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

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My 3 Biggest Fears Regarding the DMN (Decision Model Notation) Standard

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

“Under DMN we would say that the automatic detection of the violation of a constraint is indeed a decision.”

My Response … Which part of any definition of any of the following terms in your statement would in any way, shape or form lead to the notion of “decision”?!
  • automatic
  • detection
  • violation
  • constraint
You’ve put you finger squarely on the three confusions (shortcomings) I fear most from the DMN standard — failure to:
  1. Comprehend that behavioral rules are a quite different animal from decision (or definitional) rules.
  2. View “decision” from a businessperson’s point of view.
  3. Define “decision” as meant in the real world.
Is this going to put another standard emanating from an IT background parading as a “business” paradigm? Another standard where hype beneficial to existing vendor products outweighs true clarity and innovative leadership? I am hoping for the best … I want the standard (if good) to succeed … but fear the worst. I’m afraid your statement doesn’t instill much confidence.

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Announcing New Online Interactive Training: Decision Analysis & Decision Tables: All About Modeling Decisions

  Location: Online Interactive Training Why Attend … Working on developing requirements? Wrestling with complex business process models? Harvesting business rules to implement in a rules engine? Many professionals are finding there are big gaps in their current approaches:
  • Their requirements methodology fails to capture and specify decision logic.
  • Their business process models mangle the logic for making decisions.
  • Their decision management platforms support implementation but don’t connect to the business.
This training provides proven, pragmatic solutions. It provides 8 easy steps so you can think clearly before you implement. More info:  http://www.attainingedge.com/online-training-decision-analysis-and-decision-tables.php Register for full series!

Session 1. Business-Friendly Decision Analysis

Next Session: November 20, 2013 @ 10:30am – 12:00noon (ET)

  • Why decision analysis
  • What decisions and decision logic are about
  • The elements of decisions
  • Using DecisionSpeak to ask the right questions
  • Diagramming decision structures (Q-Charts)
  • Question, considerations, outcomes, and exceptions (Q-COEs)
  • What kinds of business rules are suited for decision analysis – and which are not
Register Session 1

Session 2. Analyzing Decisions and Developing Decision Structures

Next Session: November 20, 2013 @ 3:30pm – 5:00pm (ET)

  • How to establish and refine scope for decision analysis
  • Identifying exceptions
  • Delineating subdecisions
  • Kinds of decision dependencies
  • Hybrid dependency diagrams
  • Critical success factors for conducting decision analysis

Session 3. Designing Decision Tables

Next Session: November 21, 2013 @ 10:30am – 12:00noon (ET)

  • How to keep decision tables as simple as possible
  • How to maintain business alignment
  • How to set-up decision tables using TableSpeak
  • When to use which format when
  • Completeness, anomalies and certainty of outcome
  • Vocabulary, integrity (correctness) and validity
  • Pitfalls
  • Best practices

Session 4.Beginning-to-End Decision Analysis

Next Session: November 21, 2013 @ 3:30pm – 5:00pm (ET)

  • 7 steps from initiation to testing
  • Roles and responsibilities for each step
  • What to watch out for in interpreting from sources
  • Sample deliverables
  • How to develop scenarios for testing
  • Complete case studies
  • Implementation: highlighting 3 business rule and decision management platforms

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Calling everything a decision? That does no more good than calling everything ‘thing’!

A decision management tool vendor recently wrote:

“The relation between business rules and decisions is I think pretty well agreed by all – it’s just that some focus on 1 or the other, and some both – any “disagreement” is more on the value in the different approaches.”

I respectfully disagree (strongly).  There are fundamental differences between decision rules and behavioral rules including these: 1. Behavioral rules are usually one of a kind. They don’t fit in decision tables. Some might appear in decision models if you are concerned about such things as integrity (will the DMN standard be?), but the large majority don’t. 2. Decisions are generally single point of determination for any given real-world case. Most behavioral rules are multi point of determination, meaning they could be violated under quite different circumstances. 3. The detection of violations of behavioral rules should be automatic and event-based. There’s no “decision” involved in the detection … it should be automatic. (This is where the current generation of rule engines … mostly based on 1980s expert-system thinking … fall woefully short. It’s also probably one reason they haven’t become more mainstream in industry mindshare.) 4. Behavioral rules generally have a different source than decision rules … laws, regulations, contracts, agreements, deals, certifications, warranties … and business policies. Decision rules sometimes arise from those sources, but if so, have limited coverage. Decision rules in contrast often arise from the heads of knowledge workers and inspection of big data and event streams. (Behavioral rules do too, but likewise don’t begin to cover everything.) So the issue is by no means simply a “matter of approach”. Spinning it that way might be useful for vendors, but it won’t be helpful to business analysts. We need to think soberly about the true range of business rules and the fundamental distinctions that exist. If not people will end up very frustrated on the other side of the DMN hype cycle. We can do better than that, and for the sake of the DMN standard, we should. P.S. For discussion and examples of the fundamental distinction between behavioral rules and decision rules see Appendix 3 in the DecisionSpeak Primer … available for free download on http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php.  By the way, DecisionSpeak and its companion TableSpeak are *quite* concerned about integrity in decision models.

