Microspeak: Operationalize

Here are a few citations for the word operationalize.

A lot of work lies ahead to operationalize this plan.

Provide security guidance and tools to help operationalize security for enterprise environments.

I thought it meant "carry out" or "put into effect", and then I saw this sentence:

Operationalize the demo (get computers configured, install software, verify network access).

Now I'm not sure any more.

Comments (27)
  1. Joel Mc says:

    Operationalize: To come up with reasons for what you are doing while you are doing it. Typically initiated by a higher-up as a job for an underling.

    Straight out of Dilbert.

  2. Adrian says:

    I used to know what monetize meant, until I came to Microsoft.  I wonder if the people here with titles like "Director of Monetization" even realize how the word is being misused.

  3. Jeffrey Altman says:


    To operationalize something is to prepare a set of measurements that can be used to determine success or accuracy.

    [That doesn’t explain the last citation. How does configuring computers establish measurements for success? -Raymond]
  4. Coleman says:

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to say "Setup the demo"?

    I really hate it when folks use words like this to make themselves sound more intelligent.

  5. PinkDuck says:

    I hate it when people use the noun "setup" incorrectly, instead of the phrasal verb "set up" :)

  6. richard says:

    You have to admit that without people taking bold initiatives with language, we would be stuck with a static and dead language. How much Hittite do you hear spoken? Not very much I would guess. Failure to operationalize a language for change relegates it to wind up being buried inside a tumulus.

  7. Jon says:

    There’s always someone who doesn’t really "get" what most people mean by a certain word or phrase.  The problem comes when the misunderstood phrase or meaning comes into common use as more and more people think they were getting it wrong in the first place.

    Take "I could care less" as a prime example: when I was younger it was always "I couldn’t care less" (which makes a lot more sense if you think about it) until the misheard version caught on…

  8. C Gomez says:

    Maybe in all three cases you could use the word "implement"?  I dunno.  I don’t really even get the first two uses.

    Does operationalizing something mean to set up a process so that it is part of routine operations?  I dunno… I can barely understand what these people mean anymore.

  9. Mike F says:


    –adjective (of speech, writing, etc.) high-sounding; high-flown; inflated; pretentious

  10. Messiant R says:

    Operationalize: make something able to operate

    Seems to work fine in all 3 cases for me

  11. Omar D. says:

    Maybe the tendencies for rhyming slang come through in me more than they should, but that last one made me think "sodomize the twit that came up with this."

  12. Richard says:

    "${X}ize" usually means "make $X". So "operationalize" => "make operational". Seems to fit all three uses cited.

  13. Adam G says:

    At my last job at an IT support company, ‘operationalize’ meant ‘get the process to the point where it can either be automated of reduced to a set of very simple instructions that can be followed by anyone who can type".

  14. Sebastian Redl says:

    I’ll go with "put into operation" or "make operational", too. Makes sense for all three, derives directly from the un-word.

  15. John says:

    It appears that Microsoft is trying to emulate the creative "language" methods of the US Department of Defense.

  16. Jeremy Noring says:


    It doesn’t mean "to carry out" or "to put into effect."  "Operationalization" is the act of defining a concept in a way that can be measured.  

    The first two examples are arguably correct, but it would depend upon the greater context of the sentences.  Are they defining how the success/effectiveness of the plan can be measured?  Operationalizing security could mean defining metrics for measuring the effectiveness of security in general.

    The third just looks wrong.

    In any event, I think it’s a clumsy word, and I wouldn’t use it.

  17. Miral says:

    I’m with Richard — it’s just a verb form meaning "make operational".

    See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ize.

    I wouldn’t use it either, though :)

  18. Jivlain says:

    Round here, we’re asked to turn off our CPUs and VDUs at the end of each day to save power ;)

  19. ::Wendy:: says:

    I learned this term in my psyhcology undergraduate degree (possibly without the z and with an s) in the phrase

    "Operationalise the variables"

    which meant,  decide how you are going to measure something.  A critical step in studying humans… ….deciding how to measure what is likely to be a fuzzy,  socially constructed concept.

    For (fictional) example, I could decide to measure microsoftie executive dedication to creative use of the language(the variable) by operationalising it as the number of words produced during an exceutive speech that could not be verified by the 1984 Collins English (UK) dictionary.  Then encourage some microsoft employee developer friend to attend,  meetings,  record speeches and write an astoundingly clever program to check speech content against the collins dictionary.   And Lo!  If the office exec produced 24 and the VP for Windows produced 86 in their respecive big team meetings,  then I could get some non-parametric test of significance under my belt,  possibly a Chi Square, to demonstrate if this difference is significantly greater than would be expected by chance.  

    Then I’d write a fancy article and sell it to some magazine (CNET?) and use the proceeds to pay my developer friend and possibly have a tea party to celebrate.   Hoorah!

    Are we allowed to waffle on Raymonds comments section?

    Did I ask that question too late?

  20. j.j. says:

    "operationalize" v. – to make it work under real world situations, not just in the lab.  

    e.g., "operationalize the security posture" — take your ‘best case’ lab findings, test with real world data and produce a result that’s actually useful.  (i.e., not the NSA STIGs: http://iase.disa.mil/stigs/index.html )

    e.g., "operationalize the  demo" — sure, the demo worked back in the shop, but there are a lot of other details to get it to work on the showroom floor.  work those out.  

    (shrug)  my opinion, based of a career of making it work.

  21. Matthias Hertel says:

    This is another word that actually has a well-defined meaning in science or, in this case, philosophy of science (operationalize = give an operational definition).

    One day, it floated by some <dude in need of big words for small things> who tried to reverse-engineer its meaning using folk etymology ("${X}ize" usually means "make $X") and decided that its probably synonymous to "make" or "do".

    As a result, the word has been reduced to pure fluff in most contexts.

  22. Dean Harding says:

    I don’t know, it sounds like a perfectly cromulent word to me.

  23. Jim says:

    Jon: "There’s always someone who doesn’t really "get" what most people mean by a certain word or phrase.  The problem comes when the misunderstood phrase or meaning comes into common use as more and more people think they were getting it wrong in the first place.

    Take "I could care less" as a prime example: when I was younger it was always "I couldn’t care less" (which makes a lot more sense if you think about it) until the misheard version caught on…"

    I see "I could care less" on web forums quite a bit and always assumed that it was a typo, hadn’t realised that people actually say that when it says the opposite of what they mean.

    Must be an American thing that hasn’t yet caught on on this side of the pond, fortunately.

  24. coldacid says:

    Couldn’t it just mean to "make [object] work"? So then to "operationalize the demo" would be to ensure that it actually does what it’s supposed to do.

  25. Mark Steward says:

    Yup, reading -ize as "make/turn into", it’s either "turn it into an operation", or "make operational".  I suspect it means the former, but the meaning has spread, due to the fact that the former tends to involve the latter, along with a preference to say "operationalize" to "operationize" (an individual’s grammar rules suffer† from muscle memory).

    The problem with -speaks is that it’s hard (though not impossible) to summarise complex processes in one word, and there is a desire to get people to understand everything in a concise way.  Of course, this is only possible when you’re all on the same wavelength (but the same applies to obscure, well-defined words).

    † OK, it’s really analogy.

  26. Now if enough people use this word enough, maybe it’ll shorten itself to "op". "Op the demo", "A lot of work lies ahead to op this plan". I’m not sure if that would be an improvement though.

  27. addy santo says:

    A different take on it-

    Operationalize means "make ready for an operational environment", often referring to enterprise production environments which have dedicated operations teams, defined management/escalation processes and SLAs.

    So desktop apps need to be "productized" while web apps need to be "operationalized"…

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