The MBA Jargon Index
with credit to MBA Jargon Watch
Capable of being acted on or completed in the near future. “Which items on our list are actionable in the next quarter?” I recommend showering after using this one. Note: “actionable” has a long-standing legal meaning different from the above.
at the end of the day [phrase]
Based on the frequency with which they use the phrase, it would seem that members of senior management are required by law to begin every third sentence with “at the end of the day,” a phrase similar in meaning to “when all is said and done.” For instance, your favorite CEO might say, “At the end of the day, it’s our people that make the difference.” Insert platitude here.
Plan your work well lest ye run out of “bandwidth,” or physical, mental or emotional capacity. Spake our friend Frank B. Kern, Internet Guru, “….I just don’t have the bandwidth to handle this at the minute,” meaning “I don’t have the manpower or ability to handle this at the moment.”
best of breed [n. and adj.]
The finest specimen or example to be found in a particular industry or market. Like Papillons preening for the judges, companies position themselves as best-of-breed. In truth, however, few ever make it through the qualifiers.
best practices [n.]
Another widely used term promulgated by the arch-demons of business – management consultants – “best practices” is used to describe the “best” techniques or methods in use in a company, field, or industry. Unfortunately, companies often confuse latest or trendiest with best, and the best practices of one era are soon superseded by the ever-more-ludicrous fads of the next.
boil the ocean [v. phrase]
Clearly the least efficient way to produce a pile of salt. If a member of the corporate pantheon suggests you are trying to “boil the ocean,” he or she thinks you are doing something incredibly inefficiently. It’s time to prepare your resume, Einstein.
bring to the table [v. phrase]
Refers to what one offers or provides, especially in negotiations. Personally, I bring a fork.
business model [n.]
An amorphous term having to do with identifying the specific ways in which a business creates value, or simply put, how it sells stuff for more than it costs. I’ll show you my business plan if you show me yours.
A cute way of saying “agreement” or “consent.” If you hope to get anything done in today’s corporation, you’ll need management buy-in.
centers of excellence
Certainly beats centers of failure. Most companies have a nice set of both.
circle back around [v.]
A very roundabout [pardon the pun] way of saying “Let’s regroup later to discuss.”
circle with [v.]
Like its cousin “circle back around,” it means “to meet and/or discuss with.” Usage example: “Why don’t you circle with Robert tomorrow to discuss the Ebbers case?” I can’t help but envision two well-dressed exec types holding hands and madly circling around to the delight of everyone in their cubicle farm.
Those modest, hardworking souls at the top of your org chart: CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CPO, CTO, Chief Dog Walker, etc.
close the loop [v. phrase]
To follow up on and/or close out an area of discussion. Closely related to “circle back around” and “loop in.”
commoditize [v.]; commoditized [adj.]
A great fear and apprehension in business is having your product or service become “commoditized,” or turned into Just Another Mediocre Piece of Junk [JAMPoJ to those in the know], completely undifferentiated from its peers.
Nigh unpronounceable, this gremlin means “to turn into a component.” For what purpose will forever remain a mystery.
core competencies [n.]
Simply put, it means “what the company does best.” When a company focuses on its core competencies, it gets back to basics. I recommend leveraging these.
critical path [n.]
A sequence of events where a slip in any one activity generates a slip in the overall schedule. Used extensively in the exciting world of project management. Not to be confused with “criminal path,” which is a sequence of events that leads to jail, a la Andy Fastow of Enron fame.
A reference to computer processing cycles, this one can be used interchangeably with “bandwidth” [above]. Either way, it’s a bad idea comparing yourself or another humanoid to an indefatigable machine. You’ll lose.
Denoting project output or assignments, “deliverables” are often “tasked” [see below], but seldom completed.
Please see “scope”
Despite the obvious reference to a telephone, this one means to “include.” For example, “We need to dial-in the materials list.”
It’s true that Shakespeare used “dialogue” as a verb [“Dost Dialogue with thy shadow?”]. But I’ve got news for ya, buddy: You ain’t no Shakespeare. Resist the temptation to use this utterly superfluous verb as a substitute for “talk” or “speak.” Usage example: “Let’s dialogue telephonically via land line,” meaning “call me at the office.” Sigh.
