Microspeak: ladder up

Some time ago, I encountered a new piece of Microsoft jargon. Let's try to figure it out together.

For our team presentation, we developed a theme that ties together all of the features we are working on, and how it laddered up to something bigger than the features themselves.

I went searching through other documents looking for the phrase "ladder up" in an attempt to triangulate the meaning. Here are some more citations.

These requirements are documented and ladder up to each other so teams understand how the work is connected.

I think it's important because it's actually these tiny issues that ladder up to my perception about various products.

Risk: The organization's strategy keeps changing.
Impact: Trying to align experimentation to supply decision at a specific timeline cannot succeed.
Action: Form our own vision of how to ladder up.

At left are some of the more common pivots we looked at in the data. Things like role, organization type, platform, and technology use. We found the segments laddered up to three main categories identified here.

The list of potential needs will include the twelve needs currently identified (and which can be laddered up to the four meta needs of "information", "enrichment", etc.).

Confused yet? Here are some more.

Company X organizes all social conversations with subject code tags, which laddered up to branded campaigns and offerings.

"Fast" features can be laddered up to a strong emotional benefit which taps into a need.

Okay, so there appear to be three general categories of usage.

One sense of ladder up is that of multiple things building upon each other and reinforcing each other, usually building toward a common goal.

Another sense of ladder up is that of organizing a collection of items into a small number of groups.

The third category is the ones that I can't make any sense of. ("Form our own vision of how to ladder up." "… laddered up to branded campaigns and offerings.")

One of my colleagues spent time in marketing and said that the phrase ladder up was used a lot to describe how various campaigns all contributed to a common goal.

So at least in marketing, the ladder up sense is that of building and reinforcement.

It's not clear how the "organizing into a small number of groups" sense is related to that. Maybe it's just a coincidence, and the two uses developed independently. Or maybe people heard the phrase ladder up in a marketing presentation and decided to start using it themselves without really understanding what it means.

Comments (15)
  1. Dilip says:

    Apologies for the tangential question. How can I draw your attention to a recently discovered kernel mode bug check that [redacted].

    1. You can email the details to secure@microsoft.com. Include the exact steps to reproduce the problem, a valid proof of concept, and a short explanation of how an attacker could use it to exploit another user. Also include the crash dump/minidump file.

  2. ErikF says:

    So, essentially you laddered up to understand what “laddered up” meant! :-P

  3. Brian_EE says:

    “Or maybe people heard the phrase [x] in a marketing presentation and decided to start using it themselves without really understanding what it means.”

    FTFY – now your statement is applicable to every phrase ever invented by mankind. What would we ever do without those super-smart marketing folks.

  4. Pierre B. says:

    I get the strong sense that “laddered up” just means “add up” and is a monstrosity concocted by someone who heard the latter and didn’t understand what was said, coming up with this semi-absurd alternative.

    1. cheong00 says:

      Same here, plus the image of the size/scope of the matter grows up gradually, step by step.

  5. Boris says:

    The usage describes combination of smaller pieces into ever growing chunks, which only become visible as the viewer is climbing a metaphorical ladder, one that presumably ends with a ten-thousand-foot view.

  6. Mike C says:

    Perhaps the first couple times it was a bad spell checker, where the writer wanted to write “added up”, and perhaps wrote “addered up”, which got auto-corrected to “laddered up”. I think “addered” is the most likely mis-type due to the proximity of the keys and perhaps some reflexive muscle memory with the “-ered” sequence. After the precedent was set, other people picked up the jargon.

  7. Kevin says:

    It sounds like this is just a renaming of “synergize” on account of because nobody was taking the old term seriously.

  8. Kate says:

    Seems like you could swap in “build up” for the same effect.

  9. Klimax says:

    I’d say, equivalents are:
    “stack up” and “lead up/to”. Would even with latter explain how “ladder up” got created.

  10. Boris says:

    “Stacking/adding/building up to” doesn’t have this sense of details vanishing into a larger whole, a higher level of abstraction that becomes visible only from a certain height:

    “something bigger than the features themselves”
    “so teams understand how the work is connected”
    “laddered up to three main categories”

  11. Ivan K says:

    >Confused yet?
    Was a bit addled. But that’s what happens when just scanning whatevrs. (Probably also because an Addler is an L in the ipc dive pool).

  12. Ben Voigt (Visual Studio and Development Technologies MVP with C++ focus) says:

    Rather than “building and reinforcement”, the common theme seems to be related to requirement traceability. The idea that all these small tasks aren’t done in isolation, they link/trace back to a higher goal.

  13. Deltics says:

    The only use of “Ladder Up” I have ever come across has involved some reference to setting off, being derived from the practice in the early days of aviation where your aircraft involved climbing a ladder and then pulling the ladder up, into the aircraft (so that you had it available to disembark, when you landed).

    i.e. “Ladder Up” in that sense means “get under way”, “get on with it” etc.

    As in, “Come guys, enough chatter. Time to ladder up”.

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