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

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

We systemize tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge

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Ronald G. Ross

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.

3 Basic Principles for Business Knowledge Engineering

engineer[1]The world that presents itself to us today is characterized by ever increasing complexity, expanding scale, and accelerating rate of change. A first and fundamental step in coming to grips with that world is simply to realize that operating on the basis of rules is the only viable solution.

Based on that understanding, here are three fundamental principles for a new knowledge paradigm.

 

Principle 1: Follow the same basic rules through every channel.

Providing consistent customer experience requires applying the same basic business rules through each and every channel. These rules should govern both interactions with customers as well as dissemination of products and services to them.

Some people feel that operating on the basis of rules, and applying basic rules uniformly, produces stiff, inflexible behavior. Not at all! By basing actions on rules, you can see clearly when to bend them, and when to extend them. It’s a basic part of the mindset.

Principle 2: Know what your rules are.

To follow the same basic rules through each channel you must actually know what your rules are. How many companies today actually do with any certainty?! How many have their business rules right at their fingertips?

The key to operational excellence is how well you organize, deploy and re-use operational business knowledge. Business rules, quite simply, are the most fundamental kind of operational business knowledge. What has your company done about business-side rule management?

Principle 3: Give your rules a good life.

Just knowing your rules and keeping them at your fingertips is not enough. You must give your rules a good life – you must keep them evergreen. Business rules must become a living-and-breathing resource of your business.

That’s not the way it is today in most organizations. The business has outsourced its business rules to IT (which in turn has often outsourced them off-shore). The rules get mangled in highly convoluted implementations. There’s no accessibility for easy adjustments, and no traceability for quickly resolving problems. That’s not a winning formula for operational excellence.

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Read about the new knowledge paradigm: http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b900

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Wanted: A New Knowledge Paradigm

ParadigmShift[1]My inner geek gets as excited as the next professional about all the technological innovations adding up to what gurus are calling the digital platform or digital business – or simply digital. This new wave of technological capability features social, mobile, cloud, big data, and more. It promises a host of new capabilities to accelerate innovation including robotics, 3D printing, internet of things, cognitive, and augmented reality. WOW!!

But there’s a little voice inside me counseling caution. When have new platforms or channels ever fixed major business challenges?!

It’s all too easy to get caught up in ChannelMania, a state of virtual panic about introducing the next big thing, keeping up with the Joneses technologically. In the frenzy you can easily lose sight of the hidden business costs.

We should step back, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves some fundamental questions.

  • How well can we really manage yet more channels?
  • Do we deliver consistent business results to our customers?
  • Are we happy with our current lot in managing change?
  • Does the company have any real strategy to address ever-accelerating complexity?
  • With all the new agile methods, is the business actually becoming more agile?

It’s not too hard to envision what real operational excellence would look like.

  • Your customers would get consistent business results through any of many channels.
  • Rolling out business change would be faster and cheaper.
  • You could demonstrate compliance at every turn.
  • You could manage complexity at scale.
  • You’d provide stellar customer experience at inhuman speeds.

The question, of course, is how do we get there? I argue that we need a new knowledge paradigm. I call it Business Knowledge Engineering.

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Read about the new knowledge paradigm: http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b900

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Addressing Business Complexity

complexity complicated-flows1[1]A large consulting company recently conducted an assessment of the IT development approach followed by one of our clients that uses our approach for business analysis with business rules. The consulting company judged the approach highly effective because the approach is ‘componentized’ (their description). 

The consulting company meant that business rules are viewed as a component; business processes are viewed as a component; business vocabulary is viewed as a component; etc. ‘Componentized’ may or may not be the right description, but the consulting company hit upon an important point.

Most IT methodologies for requirements development today make no attempt to examine the fundamental questions what, how, where, who, when, and why individually and selectively.  That omission is odd to say the least.  Those six questions are ones all of us ask and answer every day in real life.  The six question words are very basic to our language.

