Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Journey is Not a Mission

In several recent consulting engagements with large enterprises, I was stuck by the constant use of the word "journey", as in "the order-to-cash journey", or "the SOA journey", or the "business strategy redesign journey".  I remember felling a little queasy upon first hearing this usage.  Lately, I have watched this language permeate the business press and smaller organizations.

A quick trip to the Merriam OnLine dictionary reveals:

          1.  an act or instance of traveling from one place to another
               (see trip)

          2.  chiefly dialect :  a day's travel
          3.  something suggesting travel or passage from one place 
               to another

I suspect that the third definition is what is mostly meant by people using the word, but I have
encountered situations where the "urgent internal communications journey" fit the second.

In any case, the management consulting world has convinced many people to use the word journey instead of the word mission.  This must stop.

Again, from Merriam:

          1.     an act or instance of sending
2a.   a ministry commissioned by a religious organization
                  to propagate its faith or carry on humanitarian work

            b.   assignment to or work in a field of missionary enterprise

            c1. a mission establishment

              2. a local church or parish dependent on a larger religious
                  organization for direction or financial support

            d.   plural : organized missionary work
  e.   a course of sermons and services given to convert the
                  unchurched or quicken Christian faith
 3.     a body of persons sent to perform a service or carry on 
                  an activity: as
           a : a group sent to a foreign country to conduct diplomatic or 
                       political negotiations
           b : a permanent embassy or legation
           c : a team of specialists of cultural leaders sent to
                       a foreign country
 4a.   a specific task with which a person or a group is charged
            b1. a definite military, naval, or aerospace task
              2. a flight operation of an aircraft or spacecraft in the
                  performance of a misison
            c.   a preestablished and often self-imposed objective or purpose
5.     calling, vocation

Given these definitions, journey seems to be a much friendlier word, without the nasty semantic baggage of  task and the implied related concepts of goals, schedules, risks and resistance.  I can only surmise that its users are either Orwellian, or subconsciously replacing mission with journey to gain popular support with the troops because they themselves can't deal with the notion of a mission.

Journeys are pleasant, mostly, and non life- or career-threatening, mostly.  The endpoint is usually known, and easily accessible because some prior explorer or pioneer (likely on a mission) has found and documented the route.

Missions, on the other hand, are laden with risk.  While the goal may be defined, there is no guarantee that it can be achieved.  There are often obstacles (ranging from hostile natives to uncooperative department heads) between the team and the goal.  The cost of failure is usually more than moaning about a non-refundable ticket.

Which of the two sounds more like the effort to promote SOA in a large enterprise?

Language matters.

So the next time some managers start talking about a journey, tell them to call a travel agent.

No comments:

Post a Comment