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

Blog Enabling Operational Excellence

Data Modeling: Art or Science?

A practitioner recently commented: “Everyone has their biased view of what a data model is. Data modeling is art – not science. Give 6 data modelers one set of requirements and you’ll get 7 solutions all distinctively different.” My response: To me that’s a huge problem. No, ‘data’ modeling is not a science, but nor should it be an art. Actually, it should be engineering. Engineered solutions have to stand up to rigorous tests. But we lack that in ‘data’ modeling. Why? Because ‘data’ modeling is divorced from its initial business context, which is operational business communication, including business rules. You need nouns and verbs for that, and those nouns and verbs should stand for well-structured concepts. Give me a model of well-structured concepts that has been ‘proven’ by verbalizing business rules and other formal business communications and I guarantee I can come up with the best data model. I’m talking of course about concept models (sometimes called fact models).

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Requirements and Business Rules … All Just a Matter of Semantics (Really)

It almost goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that you must know exactly what the words mean in all parts of your business requirements. In running a complex business (and what business isn’t complex these days?!), the meaning of the words can simply never be taken as a ‘given’. Some IT professionals believe that if they can model the behavior of a business capability (or more likely, some information system to support it), structural components of the know-how will somehow fall into place. That’s naïve and simply wrong. Business can no longer afford such thinking. A single, unified business vocabulary (fact model) is a prerequisite for creating a scalable, multi-use body of business rules – not to mention good business requirements. It’s what you need to express what you know precisely, consistently, and without ambiguity. Certainly no form of business rule expression or representation, including decision tables, is viable or complete if not based on one. And I pretty certain that’s true for most other forms of business communication about day-to-day business activity too. What am I missing something here?  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This post excerpted from our new book (Oct, 2011) Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules. See:  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php

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Bots “Communicating” (Funny!) … What about SBVR and RuleSpeak?

If you want to hear state-of-the-art machines (bots) talk to each other, see: http://goo.gl/LEIMI Funny! Rude and petty … just like humans sometimes. I don’t think we’re quite there on Star-Trek-style communication with machines(!). If you want to see a suitable set of guidelines for writing unambiguous business rules that machines should be able to understand, see www.RuleSpeak.com (free). RuleSpeak was one of the three reference notations used in creating SBVR, the OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabularies and Business Rules. (SBVR doesn’t standardize notation.) Don’t try to read the SBVR standard – it’s for logicians, linguists and software engineers. For insight into what SBVR is about, see the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com. SBVR itself is a structured vocabulary – essentially a concept system. Clause 11 provides a structured vocabulary for creating structured vocabularies. Clause 12 provides vocabulary for business rules. ‘Structured’ in this context means it includes both noun concepts (nothing unusual about that) and verb concepts (highly unusual). You need verbs to write sentences (propositions). Try writing a 100 business rules without standard verbs. Well, you can do it, but what you’ll get is spaghetti logic and hopeless, bot-like(?) communication.

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Something Important All Business Analysts Owe to Business People … Probably Not Something You’d Expect?

One of the first rules of business analysis should be never waste business people’s time. One of the fastest ways to waste their time is not knowing what they are talking about … literally … and do nothing about it. So you end up just wasting their time over and over again. Unacceptable. Is there a way to avoid it? Yes, by taking the time to understand exactly what concepts the business people mean when they use the words they use.  I believe business vocabulary should be job one for Business Analysts. If you don’t know (and can’t agree about) what the concepts mean, then (excuse me here for being blunt) you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. (And sometimes, unfortunately, neither do the business people … which is something important BAs should find out as early as possible.) So structured business vocabularies (fact models) are a critical business analysis tool. How else is there to analyze and communicate about complex know-how in a process-independent way?! Looking at the issue the other way around, you can make yourself look really smart about a complex area in a relatively short time by having and following a blueprint. We’ve had that experience many, many times in a wide variety of industries and problem areas. (Try jumping between insurance, pharmaceuticals, electricity markets, eCommerce, race care equipment, credit card fraud, trucking, taxation, healthcare, banking, mortgages, pension administration, ship inspections, and more! We do.) There’s no magic to it – like contractors for the construction of buildings, you must have or create structural blueprints. For operational business know-how, that means bringing an architect’s view to structure the concept system of the problem space …  just a fancy way of saying develop a well-structured business vocabulary. Then a whole lot of things will fall right into place for you. P.S. By the way, I’m not talking about any form of data modeling here. Also, there’s no real need to use the ‘S’ word (semantics) for it.  