Instead, most methodologies today are centric.  They are process-centric or data-centric or user-story-centric or sometimes even rule-centric or decision-centric.  A centric approach requires force-fitting some or all elements of a solution into a single mold that distorts and submerges other elements.  Worse, a centric approach does little to avoid elements being neglected or omitted altogether.

Business problems are inherently complex and multi-faceted, as are their solutions. So we make every effort to ensure our approach to business analysis is well-factored and balanced – that is, non-centric – right from the start.

A non-centric approach doesn’t make developing winning business solutions harder, just the opposite. By addressing business complexity head on – as naturally factored in the real world – top-quality business solutions are far easier to attain.  Experience proves it time and time again.

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Excerpted from: Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, 2nd edition, by Ronald G. Ross & Gladys S.W. Lam, 2015

Get the book: http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php

Get the training: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: April 4-6, 2017 – Business Analysis with Business Rules: From Strategy to Requirements. http://www.attainingedge.com/online-training-business-analysis-with-business-rules.php

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2016. www.BRSolutions.com

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How Good Are You at Business Rule Analysis?

mowing-the-lawn[1]Can you understand that all three of the following business rule statements mean the same thing? Here’s what must be true: If you mow the lawn on Sunday your lawn mower is to be electric; otherwise the lawn is not to be mowed on Sunday.

1. It is permitted that the lawn be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

2. It is prohibited that the lawn is mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

3. It is obligatory that the lawn not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

I’m fairly certain you can. And if you can determine they all mean the same thing, I contend a machine ought to be able to do so too. I mean as stated in this exact same human-friendly, structured natural language form. And tell you that the statements mean the same thing (in effect, that they are redundant). That’s the kind of language-smart (cognitive) capability that business innovators should be expecting – no, demanding – from software vendors.

P.S. In the OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) the three statements are a restricted permission statement, a prohibition statement, and an obligation statement, respectively. You might prefer one or another of these forms of statements, but each is correct and reasonably understandable. Here are the RuleSpeak©[1] equivalents – even more friendly:

  1. The lawn may be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

  2. The lawn must not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

  3. (same as 2)

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Get trained: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: April 4-6, 2017 – Business Analysis with Business Rules: From Strategy to Requirements. http://www.brsolutions.com/services/online/strategy-to-requirements/

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2017. www.BRSolutions.com

[1] Free on www.RuleSpeak.com

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IT Departments Should be Evacuated – Agree/Disagree?

Fire_Exit_Doors[1]Let’s put you on the hot spot. You are forced to agree or disagree with the following statement, and defend your answer. What would you say?

Evacuating the IT department to weave IT into the business optimizes business capabilities.

Here’s how I answer: I agree. How about you?

My reasoning: Almost 20 years ago, John Zachman made me read an article by Peter F. Drucker in Forbes Magazine called The Next Information Revolution. It made such an impression on me I still have a yellowing copy of it pasted on a cabinet in my office.

To make a long story short, the article relates how in the 1400s and 1500s there was a period of time when printers of books dined with royalty and noblemen. Printing was such a revolutionary and scarce skill they were the heroes of the day.

By the late 1500s, however, printing had become such a commodity that the occupation had completely lost its luster. No more dining with kings and queens.

My point is this: The days of traditional departmental IT staff having unfettered access to the financial assets of the corporate budget will end sooner than you might think. The current way of building business systems is unsustainable. If you think the cloud was something, just wait!

I look at agile software development as the death throes of traditional IT. Beyond it there’s nowhere left to go to accelerate except to elevate the level of human interfaces with machines. Economics will demand it.

As traditional IT loses its grip, IT will of course become better woven into the fabric of the business. And that’s going to be a great thing for optimizing business capabilities.

Knowingly or not, business analysts are playing a founder’s role in that shift of power back to the business side. Yes, some days it feels like an impossible struggle, but time, economics and technology are on your side.

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Mark Your Calendar: The annual Building Business Capability (BBC) conference is November 6-10, 2017 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Orlando, FL. The BBC is the place to be for professional excellence!

