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Posts Tagged ‘business processes’

Business Rules and the Design of Business Processes

Sample behavioral business rule: A customer that has placed an order must have an assigned agent. A practitioner wrote: In process design this means that an activity ‘Assign agent’ must happen before an activity ‘Take order’. My analysis: Here’s how behavioral business rules like this one should work according to standards[1]:
  • If the business rule is violated in performance of the process ‘Take order’, then the process (activity) ‘Assign agent’ should be (optionally) invoked automatically so the violation can be corrected immediately (by the appropriate actor).
  • In performance of the process ‘Retire agent’ (which hasn’t been mentioned!), if the business rule is violated – i.e., the retiring agent is assigned to some customer who would thereby be left agent-less – the process (activity) ‘Assign agent’ should be (optionally) invoked automatically so the violation can be corrected immediately (by the appropriate actor).
There’s one business rule, but two kinds of events (in separate processes) where the rule can be violated. I’ve literally looked at 10,000s of business rules. Probably 95% or more are multi-event like this, and therefore often multi-process. You can see from this example how easy it is for business analysts to completely miss the second event. My contention is that’s one big reason why systems today often give such inconsistent results – the other event(s) are overlooked or in another process altogether. Conclusions
  • It’s highly misleading to say ‘business rules are part of processes’. No, not really. (I run into that statement all the time.)
  • We’re not designing processes today in a very intelligent way. Designers shouldn’t have to think, ‘O.K., which process (activity) has to come first because of the business rules?’. That approach forces us into sequences where no natural sequence is meaningful. In any case there are far too many behavioral business rules for it to be practical.
P.S. If you think ‘decisions’ will fix this fundamental problem, sorry, but I’m afraid you’re in for a rude awakening! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1]Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR).

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BPM and the Knowledge Economy: White-Collar Work

Make no mistake, the future lies with automation of white-collar work. Fewer and fewer business problems these days focus on manufacturing and production processes, i.e., the nothing-but-widgets category. For all the non-widget-centric business activity in the world – which includes just about all every conceivable form of white-collar work – the following needs become paramount.
  1. Ensuring the quality of meta-data.
  2. Demonstrating compliance based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.
  3. Retaining, teaching and repurposing intellectual capital.
What would I do to correct the shortcomings of BPM for non-widget-centric business activity? Our answer is to become more why-centric, as opposed to narrowly how-centric.[1] You should focus on business capabilities, not just business processes. That shift has several essential features:
  • Understanding business strategy as something distinct from business processes (and BPM). Business goals and business risks should be drivers of business process design – not the other way around. You need to be strategy-driven, not simply process-driven.
  • Designing core metrics around business goals and business risks – the things that concern C-suite executives the most.
  • Realizing that for white-collar work the 3-D world of widgets has vanished, and that tolerances and quality can be expressed only in terms of business rules.
  • Treating business rules as a first-class citizen, externalized from process models.[2]
  • Identifying operational business decisions (based on encoded business rules) as a crucial focal point in re-engineering business processes.
  • Including a Why Button as part of every business solution. Pressing the Why Button leads immediately to the business rules that produced the results you see from any process.
~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: BPM and the Knowledge Economy: Nothing But Widgets? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/16/bpm-and-the-knowledge-economy-nothing-but-widgets/ What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Refer to: Ronald G. Ross, “The Why Engineer™,” Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 11 (Nov. 2013), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2013/b727.html
[2] Refer to the Business Rules Manifesto, now in almost 20 languages: http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/brmanifesto.htm

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BPM and the Knowledge Economy: Nothing But Widgets?

BPM often overreaches. Understanding, modeling and managing a business capability effectively requires a balanced view of six basic questions, not just one, as given in the table below. I follow Zachman in these matters, so yes, the table is Zachmanesque.

Interrogative

Basic Business Question

Kind of Model

1. What What inventory of things needs to be managed to support business activity? structural model (e.g., concept model[1], data model)
2. How How do transforms of things in business activity need to take place to add value? process model
3. Where Where does business activity occur? network model
4. Who Who collaborates with whom to undertake business activity? interaction model (e.g., organizational chart, use case)
5. When When does business activity take place? temporal model (e.g., schedule, event model, milestone model)
6. Why Why are results of business activity deemed appropriate or not? strategy model (e.g., Policy Charter[2], constraint model)
  If your business does nothing but manufacture or produce physical widgets (forget all the meta-data about those widgets), you will probably emphasize question 2 (i.e., process) above the others. Your overall approach and architecture will reflect that. You will naturally gravitate toward BPM. That tendency has at least three basic risks, even for organizations that do fall into the nothing-but-widgets category:
  • Your metrics will largely focus on process productivity (e.g., throughput, bottlenecks, latency), rather than strategic goals and alerts centered on external risks. E-suite executives tend to be much more focused on the latter.
  • Your mindset will be procedural, rather than declarative, which can cause you to embed business rules in process flows rather than externalize them. As a result your process models will be unnecessarily complex and your overall solutions un-agile.
  • You approach will fall woefully short in addressing the intellectual capital that underlies your processes. Such operation business knowledge ranges from simple meta-data, to the business logic that underlies operational business decisions.
Fewer and fewer business problems these days fall into nothing-but-widgets category. Even for widget-centric businesses, at least three needs are increasingly urgent:
  1. Ensuring the quality of meta-data.
  2. Demonstrating compliance based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.
  3. Retaining, teaching and repurposing intellectual capital.
These are not strengths of common BPM practices. ~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Refer to Refer to Business Rule Concepts:  Getting to the Point of Knowledge (4th ed), by Ronald G. Ross, 2013, Chapter 1 and Part 2.  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_concepts.php 
[2] Refer to Building Business Solutions:  Business Analysis with Business Rules by Ronald G. Ross and Gladys S.W. Lam, 2nd ed. (Sept, 2015), an IIBA Sponsored Handbook, Chapter 4.  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php 