In the bleak days before the arrival of our savior, the Web, Big Tony used to claim that he had “eliminated the middleman to bring direct savings to you.” Big Tony used a shotgun to eliminate [“disintermediate”] intermediaries in the supply chain; today’s companies use the Internet.
This mouthful began life in the exciting field of linguistics only to be co-opted by the high-tech business set. It means to settle on a single interpretation or meaning for a piece of data, or to bring meaning and order to ambiguity. Much like this Web site.
The third member of the incent-incentivize-disincent [lower on the page] axis of evil.
To get down to the details. One starts at a “high-level” and “drills down” to the boring details – where exectutives fear to tread.
drinking the Kool-Aid [v. phrase]
A rather tasteless reference to the Jonestown massacre of 1978, “drink the Kool-Aid” means to accept something fully and [oftentimes] blindly.
If you think this one has something to do with the people who drive trucks, you’re wrong [but I still like you]. It refers to the factors or agents that move something forward: “What are the key drivers of organizational change?”
eat[ing] your own dog food [v. phrase]
When your company starts using its own products internally and suddenly realizes why the rest of the world hates them so much.
Companies now longer participate in industries; they inhabit vast ecosystems comprised of consumers, partners, innocent bystanders, and, increasingly, competitors. The idea is to be at the center of your ecosystem, so integral to its operations that the actions of all other participants seem to benefit you as much as them [also see Network Effects [lower on this page]]. But remember to look out for lions.
elevator story [n.]
A pitch to a corporate executive, or bored janitor, as the elevator goes from floors 1-10 and you have a captive audience.
Like your dysfunctional family, business is full of enablers – things that enable something else, often of a self-destructive nature. For instance, were you aware that “Total Facilities Management is a Core Business Enabler”? Weird, I wasn’t either.
Seemingly naughty, this one means “complete, from the front-end [the end that faces the customer] to the back-end [your back office, which no one sees].” Try to avoid this one in mixed company.
A foreign concept to many of us in the Internet world, “facetime” refers to time spent speaking face to face, especially to senior management. For example, “I need to arrange some facetime with you next week.”
feature/scope/mission creep [n.]
The temptation to add more and more features to a product release until it becomes a confused mass of incongruous elements, twisted and evil.
Simply meaning “functions” or “features,” this one has gained widespread currency.
gain traction [v.]
To gain momentum or acceptance. “Cisco’s new routers are gaining traction in the marketplace.”
going forward [adv.]
Meaning “in the future” or “from now on.” For instance: “Going forward, we see our gross margins increasing as our new high-margin products gain traction.”
granular [adj.]; granularity [n.]
Getting down to the fine details, the nitty-gritty. Busy people might stop you mid-sentence if you get too granular. Like sand through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.
go-live [adj. and v.]
A new product or system becomes available to the public on its “go-live” date. Presumably, the same product or system will “go-dead” soon thereafter.
heads-up [n. sorta]
“This is a heads-up” is a very American way of saying, “I’m telling you this now because xyz item is hurdling in your direction and you’re going to need to do something or get out of the way.” It’s simultaneously a notice and a warning.
helicopter view [n.]
See “at 30,000 feet” [below].
Senior executives, far-sighted individual with godlike abilities to see the big picture, want anything brought to their attention to be “high-level”, that is, neatly summarized and dumbed down so they can understand all the techno mumbo jumbo.
incent [v. tr.]
A transitive verb meaning “encourage” or “influence”: “The program was set up to incent users to spend more.” Also the leading member of the incent-incentivize-disincent axis of evil.
incentivize [v. tr]
The second member of the incent-incentivize-disincent axis of evil.
The unholy offspring of “instant” and “substantiate,” “instantiate” means to verify or document an instance of a particular behavior or issue.
To surpass your competition, usually by engaging in one gigantic, hopelessly ambitious leap of faith that is almost sure to end in ruin and despair. Bring a parachute, golden or other.
Word favored by consultant-types meaning “something learned.” Apparently, “lesson” wouldn’t do despite over 500 years of continuous use in the English language.
leverage [v. tr]
The grandpappy of nouns turned verbs, “leverage” is used indiscriminately to describe how a resource can be applied to a particular environment or situation. “We intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across our business units to drive profits.”
level set [v.]