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Deep Subject Matter Expertise Irrelevant – Agree/Disagree?

learningLet’s put you on the hot spot. You are forced to agree or disagree with the following statement, and defend your answer. What would you say?

Deep subject matter expertise is irrelevant for a business analyst, especially in agile business analysis.

Here’s how I answer: I disagree. How about you?

My reasoning: Actually I agree that deep subject matter expertise is generally irrelevant for a business analyst. Where I disagree (strongly) is that it’s especially true for agile business analysis.

Agile business analysis is no silver bullet. It doesn’t imbue you with magical powers to learn faster. Failing faster to learn faster is simply churn. There’s no end to it.

We’re missing the big picture. Exploring ‘deep subject matter expertise’ you’re not familiar with is a matter of having the right architectural tools to probe knowledge. It’s that deep operational business knowledge that makes subject areas hard.

So you simply need the right architectural techniques to map the knowledge of a domain explicitly. You need to be able to ask probing questions about the domain intelligently without wasting SMEs’ time.

The architectural techniques you need are true business rules and concept modeling (structured business vocabulary). By the way, business rules and concept models can be made to work equally well for both agile and waterfall – and anything in between.

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Mark Your Calendar: The annual Building Business Capability (BBC) conference is November 6-10, 2017 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Orlando, FL. The BBC is the place to be for professional excellence!

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Agree/Disagree? Empowerment Key to Business Agility

empowement 2Let’s put you on the hot spot. You are forced to agree or disagree with the following statement, and defend your answer. What would you say?

Empowerment, more than rules, processes or architecture, is key to business agility.

Here’s how I answer: I disagree. How about you?

My reasoning: Professionals in our field are often quite shortsighted with regard to empowerment. Many simply get it wrong. Working within business rules, processes and architectures doesn’t lessen empowerment; it lessens anarchy.

The real nemesis of business agility is things running amok. That’s true at both ends of the spectrum, from customers to IT.

  • Customers: Ultimately the most important thing for customers is simple consistency and faithful compliance with the company’s obligations (business rules). That’s what I call high-fidelity customer experience. That capability can’t be achieved without rules, processes and architectures.
  • IT: The ability to generate code faster – call it ‘agile software development’ or what you please – does not produce business agility. Business agility requires sustainability. In a digital world it’s not enough simply to put up systems fast and to keep them running. Business rules change, sometimes quite rapidly. You must be able to roll out changes to those business rules at the ‘speed of business’ to systems already implemented. Again, that capability can’t be achieved without rules, processes and architectures.

The industry’s view of empowerment tends to be askew. Who are we trying to empower, and why?

  • Customers: Empowerment means the company always meets their expectations. The company has captured the requisite knowledge (business rules) to deal with them correctly and consistently. Customers know they can depend on you to get it right.
  • Workers: Empowerment means freedom from having to be hands-on with everyday mundane cases. By having capturing the requisite knowledge (business rules) beforehand, you free up their time to deal creatively with outside-the-box cases.
  • Business analysts: Empowerment means business analysts don’t have to reinvent the wheel on every new project. You’ve created deep knowledge reservoirs (of business rules) to jump start each new initiative.

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Mark Your Calendar: The annual Building Business Capability (BBC) conference is November 6-10, 2017 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Orlando, FL. The BBC is the place to be for professional excellence!

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Agree/Disagree? Digital Mind Essential for Business Analysts

digital-mind[1]Let’s put you on the hot spot. You are forced to agree or disagree with the following statement, and defend your answer. What would you say?

The most valuable asset of a business analyst is a digital mind.

Here’s how I answer: I agree. How about you?

My reasoning: I almost certainly don’t agree with the statement in the way you think I might. It’s not the business analyst who needs a digital mind. It’s our machines that need the digital minds.

As we increasingly disintermediate customers and company workers, we will no longer have our workers in the loop to convey and apply operational business knowledge at the point of interaction to make things right. Machines will have to do that work. And those machines must be equipped with the knowledge to do so.

