aka, Rockefeller Habits) and Traction. Both of these options are frameworks for how to organize and run your company, they include things like guidance on how to get the right people into the right roles in your organization, and how to organize your strategic planning and goal-setting. Both are oriented to small and medium-sized companies wanting to grow.


(previous edition: Rockefeller Habits 2002)


The fact that you are even asking this question means to me that you are on the right track. I am going to guess that you are considering this question because you are trying to make your company a better place to work, or you are trying to help your company succeed.

I lead the use of Scaling Up for about 6 years at a company of 40 people, and then we tried Traction for about 1 year. I was on the leadership team. My company never hired a consultant from either company. The company gave me a lot of support in allowing me to experiment and decide what to use. My perspective is biased by my experiences.


If one of these frameworks has a better chance of being adopted and used by your company, especially by the leadership team, then choose that one. For example, if your CEO is recommending one framework because their friends are using it, then seriously consider using that one. Or, if some members of your leadership team have all used one framework and love it, then choose that one. If they all hate it, choose the other one.

If your choice of framework is not used, then it does not matter what you choose. And, once people feel the power of a framework, I think it will be easier for them to switch if needed.


Initiating and managing a company framework takes time. If you already have a full-time role in your company and have no extra time to put toward the framework, then you are not in a position to succeed. It is especially difficult because many best practices have their payoff in the long-term. You will have a conflict of interest to skip them in favor of short-term needs.

Ideally there are one or more people accountable for the company operating system inside the company, and one on the outside such as an adviser. The internal person does not need to do this as their full-time role.

Scaling Up is associated with the consulting group, Gazelles. which has a variety of consulting and training options. Traction is associated with the consulting group, EOS. You can contact both of these groups to find an adviser for your company.

If you find an advisor that is great for you, then use the framework that advisor is most-experienced with. Remember that you can switch later.


If you do not have anyone in your company who can dedicate some of their time to this effort, but you still want to use a company operating system, then choose Traction. The reason is that it is easier to read and understand the book. It will be easier for you and for anyone else who wants to read it.

If other factors are pushing you to choose Scaling Up, but you have no budget or time, then I recommend using the book Rockefeller Habits instead of the Scaling Up book because it is easier to read. Rockefeller Habits book is not better, just simpler. Scaling Up is so dense with information, that it really is a reference book, meant to be read slowly and discussed.

On the other hand, if you have an internal person with half or more of their time dedicated to company process and you are big enough to have two layers of management, maybe over 50 people, then consider Scaling Up first because it has more tools and it is more developed.


Both frameworks have free simple tests you can take to see how well organized your company is now. They are similar. But if reviewing the tests gives you a definitive yes or no feeling, that could help your decision.

Traction Organization Checkup

Rockefeller Habits Checklist

By the way, at my company we invited all the colleagues to complete the Traction test twice per year via an online survey. We scored 82 and 84 in 2018. I wanted to learn where the company might be strong or weak to know where to concentrate my efforts.

I had the extended leadership team take the Scaling Up test on two occasions during an offsite. This was a more complex exercise because every question has sub-items to consider. This was still valuable, but I should have put more effort into simplifying the questions. This is typical of Scaling Up. It is more thorough, but it takes more time to understand and customize for your company.


If you want the simpler framework that you can implement faster, choose Traction.


If you want the more powerful framework with more tools, choose Scaling Up.


If you are looking for financial guidance or exercises to think about different ways to work with business models and cash flow in your framework, choose Scaling Up. They have interesting tools related to this. Traction does not talk about financials.

For example, if you are a small startup just launching your first prototype, you may not be thinking about how to squeeze one percent more out of your gross margin. But for an established company, squeezing out just a bit more can be your primary goal. Scaling Up includes these considerations it its framework.


Both frameworks have their bible, a book that includes the theory and practice of their way to do things. If you have plenty of time and experience, you can DIY your company framework (minus the peer review). To do so, you would want to read and discuss their book as a first simple step.

If you need the bible in a certain, language, then choose based on that. Here is the latest information I could find in February 2018.

