MBA Jargon Watch is the illegitimate brainchild of an MBA and full-time member of the
dotcom proletariat petite bourgeoisie (I got a promotion). The intent of the Web site is to elucidate, amuse, and
gently mock users and consumers of management, business, and consulting jargon.
The definitions listed were selected using JargonRank, a
proprietary measure based on the word's frequency of use among management
professionals, students, professors and staff. Want to contribute to the cause? Suggest
a new word or phrase here.
The MBA Jargon Index, Page 1 (Letters
Page 2 (Letters
- actionable (adj.)
- 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.
- ask (n.)
- After years of losses to the verbs, the nouns strike back by converting the verb "ask" into an utterly superfluous synonym for request. Also, your ask is mine.
- at the end of the day
- 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.
- bandwidth (n.)
- 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
- 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
- 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the best practices of one era are soon superseded by the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.
- buy-in (n.)
- 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
- 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.
- c-level (adj.)
- 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
- componentize (v.)
- 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
- 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
- cycles (n.)
- A reference to computer processing cycles, this one can be used
interchangeably with bandwidth.
Either way, it's a bad idea comparing yourself or another humanoid to an
indefatigable machine. You'll lose.
- deliverables (n.)
- Denoting project output or assignments, "deliverables" are often
"tasked" (see below), but seldom completed.
- descope (v.)
- Please see "scope" on page
- dial-in (v.)
- Despite the obvious reference to a telephone, this one means to
"include." For example, "We need to dial-in the materials list."
- dialogue (v.)
- 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
- disambiguate (v.)
- 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
axis of evil.
- drill-down (v.)
- 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)
- driver (n.)
- 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
- 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.
- ecosystem (n.)
- 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).
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. Also the name of an
upcoming Tom Hanks movie.
- enabler (n.)
- 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.
- end-to-end (adj.)
- 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.
- facetime (n.)
- 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
- feature/scope 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.
- functionality (n.)
- Simply meaning "functions" or "features," this one has gained
- gain traction (v.)
- To gain momentum or acceptance. "Cisco's new routers are gaining traction in the
- 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
- 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
- high-level (adj.)
- 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
- instantiate (v.)
- The unholy offspring of "instant" and "substantiate," "instantiate"
means to verify or document an instance of a particular behavior or
- leapfrog (v.)
- 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.
- learnings (n.)
- Word favored by consultant-types meaning "something learned."
Apparently, "lesson" wouldn't do despite 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.
- mindshare (n.)
- Sorta like "marketshare," but without the revenue and sounding a whole lot creepier. Don't use this one
- mission-critical (adj.)
- 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.
- modularize (v.)
- 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.
- monetize (v.)
- 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.