To get everyone on the same page, singing from the same choir sheet, etc. Why neither of these tired, but well-understood perennials is good enough is beyond me. I guess “level set” just has that I-am-slightly-smarter-than-you-all ring to it.
long-pole item [n.]
Those of you who enjoy the occasional camping trip may recognize the provenance of this one: The long pole holds up the center of the tent and is therefore the most essential structural item. Likewise, a “long-pole item” is the most essential element of a system or plan, upon which all other elements depend. A linchpin, as it were.
loop in [v.]; keep in the loop [v. phrase]
Used by loopy people who mean to say, “to keep apprised.”
low-hanging fruit [n.]
The easy pickings, the obvious steps that an organization should take to improve its performance or take advantage of new opportunities.
Sorta like “marketshare,” but without the revenue and sounding a whole lot creepier. Don’t use this one around Vulcans.
Meaning “critical to the functioning or success of a business or project,” this one is generally used in reference in insanely expensive computer hardware that should be bulletproof, but, alas, is not.
To turn into a training module. Say, you start off with a simple piece of information that anyone with a 6th grade education and a quartet of functioning brain cells would instantly grasp. To justify your position as a highly paid corporate trainer, you might try to veil this information in a cloak of incomprehensibility, rendering the straightforward a smelly pile of jargonous bile. Indeed, the information has been modularized.
The noble mission of Web slingers everywhere: figuring out how to make money off each page view, visitor [eyeballs], or anything else. If you work at an Internet company, you’ve used this term… don’t lie. Hell, even I’ve used this term.
next steps [n.]
“Next steps” are the tasks delegated to attendees at the close of a meeting. Next steps often result in deliverables. I believe “next steps” and “action items” are synonymous. Do humanity a favor and avoid both.
The end result, the bottom line, etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseam. “Net-net, we’re still ahead.”
network effects [n.]
A wonderfully prosaic term from economics describing how some products or services become more useful as the number of users rises. Auctions [eBay], operating systems [Windows], and telephones are three oft-used examples.
“Let’s discuss this offline.” Euphemism frequently uttered in long office meetings meaning: “Let’s discuss this later in private because you’re way off topic again, idiot.”
A horribly polysyllabic way of saying “carry out” or [gasp] “do.” Oh, the humanity!
paradigm [shift] [n.]
Paradigm is an extra fancy word for “model.” A paradigm shift means moving from one model to a new one, generally in a grand, expensive, and ultimately disastrous manner. If I had a pair of dimes for every time I’ve heard this one…
performance management [n.]
A euphemistic way of saying to micro-manage, berate, motivate, psychologically manipulate, threaten, and then fire someone.
A “repurposed” UNIX command meaning to send a message to another computer and wait for acknowledgment, ping means to follow up with someone via email on an urgent, but arcane matter and wait interminably for a reply. “I’ll ping Henry on the Ewok matter.”
The modern-day antonym of “reactive.” Rumor has it that this gem was created in the 1970s out of the parts of lesser words.
An fugly word meaning “turn into a product.” Why should software vendors offer free technical support when desperate users will pay $3 a minute for help?
If your people are too daft to do something correctly, maybe you should look to software programs to automate the task. If you follow this approach, you are completing the task “programmatically.” Ugh.
If you have a lot of sound, logical ideas, you’re bound to run into a lot of resistance in today’s surreal corporations. This resistance, often polite but always absurd, is euphemistically called “pushback.” Try not to take it personally: you’re dealing with the insane.
quick win [n.]
Everyone in business is always looking for “quick wins,” small steps or initiatives that will produce immediate, positive results.
ramp up [v.]; ramp-up [ n.]
To increase over time. “We intend to ramp up production in anticipation of holiday demand.” Just try not to cramp up.
reach out [v.]
To call or email. For this one, we can blame those old AT&T ads that encouraged folks to “reach out and touch someone.” Obviously, you can’t actually reach out and TOUCH anyone due to your company’s stringent sexual-harassment policy. But you can “reach out” [but, again, no touching] to a co-worker for information, support, or to start one of those crucial conversations. But keep any interaction to a phone call or email just to be on the safe side.
Everyone probably has an intuitive understanding of what is meant by “real-time,” but that hasn’t stopped many companies and consultants from using the term to describe a quixotic concept whereby a company’s data is always up-to-date and available to whomever needs it, whenever they need it.