Scaling Up - English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish, French

Traction - English, Spanish, Chinese


Review the ¨one page¨ company plan that each of these frameworks uses. You will complete one for your company and update it quarterly. I do not think this will help you decide between the two, but it is worth reviewing because it is easy to review a summary of the whole framework on a few pages.

Scaling Up One-page Strategic Plan (all tools)

Traction Vision Traction Organizer

Traction is obviously less stuff, but that does not mean it is easier for your company. For example, our company had multiple sales channels and products. It was never clear how to represent this in the Traction one-pager. We put a lot of energy toward discussing this. Whereas we did not have this problem with Scaling Up, because Scaling Up never asked for elaboration of this.


You might ask, should I mix and match these two frameworks to get a better result for my company? My simple answer, is do not do this, unless you are ready to define and maintain your new framework for those who use it. And also, consider that the value of the change you are making should clearly outweigh the added cost for adoption and maintenance.

If you are new to working out, would you want to mix kettlebell workouts with barbells? Sure, if you know what you are doing. But remember there are many people involved who are trying to figure out the rules by which your company is playing. As soon as you mix and match, you can no longer say, “We are simply using the Traction framework. You can learn about it yourself by reading the book.¨ You have to now say, ¨We are doing it our own way. You can learn about it here.¨ And you need to maintain the here.

I have no doubt that you can find places to adjust each framework to make it better for your organization, and it is likely you will have to, but when you do, you have to explain it and maintain it as your company and its people change. And you have to manage their requests for clarification and changes.


You may be asking if you should use Business Plan Canvas or Lean Startup methodology instead of these frameworks. The answer is not really. Those two popular ideas are not comprehensive company frameworks.

The times that I did use these tools in my company, people liked them, but they did get confused over time. My colleagues, would ask me, ¨what are we using to explain the business, the business plan canvas or the Rockefeller One page plan? And where is that document?¨

If I use them now, I always make it clear up-front that we are using a new tool to expand our thinking and also I explain how it connects to our company operating system, if at all. Remember that everything you create might have special meaning to someone else in a different way. If they decide to keep using it, it increases your document maintenance burden.

Here is another example: Scaling Up uses a tool to define product strategy called Seven Strata. Business Plan Canvas uses Value Proposition Canvas. I think both are awesome. I had my team complete Seven Strata at an offsite and it took hours. Some were proud of the result and ready to move forward. Later, I did the value proposition canvas and shared it with a colleague who felt confused and deflated by the alternative strategy document that now required reconciliation with the other one.


You may ask, is there software my company can use for this? The answer is maybe.

Scaling Up is associated with Align software which spun off from Scaling up in 2012. It continues to improve. It costs $12/person/month. Rhythm Systems launched their software in 2007 and somehow I think it was related to Scaling Up, but might be different. They offer the software and the coaching together only.

Traction has no software associated with it that I know of as of February 2019.

You might end up using software that handles some of the tasks of the framework. For example, we use which you can use to manage goals (OKRs), Reviews, Feedback and Values.

You might be left with questions about how this relates to the framework. In my experience, it gets confusing and takes time to think through. It also creates a burden on all colleagues to learn new software and systems. Proceed thoughtfully is my advice. Recognize the trade-off between simplicity and power.


You may ask what if I can use neither of these frameworks? My company would reject either one.

You may want to consider if you want to keep pushing or give up. Ask yourself what you are really trying to accomplish and why.

If you think you can make a small difference only right now, then consider starting with strategic planning. Both frameworks suggest companies have clearly written and measurable goals for 1 year out, 3 years out and 10 years. You can set these are adjust them at a quarterly offsite. Make it fun. Remember the right people make more impact than the right process. Consider Google´s Project Aristotle.

Even if you company is disorganized or dysfunctional, but it is meeting its objectives, then maybe that is ok for you. If you do not agree with the objectives and cannot change them, then maybe it is not the right place for you. Remember objectives can include happiness, balance and respect.

Are there other company frameworks you know of? Please tell me so I can review them.

Any other comments or requests?