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

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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.

Activity vs Business Rule: Can You Always Tell the Difference?

A Practitioner Wrote:The distinction between activities and business rules becomes very fuzzy when models grow very granular/detailed. Suppose I have a process called “Handle customer inquiries”, and an activity called “Close inquiry”, which has several small sub-steps, one of which is a “Send customer confirmation of solution by email”.  Is that sub-step a rule or an activity? My Answer: No fuzziness whatsoever. Processes – including activities to any level of granularity – always involve a transform. True business rules never do. So ‘Send customer confirmation of solution by email’ is a process (activity step). I can tell because its name starts with the verb ‘send’ in the command form. Suppose the following  had been written instead: “A customer must be sent a confirmation by email when a solution is found.” That’s a business rule. It would apply to any process (activity) anywhere, anytime, even if such process(es) are not modeled. The business rule could be violated, of course, but it would not do (transform) anything. It would exist to ensure consistency (of behavior) everywhere – and not incidentally, a good customer experience. Note I said true business rule. Rule technologies confuse the matter because sometimes their rules do do (i.e., do transform) things. That’s simply a highly unproductive mis-positioning of business rules.

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Concept Model vs. Data Model

John Zachman says you can (and probably should) develop each of the following three kinds of artifacts to “excruciating level of detail”. 1. For the business management’s perspective (row 2), a conceptual model (roughly CIM in OMG terms). 2. For the architect’s perspective (row 3), a business logic design (roughly PIM in OMG terms). 3. For the engineer’s perspective (row 4), a class-of-platform design (roughly PSM in OMG terms). Because each is a different kind of model, there is a transform from one to the next. One implication is that it is possible to make a clear distinction between analysis (CIM) and design (PIM).   Another implication is that concept models and logical data models are clearly distinct. Unfortunately, many people blur the line between them. That’s wrong.
  • A concept model is about the meaning of the words you use, and the business statements you make assuming those meanings. It’s about communication.
  • A logical data model is about how you organize what you think you know about the world so it can be recorded and logically manipulated in a systematic way.
I started my career in data. It took me as much as 15 years of intense work on business rule statements (1990-2005) to fully appreciate the difference. But now I am very clear that concept models do need to be developed to excruciating level of detail in order to disambiguate the intended business communication. Most businesses don’t do that today. They jump in at data design (conceptual, logical or even physical). And they unknowingly pay a big price for it. By the way, a good concept model can be readily transformed into a first-cut logical data model – just as Zachman says. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com

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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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Legality and Business Rules

How does legality work with business rules? To say that differently how should an intelligent tool work so as to help you establish the business regimen you want to follow where legality is involved? Consider the example of Same-Sex Marriage. Let’s suppose you want to make it illegal. SBVR[1] does not have an innate concept/approach for “legality” in the sense of MWUD[2] 1: attachment to or observance of law. So if you wanted “is legal” in the most direct sense, you must define a unary verb concept for the concept Same-Sex Marriage. In a looser sense, if you are in an organization (business) with the standing to define business rules, you could do several things, as follows. (I’ll make up a bit of vocabulary here.) 1. Specify a behavioral rule A behavioral rule is one that can be potentially violated by people or organizations. The relevant rule might be expressed as follows:

The people united in a marriage must not be of the same gender.

Then you would decide how strictly you want to enforce the rule. Options range from strictly enforced to guideline. The rule would be active when a relevant state of affairs arose (i.e., specific people get married). 2. Define several definitional rules A definitional rule is one that cannot be violated; it exists to ensure the consistency of the concept system you chose to follow. Relevant definitional rules might be expressed as follows:
    • The people united in a marriage are not to be of the same gender.
    • The people united in a same-sex marriage are to be of the same gender.
See the conflict? Your friendly intelligent tool would (immediately) disallow one or the other specification. The rules are clearly in conflict; the logical conflict would simply not be allowed to stand. 3. Define the relevant definitions
    • Marriage: the uniting of people of different genders in wedlock
    • Same-Sex Marriage:  the uniting of people of the same gender in wedlock
Again, your friendly intelligent tool would (immediately) disallow one or the other specifications. The definitions are clearly in conflict; the logical conflict would simply not be allowed to stand. Actually, under the covers, approaches 2 and 3 work exactly the same way In SBVR. SBVR recognized that some people prefer to do things via rules, some with definitions, and if truth be told, most times you will do some of both. ~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com  


[1]Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules
[2]Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
 

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Controversial Concepts: How to Tackle Defining and Naming Them

Guest Post by Markus Schacher We should first agree on the semantics of underlying concepts and only then start to think about the best terms for those concepts. One particular technique I often apply in such cases is the following: 1.    Name controversial concepts with proxy names such as “Greg”, “Mike” or “John” (or whatever name you prefer) to get potentially misleading names and their implicit connotations out of the way of progress. 2.    Draw a concept diagram showing those concepts as well as important semantic relationships among them. 3.    Formulate intensional definitions for each concept – still using the proxy names. Ensure that those definitions are consistent with the relationships shown on the concept diagram. 4.    Identify one or more communities that “baptize” those concepts by giving them better names. If synonyms and/or homonyms appear among those communities, that’s just how the world is; we simply have to live with it. This is why SBVR formally supports semantic communities as well as speech communities. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~  www.BRSolutions.com

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Lessons from Peggy Sue’s Diner

Guest post by Keri Anderson Healy, Editor, www.BRCommunity.com
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On our departure from this year’s Building Business Capability (BBC) conference in Las Vegas, we stopped at Peggy Sue’s Diner.  In 2013 I had sent you a photo of the “Non-Dairy” Creamer as a humorous example. This year I’m sending you the rest of the story … a lesson in definitions in regulations vs. the definition from the dictionary. Read on!
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From regulations …

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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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