The key to launching us successfully into the digital age is setting up deep knowledge reservoirs in the company. Obviously, they will be digital.

The first and most basic step toward treating knowledge as a first-class citizen is true business rules. Business rules represent explicit operational knowledge. By the way, because of the need for compliance and traceability, business rules (think obligations) will never go away.

There are, of course, other ways in which knowledge can be applied to processes, ones where traceability and compliance aren’t so important – for example, machine learning and neural nets. Those technologies can also be used to build digital minds for your organization.

As a professional, how do you future-proof yourself? The secret is to make yourself indispensable both to the business and to machines in the business with digital minds.

Given that insight, what is the most valuable asset of the business analyst in the long term? It’s not agile, it’s not empowerment, it’s not even critical thinking. It’s the ability to communicate deeply and creatively using concise terminology about the problem space. If you’re still speaking in codes and data fields – in ITSpeak – I’m afraid you’re not on the critical path.

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Mark Your Calendar: The annual Building Business Capability (BBC) conference is November 6-10, 2017 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Orlando, FL. The BBC is the place to be for professional excellence!

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Is It Really a Business Rule?

communication1A number of years ago, a colleague of ours, Mark Myers, came up with a highly pragmatic test to determine whether some statement represents a business rule or a system rule. 

“Imagine you threw out all the systems running your business and did it all by hand (somehow).  If you still need the statement, it’s a business rule.  If you don’t, it’s not.” 

A colleague on the SBVR[1] standardization team, Don Baisley, puts it another way: 

“Business people don’t set variables and they don’t call functions.”

Business rules represent a form of business communication and must make sense (communicate) to business people.  If some statement doesn’t communicate, it’s not a business rule.  Consider this example: 

If ACT-BL LT 0 then set OD-Flag to ‘yes’. 

Not a business rule.  Consider another example: 

An account must be considered overdrawn if the account balance is less than $0. 

This statement communicates and therefore is a business rule.  Business rules can be technical, but only in terms of the company’s know-how or specialized product/service, not in terms of IT designs or platforms. 

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Excerpted from: Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, 2nd edition, by Ronald G. Ross & Gladys S.W. Lam, 2015

Get the Book: http://www.brsolutions.com/publications/building-business-solutions/ 

Get the Training: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: December 13-15, 2016 – Working with Business Rules: Capture, Specification, Analysis & Management. http://www.brsolutions.com/services/online/working-with-rules/ 

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2016. www.BRSolutions.com  

[1] Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR).  First released in January 2008.  Object Management Group.

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Rules in Conflict?

DibertDilbert finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He must use the blue recycling bins for company documents, and he must not use the blue recycling bins for company documents. Ever find yourself in a similar situation?

A conflict within or among some business rule(s) is an anomaly such that multiple states or outcomes are required that cannot all be satisfied simultaneously. In other words, the same circumstances or cases require mutually-exclusive states or outcomes. 

Consider the operational business decision, What is the right delivery method for an order? The potential outcome picked up by customer is mutually exclusive with the potential outcome shipped by normal service. (If an order is picked up it can’t be shipped, and if it’s shipped it can’t be picked up.) If some business rule(s) require(s) both outcomes for the very same circumstances or case, a conflict arises. 

In general, only business people or business analysts can resolve conflicts. They reflect matters of business policy.

Want to get rid of conflicts? First you need to know how to find them (hopefully not the same ones regularly, in weekly meetings), then you need to know how to resolve them. There’s a good deal more to that than meets the eye.

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Excerpted from: Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, 2nd edition, by Ronald G. Ross & Gladys S.W. Lam, 2015

Get the Book: http://www.brsolutions.com/publications/building-business-solutions/  

Get the Training: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: December 13-15, 2016 – Working with Business Rules: Capture, Specification, Analysis & Management. http://www.brsolutions.com/services/online/working-with-rules/  

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2016. www.BRSolutions.com

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