To take a process or system designed for one task and use it for another — usually in way unforeseen by its creators. In the fast-moving Internet economy, repurposing has become a viable substitute for true innovation.
Typically used in reference to software, this classic means “not buggy and not a huge waste of resources.” Or more precisely, something that works well even under extreme conditions.
roll out [v.]; roll-out [n.]
Companies are constantly introducing new products and services that you don’t want or need. The elaborate process of introducing something new is a “roll-out.” The verb form is used thusly: “We rolled this piece of crap out to the curbside.”
rough order of magnitude [n.]
Fancy way of saying “to make a wild [ass] guess.”
Describes how flexible a system is in response to increases in scale [number of users, hits, etc.]. It might also have something to do with mountain climbing.
To set the scope of a product, i.e. to determine what “functionality” will be included. After products are “scoped,” they are invariably “descoped” as reality reasserts itself.
The holy grail with ERP and other complex systems is to produce a “seamless end-to-end solution.” The seams are the bottomless pits of hell into which your data falls when transferred from one end of the solution to the other. See also the entries for “end-to-end” and “solution.”
To share a document or plan within an organization, in the vain hope of getting actionable feedback from your “peers.” Also, the act of taking Fido to the park to get him used to other dogs.
Companies no longer sell products or services; they sell “solutions,” which are products or services, but more expensive.
soup to nuts [adj.]
To build every aspect of something from beginning to end. An integrated approach. Oh, the hubris of it all.
The final frontier? Are you daft? No, just the niche or market segment your company currently inhabits or hopes to enter. Or, as your CEO might put it, “How can we leverage our core competencies to enter the web-services space?”
special sauce / secret sauce [n.]
We can thank McDonald’s for this one. It’s used to refer to anything proprietary.
While many of our more jargon-illiterate readers might envision submarines upon first hearing this word, it is used by management professionals as a synonym of “raise,” as in “raise concerns.” For instance: “I think we need to surface those issues before the product is launched.”
synergy [n.]; synergize [v.]
The [often illusory] value gained by combining two or more companies or divisions. Also known as “economies of scope” and “corporate merger BS.”
The essential points of a presentation, activity, etc. that the author hopes you will “take away.” Also has something to do with food in the Queen’s English.
take to the next level [v. phrase]
I used to know a guy with a Level 20 Wizard. But seriously, this means to move a product, service, or organization from its current level of dysfunction to the next level of dysfunction.
task [v. tr.]
Yet another noun turned verb, this one means “to assign.” Now go task someone with some deliverables.
30,000 feet, at
A high-level view or explanation. Please keep in mind that oxygen is in short supply at this altitude, so you may experience lightheadedness.
touch base [v.]
A naughty sounding gem, “to touch base” is simply a request to meet again to discuss the current status of a project or task. “Rebecca, I would like to touch base with you later to discuss the Smith account.” You gotta think this one leads to a lot of lawsuits…
turnkey solution [n.]
Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a complex system or piece of software, plug it in, flip a switch and be off and running? Oh poor Odysseus, you have once again been beguiled by the IT sirens’ song. Keep dreaming.
What’s the point? No, really, that’s what it means.
value chain [n.]
As I find it impossible to define “value chain” without sullying myself with the very thing that I abhor most [jargon, for those of you keeping score], I’ve chosen to “borrow” from another site a definition so preposterous that I just had to include it: “a business methodology that helps companies manage marketplace variability and complexity, and align company strategies with execution processes.” Thanks for clarifying!
value proposition [n.]
The unique set of benefits that you offer to customers to sucker them into buying your product or service. Sometimes shortened to “value prop,” as in “What’s your value prop?” Word.
wet signature [n.]
I’m not sure I want to touch this one, but apparently this means a human signature, as opposed to an electronic one. I mean, do you plebs still sign stuff?
You, me, your grandma, everyone [assuming you’re a carbon-based life form]. That is, a human-based solution, as opposed to a hardware, or silicon-based, solution.
It’s a win for us; it’s a win for them. Everyone’s happy and drinking the Kool-Aid.
Means you’re best in class, a benchmark. If your product, service or solution ain’t world-class, you might as well close up shop and go home. Luckily, everything at your corporation is either world-class now, or will be by next quarter. Or at least that’s what management’s been telling everyone.
Business English Jargon and Slang – page two