The term is used often in the social sciences because scientists in that field have to spend so much time creating and validating their constructs of interest, just to be able to measure for them. From an empirical standpoint, they have to operationalize the construct as it exists within the perception, context, experience, and environment of members of a population.
Many social scientists use survey methodologies (cross-sectional) to operationalize an abstract, new, or unique construct or behavior. They master the content area related to the construct, create a survey, and then administer it to a sample from a targeted population to see what content areas or items account for the most variance. Principal components analysis and confirmatory factor analysis are used to establish the construct validity of survey instruments.
Medical professionals use cross-sectional research designs to establish the prevalence of disease states. Operationalization within physiology deals more with using "gold standard" techniques and concrete measures such as lab values. Treatment protocols are another form of operationalization within medicine. Certain procedures like a central line insertion require 20+ sequential steps to be conducted by surgical team members, every time. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act and upcoming clinical pathways, operationalization will play an even larger role in building economical, efficient, and effective standards of care.