Successive cell divisions during embryonic cleavage create increasingly smaller cells, so intracellular structures must adapt accordingly. Mitotic spindle size correlates with cell size, but the mechanisms for this scaling remain unclear. Using live cell imaging, we analyzed spindle scaling during embryo cleavage in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus. We reveal a common scaling mechanism, where the growth rate of spindle microtubules scales with cell volume, which explains spindle shortening. Spindle assembly timing is, however, constant throughout successive divisions. Analyses in silico suggest that controlling the microtubule growth rate is sufficient to scale spindle length and maintain a constant assembly timing. We tested our in silico predictions to demonstrate that modulating cell volume or microtubule growth rate in vivo induces a proportional spindle size change. Our results suggest that scalability of the microtubule growth rate when cell size varies adapts spindle length to cell volume.