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Will Decision Models Supplant Business Rules?

The answer is no, but read on. RuleSpeak 3.0 featuring tabulation was just recently released. See http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php (free download). RuleSpeak is structured natural language for expressing business rules in the clearest way possible, yet very precisely. I know some people argue that decision models will supplant the need to express any and all individual business rules. Pardon me, but that’s either highly uninformed or not-so-innocently misleading. Having said that, do I think there’s much to be gained from decision analysis and a revival of decision tables (a very old technique)? Absolutely. We’ve been busy fine-tuning methods for a good number of years. I’m glad we waited. The results speak for themselves. See the new DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak (free downloads) on that same webpage. All 3 ‘Speaks’ are highly complementary … as of course they should be! You need all these tools to be successful with business rules. By the way, all 3 ‘Speaks’ are business-oriented and tool-independent … as they should be(!).

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Open Letter re: Decision Models

written in response to Jacob Feldman: http://www.brsolutions.com/2013/05/07/response-to-decisionspeak-tablespeak-annnouncement/ Jacob, Thanks! And I agree with you about the ‘executable’ part. Our emphasis is on business-friendly, business-driven models. I believe DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak move things forward significantly in that regard. There’s no reason why decision models have to be oriented to IT development. If they are robust, they will nonetheless be executable. I would sound a note of caution. Decision models are no silver bullet. There are issues of semantics (vocabulary) and integrity (restrictions) to be addressed. And they don’t cover even the majority of all business rules – especially behavioral rules. If you throw everything you (should) know about business rules out the window when you use decision models, you will be in for a very rude awaking. I’m glad we did not rush to the market. We’ve taken our time to do our homework with respect to theory (which has been out there for a great many years) and to hone our approach in real-life consulting work. I think the results speak for themselves!

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Response to DecisionSpeak / TableSpeak Announcement

guest post by Jacob Feldman First of all, congratulations on your new Primers that provide very detailed convention sets for the decision management domain. I quote from your documents: * DecisionSpeak™, a set of conventions for expressing the meaning of operational business decisions. * TableSpeak™ is a set of conventions for business-friendly representation of decision tables and their meaning (semantics) in declarative fashion. Naturally, my first thought is: can we make these conventions EXECUTABLE? More precisely: Can we help subject matter experts (not programmers) to: – create documents that follow these conventions? – automatically validate (enforce) compliance to these conventions? – execute the compliant documents? After a quick walking through the documents, I think the answers are YES. We, at OpenRules, should be able to build OpenRules templates (in Excel) that supports these conventions and to direct users how to apply these templates to create, validate, and execute concrete decisions, decision tables, and other types of rules. There are certainly many details how better to address certain constructions described in TableSpeak™, but they all look solvable to me. Previously, we provided a similar implementation as soon as another decision modeling methodology (TDM) was published. Now we are working with James Taylor making business requirements created by his newest DecisionFirst Modeler executable. As you know, OpenRules is also working on a reference implementation for the DMN as this standard comes to the age. It would be only natural to provide support for the IPSpeak™ methodology. Based on our previous positive experience working with you, Gladys, and other experts from BRS, I am looking forward to making IPSpeak™ executable. http://openrules.com

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Looking to Find Out What Decision Analysis is About? Make Business Processes & Business Architectures Smart? Design Business-Friendly Decision Tables? Write Business-Friendly Business Rules? >>> Free downloads …

As part of the April announcement of the new 4th edition of my book Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge, I’m pleased to make available some additional complementary (and complimentary!) downloads: Decision Analysis – A Primer: How to Use DecisionSpeak and Question Charts (Q-Charts) – 49pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) Decision Tables – A Primer: How to Use TableSpeak – 121pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) Tabulation of Lists in Rulespeak®: A Primer Using “The Following” Clause – 16pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) We’ve comprehensively written-up state-of-the-art experience and insight in these important areas. I hope you will make the most of them! P.S. Do have a look at other items of interest: http://goo.gl/WPV7O  

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Announcing New Online Interactive Training: Decision Analysis & Decision Tables: All About Modeling Decisions

