Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence


We systemize tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge

Blog Enabling Operational Excellence

A Follow-Up Note to Business Analysts about ‘Decision’

In a recent blog post I called attention to the fact that there’s a major collision of terminology with respect to the term decision as used by different communities. See: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/07/06/a-note-to-business-analysts-about-%e2%80%98decision%e2%80%99/ My basic observation was that both communities are correct in their own context – but since the contexts intersect the result is a significant potential for confusion.
  • Business Analyst Community. Decision is often used in talking about business analysts’ own work – i.e., what methods to use, go/no-go on change, tool selection, choice of elicitation approach, etc. Its usage also seems to cover the sense of “management decision” – e.g., what course should project work take.
  • General Business Community. Decision always refers to a determination in business activity – e.g., should this applicant be given a mortgage, what should be charged for shipping an order, etc. This is the focus of decision in the business rules / decision engineering community.
Let me make some additional observations. A first question one should ask to clarify decision is what is the time horizon? Is it strategic or operational? A second question one should ask is what does decision actually refer to when used by each community for a given time horizon? Table. What Decision Refers to Based on Community and Time Horizon
Time Horizon of Decision

General Business Community

Business Analysis Community


strategic business decision strategic project decision or change initiative decision or option analysis


operational business decision  —
  In contrast to operational decisions, strategic decisions are always longer in time horizon, and generally made only once (which isn’t to say they can’t be revisited sometimes). This point is true for both communities. The distinguishing characteristics of an operational business decision is that it:
  • Is highly repetitive (100s, 1000s, or more per day, hour, etc.).
  • Can be encoded as practicable business rules.
Note: My analysis doesn’t address operational decisions for the Business Analysis Community (the cell show with dashes). That’s not because decision isn’t applicable in that context, but rather simply because it’s outside the scope of the present discussion. I recently saw the following draft definition of decision, which illustrates the problem of mixed meanings quite clearly.

An activity to answer a question or select an option from a known or knowable set of possible options. Typically defined in terms of business rules and made in response to events or at defined points in a business process.

  • The first part of the definition is reasonable for decision in any usage. It applies to both communities and to any time horizon.
  • The second part of the definition pertains only to the meaning of operational business decision. Strategic decisions, whether for the General Business Community or for the Business Analysis Community, are generally not based on specific business rules and are not made in response to events or at defined points in a business process. Strategic decisions are simply different in kind from operational business decisions.
The focus of a strategic decision is also quite different for each of the two communities.
  • General Business Community: The focus is on conducting future business in a certain way.
  • Business Analysis Community. The focus is on conducting a proposed initiative in a certain way to change the business itself.
Bottom Line: For clarity, I would always qualify decision to indicate which kind is meant. We certainly don’t need any more confusion in business engineering than already exists! www.BRSolutions.com

Tags: , , ,

Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.