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The Future for Processes: What about Cognitive Computing?

People are asking why current processes are so dumb. For example, why can’t they:
                                • learn from experience?
                                • be more goal-driven?
                                • dynamically balance between conflicting goals?
                                • self-adapt?
Some people suggest use of cognitive computing to help make processes smarter. I doubt anybody today really knows how far this idea can be taken. I can, however, say two things with certainty:
  1. If you don’t know what your business rules are (i.e., what rules guided previous executions), can you really expect a machine to figure them out? A machine can undoubtedly identify patterns, but that’s a far cry from demonstrating compliance, guaranteeing consistent results, or customizing appropriately case-by-case.
  2. Suppose self-adapting processes do become reality. The question I have is what will keep such processes from going out of bounds? How do you avoid them doing things that are undesirable, self-defeating or even illegal? These are critical questions that will always bring you right back to business rules.
~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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The Future for Processes: What about Case Management?

Many ‘processes’ people are looking to implement these days are clearly best viewed as case-oriented – e.g., patient care, mortgage applications, etc. Individual cases must be orchestrated through various states, often with undesirable or wayward transitions. There is significant variation in the paths that various cases take. Things just don’t always move along as predictably as on a production line. For such problems you’ll want a more case-oriented style of modeling than simply old-style flows. (For business practitioners that technique may or may not prove to be CMMN.) You might not use traditional process modeling at all. Whatever your approach you’ll definitely want to be very clear about what milestones are relevant, and which business rules apply for each. That puts a premium on business rules. ~~~~~~~ Read more about the future for processes: What is the Future for Processes? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/11/09/what-is-the-future-for-processes/ Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy? http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/19/are-processes-and-bpm-relevant-in-the-digital-economy/ Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/27/measuring-quality-and-defects-in-the-knowledge-economy/ Quality and Tolerances in the Knowledge Economy: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/10/29/quality-and-tolerances-in-the-knowledge-economy/ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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Measuring Quality and Defects in the Knowledge Economy

Everyone wants high quality from their business processes. But what exactly does quality mean these days? Let me tell you a quick story that recently got me thinking. I like to eat toasted raisin bread in the morning. I even have a favorite brand. Every morning when I’m at home I eat several pieces. Over the years I’ve become so experienced with the brand’s quality that I can spot defects. I know when they’ve laid on the cinnamon a little too heavily, or when the dough didn’t rise quite enough. Every morning I look forward to doing my little AM taste test. But one morning recently I suddenly realized the large majority of client processes we’ve worked with over the last decade are not ones I can perform any taste test for. There’s nothing physical from the process I can taste or hear or touch. There’s nothing whatsoever to directly assess quality by. That’s because some clients simply have no physical products at all – e.g., insurance, finance, taxation, etc. But a good number do – e.g., electrical equipment, trucking, railroads, and so on. For these latter clients the processes of immediate concern didn’t directly involve those physical things however – only just white-collar stuff. So the question becomes how do you assess quality from a business process when there’s no physical product? How do you identify defects when there isn’t any physical result? My conclusion: When there isn’t any physical product from a business process, quality and defects are purely a matter of business rules. If you’re not documenting and managing business rules as part of your BPM or quality management approach (or elsewhere) you’re missing a crucial part of the picture. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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Are Processes and BPM Relevant in the Digital Economy?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that process and BPM are meaningless across the board in the digital economy. If you’re manufacturing or producing a physical product, you still do need to think in terms of a modeled and managed business process. Other the other hand, if your products are non-physical – for example, money, time, skills, information, meta-data, etc. – you’d better have a major re-think. The old rules of the game simply don’t apply to white-collar work. Nor do they apply if your business model is about digitally leveraging other people’s idle assets – think Uber. You must still consistently satisfy contractual obligations and regulatory constraints in this new digital world of course. But that’s a business rules problem, not a process problem. A major characteristic of the new digital world is that activity is never static in any sense of the word. You simply get no points for hardwiring repetitive behaviors. You must:
  • Continuously make informed operational decisions in the blink of an eye (actually often faster than that).
  • Selectively respond to changing circumstances with subtle adjustments.
  • Be as dynamic as possible, yet still produce outcomes of predictable, consistent quality.
These too are business rule problems, not process problems. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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Pleased to Announce Release of Our New Book Edition!

Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules (2nd Edition) … Just Out! http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php Get it on Amazon: http://goo.gl/HXxN1f What It’s About: How to develop business solutions working directly with business leads, create blueprints of the solutions, and then use those blueprints for developing system requirements. Engineering business solutions, not just requirements.We have applied the techniques described in this book successfully in hundreds of companies worldwide. Kind Words from a Practitioner: “We have based our whole business rules analysis practice on the methodology and techniques developed by the Business Rules Solution team. This book is an integral part of our practice. It’s an easy to read, useful guide with real life examples – we use it daily and couldn’t do without it!” – Michelle Murray, Inland Revenue Department NZ New in this Edition: How Business Architecture corresponds with your projects and requirements work. Developing a Concept Model and how it will help you. How business rules align with the new terminology in the recently released IIBA® BABOK® Guide version 3. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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How Do Business Rules Apply to Service Workers vs. White-Collar Workers vs. Gold-Collar Workers?

There are two fundamental kinds of business rules: behavioral rules and decision rules.[1] Behavioral rules are rules people can violate; decision rules are rules that shape knowledge or information. Decision rules cannot be violated – knowledge or information just is what it is defined to be. Common to all business rules, no matter which category, is that you want them directly traceable for compliance and other purposes. How do  behavioral rules and decision rules apply differentially to service workers vs. white-collar workers vs. gold-collar workers? Service workers are primarily subject to obeying behavioral rules, or are charged with applying them. Examples:
  • A counter attendant must not accept a credit card for a purchase under $10.
  • A flight attendant must ensure passengers have buckled their seat belts for each take-off and landing.
Service workers are subject to operational business decisions made by white-collar workers, but do not play a significant role in making such decisions themselves. White-collar workers are typically involved in business processes where operational business decisions are made. Examples:
  • Should this loan applicant be given a mortgage?
  • What flight crew should be assigned to this flight?
White-collar workers generally do not define decision rules themselves – that’s typically work for gold-collar workers. Where such rules are incomplete, unspecified or contradictory, however, white-collar workers generally rely on personal heuristics and experience to make decisions. This approach puts the main goals for white-collar work – consistency and traceability – at jeopardy. White-collar workers, like all workers, are subject to behavioral rules. Examples:
  • A loan officer must not handle a loan application placed by a family member
  • The website description for a new product must be approved by two senior managers.

Gold-collar workers (for explanation see http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/08/11/is-%e2%80%9cknowledge-worker%e2%80%9d-the-best-term-for-decision-engineering/)[2] are responsible for non-routine, knowledge-intensive work. The primary goals for such work is that it be insightful (e.g., as in the case of medical diagnosis that fits the available data better) or creative (e.g., as in the case of a new marketing strategy). This type of work is generally beyond the scope of decision rules. Although gold-collar workers often conduct their work in relatively independent fashion, the work is generally subject to “very close normative control from organizations they work for” [Wikipedia]. Think medical malpractice or following generally accepted principles of accounting. These normative controls, since they can be violated, are sets of behavioral rules. www.BRSolutions.com


[1]Based on the OMG standard SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules). For more on SBVR see the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com.
[2]And follow-up posts everyday last week.

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How Do Service Workers (Pink-Collar) Fit with White-Collar and Gold-Collar Workers?

Pink-collar worker is a term sometimes used (in the U.S. at least) to refer to a job in the service industry. Many people find the term off-putting because it traditionally referred to jobs relegated to women. I avoid the term for several other reasons. The category includes:    
    • Such people as nurses and teachers, who are clearly gold-collar. (For explanation of gold-collar work, see http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/08/11/is-%e2%80%9cknowledge-worker%e2%80%9d-the-best-term-for-decision-engineering/)
    • Such roles as buyers, loan interviewers, dieticians, administrative assistants, etc., whose work at the high-end should be considered white-collar.
    • Many workers providing personal services on an individual basis, rather than business services in the usual sense. Examples include midwives; hairdressers and barbers; baby sitters and nannies; personal shoppers and fashion stylists; etc.
Clearly many businesses do have extensive staff that is neither white-collar nor gold-collar working to deliver services. Examples include retail workers, sales staff, flight attendants, hotel housekeepers, counter attendants, receptionists, etc. I just call them service workers since they don’t have any traditional uniform color – white, blue or otherwise. Are service workers subject to business rules? Absolutely. Generally these rules are behavioral rules rather than decision rules, however, since their jobs do not focus on operational business decisions. More about that in my next post. www.BRSolutions.com

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