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Just Organizational or Application Silos? … Worse, You Have Semantic Silos

Difficulties in communicating within organizations are by no means limited to communications among business workers, Business Analysts, and IT professionals. In many organizations, business workers from different areas or departments often have trouble communicating, even with each other. The business workers seem to live in what we might call semantic silos (reinforced by legacy systems).  A well-managed, well-structured business vocabulary (fact model) should be a central fixture of business operations. We believe it should be as accessible and as interactive as (say) spellcheck in Microsoft Word. Accessible business vocabulary should be a basic element in your plan for rulebook management, requirements development, and managing know-how.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  This post excerpted from our new book (Oct, 2011) Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules. See:  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php    

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I Wrestle with a LinkedIn Business Rule … Find Out Who Won

The subtitle of my Business Rules Concepts handbook (now in its 3rd edition) is ‘Getting to the Point of Knowledge’. I wasn’t trying to be cute, I meant it literally. Here’s an example. Try entering a URL in a LinkedIn invitation. I don’t know if it’s a new business rule or not, but I tried it for the very first time just the other day to point someone in the right direction on an EA question. Not allowed. I didn’t know that. I was informed and now I’m a wiser member of the social community. This is an example of what in our new book ‘Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules’ (Oct, 2011) we call real-time business operation systems (BOS). It takes a just-in-time (JIT) approach to the delivery of know-how. (A business rule always encodes know-how.) In my LinkedIn experience I was informed of the latest business rule in-line in a self-service, JIT manner. Violate business rules (the latest one or any of them) and if you’re authorized and capable, you’ll get back a ‘training’ message. Here’s what LinkedIn said back to me: We’re sorry, you cannot include website addresses in invitations. Please remove the website address and try again. Here’s a more direct statement of the business rule in RuleSpeak: A LinkedIn invitation must not include a URL. The RuleSpeak version conveys the same information as the LinkedIn message, just more succinctly. As I’ve been saying since at least 1994, the business rule statement is the error message. It’s the error message from a business, not system, point of view. That’s why it’s called a business rule. If you do want a friendlier version (as LinkedIn did) that’s fine. Think for a minute about your operational business processes. Many of your business rules either change frequently, unexpectedly or both. How can you keep all your operational staff up-to-speed? Constantly send them off to training classes?! Flood them with tweets or e-mails?! Not going to work. In a world of constant change, a system is not state-of-the-art unless it addresses continuous re-training. Business rules do. Ultimately there’s no alternative. I’ve been saying that for a long time too.

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When a Rule is a True Business Rule … Can Your Business Rules Pass This Test?

If business people (who are authorized and capable) can’t read a business rule and know what to do or not to do as a result, it’s not a business rule. It’s something else – maybe a system rule.  Here’s an example: “An approved hard hat must be worn on the head of each person while the person is in a construction site.” Let’s assume that each term has a definition, or in the case of “approved” perhaps other business rules.  I deliberately chose an example that is not easily automated. The point is this: You should get the same results from business rules no matter whether they have to be enforced or applied by people (as a job responsibility) or by machines (perhaps through a requirements process). That’s always the case for any true business rule.

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Are writing skills passe? … Not!

In the new age of social media (and the mature age of email) you might be led to believe that good writing skills are no longer a matter of real concern. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I beg to differ … strongly. In fact, I would argue that good writing skills are one of the top 3 or 4 skills Business Analysts should have, right alongside analytical, abstraction, and people skills. Put simply, poor writing skills are one of the top reasons for ambiguity and miscommunication in written requirements, a major concern everywhere I go. A commenter on one of the forums asked “The last time you hired an analysis, did you test their ability to take a concept and specify it in a way that is unambiguous? That’s a special talent that may be overlooked at the time of hiring sometimes.” Just sometimes?!? I don’t necessarily mean English majors. I mean people who can write clearly about structured or technical subjects … and who can be consistent about the meaning of the words they use. Why aren’t universities producing more of that kind of person? What aren’t companies more careful about cultivating that kind of person? From my work on standards (SBVR), I can tell you that writing skills will become more and more important as time goes by … whereas programming skills … well, we pretty much know where those jobs are headed (if not there already). don’t we?

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Well If You Ask Me …

… And somebody did recently: What’s wrong with current business process management (BPM) practices?  1. When a discipline becomes mature, it stops seeing itself as a solution to every problem. BPM is not there. Limitations?
  • It does not provide the order-of-magnitude improvement in business agility that companies need urgently.
  • It is not the solution to compliance issues.
  • It does not effectively provide for massive customization or personalization.
BPM needs to recognize and accommodate peers: business strategy, business rules, business vocabulary, business decisions, and business events.  2. Words matter. Well-defined business vocabulary is not a luxury or an option. It’s fundamental to effective business orchestration. Ultimately, it’s all about business communication, whether person-to-person or automated. I don’t think BPM really gets this. 3. The business world today is already in a knowledge economy (read: know-how economy); the milestone has been passed. We need to start acting and practicing accordingly. You certainly can’t get there with only BPM.

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