Location: Online Interactive Training Why Attend … Working on developing requirements? Wrestling with complex business process models? Harvesting business rules to implement in a rules engine? Many professionals are finding there are big gaps in their current approaches:
  • Their requirements methodology fails to capture and specify decision logic.
  • Their business process models mangle the logic for making decisions.
  • Their decision management platforms support implementation but don’t connect to the business.
This training provides proven, pragmatic solutions. It provides 8 easy steps so you can think clearly before you implement. More info:  http://www.attainingedge.com/online-training-decision-analysis-and-decision-tables.php

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Don’t Fall Victim to the Whirlpool of Decision Hype

Consider the following behavioral business rule: A renter must not have possession of more than one rental car. In discussing enforcement of this rule, one reviewer said something to the effect, “We have to think about what happens ‘at the time of the decision’. Hold on. What ‘decision’?! I don’t see any decision. What ‘decision’ could he possibly be talking about? When it comes to behavioral rules and their enforcement, there’s no ‘decision’ in a meaningful business sense. Let’s think it through.
  • There was the governance decision to create the business rule in the first place, but that’s not operational business activity per se.
  • There might be a decision about whether and how strictly to enforce the rule, but that is an enforcement question, not an operational business decision either.
  • If the decision is ‘Are we following our rules?’ that’s a bogus operational business decision. It might be valid as a test or simulation, but that’s not a decision per se either.
A good analogy for the enforcement of behavioral rules is a game of football. There are referees who ‘watch’ on-going (business) activity and throw a flag when a violation occurs. But they stand on the outside of the plays (processes) looking in. Now a player may ‘decide’ to violate a rule, but we frankly don’t care about individual ‘decisions’ of those kinds. We care only about the resulting (business) behavior (hence behavioral rules). Let’s return to the behavioral rule: A renter must not have possession of more than one rental car. Here’s the important point with respect to business processes. The rule is expressed declaratively. Although specified only once, it is presumably relevant to multiple business processes – e.g., for new bookings, rescheduling of existing bookings, extension of open rentals, late returns, etc. We call points in business processes where a rule needs to be tested ‘flash points’. Like the referees in a football game, a run-time business rule facility should be watching all on-going activity to detect violations anywhere and everywhere they might happen. You might say the facility is ‘deciding’ that violations occur, but who cares … again, those are not operational business decisions. For our purposes, violations either happen or they don’t. Don’t get me wrong. ‘Decisions’ do have an important place in both business rule thinking and in creating smarter business capabilities. But right now there seems to be a whirlpool of decision hype that’s sucking up altogether too many good brain cycles. We need to see what role decisions do play in business analysis clearly so we can exploit the new techniques to their fullest.

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A Buzzword Like ‘Decision’ that Covers Everything May Soon Cover Nothing

One thing that concerns me about ‘decision’ or ‘decision management’ is that everything potentially becomes a decision. Software vendors love it when complex problems can be reduced to a single buzzword. Engineers of true business solutions should hate it. I’m sure I’ll be accused of negativism, so for the record, let me say that top down analysis of operational business decisions is extremely useful, either along with, or outside of, business processes. We have a highly pragmatic approach for decision analysis based on ‘question charts’ (Q-Charts). We use it extensively to capture decision rules. But do I think that decision analysis is the most important part of delivering a winning business solution? Not by a long shot. Your strategy for the business solution is much more important. Even that’s not enough though – strategy only tells you why. We need business models that cover all aspects of a business solution (think what, how, where, who, and when). So no, it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) all boil down to ‘decisions’ … unless by that you mean anything and everything. And what good is that? I’m always very careful to say ‘operational business decision’ instead of simply ‘decision’. Immediately that excludes governance decisions (e.g., creating a business policy) and strategy ‘decisions’ (as in MBA-school ‘business strategy’). That’s an important first narrowing of the field. Something else commonly mistaken for an operational business decision is a simulation of “what would happen if we did this operational task right now”. For example, let’s run a claim by all the behavioral business rules and see if the claim is acceptable before we do it for real. That’s simply a test, not a decision. That’s a second important narrowing of the field. Clearly we need a solid definition of what a decision is and isn’t in the context of business analysis. We define an ‘operational business decision’ as: a determination in day-to-day business activity requiring know-how or expertise; the resolving of a question by identifying some correct or optimal choice. To make such decisions you need decision rules (think classification or inference rules) that ‘map’ cases to outcomes. Decision rules are one type of definitional rule. The two types of business rules in SBVR are definitional rules and behavioral rules. Business capabilities do usually involve large numbers of decision rules, but they also always involve large numbers of behavioral rules. Behavioral rules are rules you can violate, like speeding through a school zone. There’s no decision to that … you either are or you aren’t speeding. Well, you may have made a personal decision to speed, but let me tell you, City Hall doesn’t care. Personal decisions – out of scope too, a third important narrowing of the field.

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