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

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

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Blog Enabling Operational Excellence

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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Business Analysis & Business Rules – Announcing Our New Book and BBC 2011 Conference – **Special Discounts** for Friends and Colleagues

Let me mention two important things happening soon and special discounts for them – Both discounts good only through **Friday, September 30**   1. ANNOUNCING OUR NEW BOOK … Coming in October! BUILDING BUSINESS SOLUTIONS: BUSINESS ANALYSIS WITH BUSINESS RULES … an IIBA Sponsored Handbook (304pp) … It’s all about taking Business Analysis to the next level of capability.  http://www.brsolutions.com/bbs >> Receive 25% off the book’s list price of $39.95 if you pre-order now. Use discount code **BBS1001**.  2. BUILDING BUSINESS CAPABILITIES CONFERENCE (BBC 2011) … Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, Ft. Lauderdale, FL  http://www.buildingbusinesscapability.com/  The must-attend conference of the year covering all things ‘business’.  Four conferences in one for a total of 9 tracks on pace this year to be a sell-out!  >> Receive a 15% discount on registration. Use discount code **RRBBCFL**.  * Business Analysis Forum, the Official Conference of the IIBA. http://www.buildingbusinesscapability.com/baf/ * 14th annual Business Rules Forum Conference. http://www.businessrulesforum.com/ * The 1st annual Business Architecture Summit. http://www.buildingbusinesscapability.com/bas/ * The Business Process Forum. http://www.businessprocessforum.org/

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Requirements are Rules: True or False?

This is an excerpt from our new book: Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules coming out in October. Watch for it! “Requirements are rules.” Perhaps you’ve heard the argument. Maybe you’ve even made it yourself. Are they? No! Basic reasons why requirements are not rules:  Business people don’t naturally think of a ‘requirement’ as a ‘rule’. To ensure the best possible communication with business people, use of ‘rule’ should remain consistent with the real-world understanding of ‘rule’. Say ‘rule’ to business people and they will naturally think “guide for conduct or action” or “criteria for making judgments or business decisions.” If a business person says ‘rule’ he/she almost certainly means a rule for the business (e.g., no shirt, no service), not ‘requirement for a software system’. Many ‘requirements’ never become rules. The “no shirt, no service” rule doesn’t happen to be automatable (at least easily). Many other rules of the business are – e.g., no credit card, no sale. When interpreted into an implementation form, the business rules ideally should still be recognizable as a form of rule. The same cannot be said, however, for other aspects of a business model, say processes. In designing a business process for implementation, why would you ever say, “Now it represents rules.”?! Rules are rules, processes are processes, locations are locations, people are people. Each can be cast into some design-level counterpart (e.g., GUIs can substitute for face-to-face communication between people.) Nonetheless, each retains some sense or reflection of what it was originally (or should anyway). Looking at operational business design any other way inevitably leads to a break-down in communication and needless complexity.  Avoid confusing business people or IT professionals – or yourself – by calling requirements ‘rules’. Requirements are not rules! But Are Business Rules ‘Requirements’?? Clearly, requirements are not rules. What about the reverse question? Can it be helpful to think of business rules as requirements? To answer it’s essential to keep in mind what business rules are about. In plain English, business rules are about guiding and shaping day-to-day operations of the business. Business people would need business rules to operate the business even if there were no systems. The business rules just are what they are. And if well-specified, they essentially speak for themselves. All the following, though, are certainly true about business rules:
  • They should arise from, or at least be approved by, business people.  
  • They should be considered very carefully in designing a system.  
  • They should be automated whenever possible.
All said and done, whether business rules are a form of requirement is really a judgment call. The best answer is whichever is likely to prove most productive for your work.

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When is a Door Not a Door? … The Basic Ideas of Business Rules

One of the interesting things about consulting with different organizations on business rules and publishing a Journal on that subject (the Business Rules Journal on BRCommunity.com) is that a lot of really silly rules cross my desk. Sometimes it feels like a Dilbert parade! We’ve even started a LinkedIn group about them – Rules Say Must Not.  A colleague recently forwarded a rule that raises some interesting questions. He observes that in his apartment building the doors to the stairwells all have signs on them saying, Door must be kept closed at all times. His question was, “Is a door you must never open really a door?” If the rule is followed religiously, he observed, the door might as well be considered part of the wall. Well obviously not quite! Before addressing that tongue-in-cheek question, let’s do some analysis of this rule. I think we can safely assume that the rule as stated is actually a shorthand. A more complete and accurate version might be, You may use this door for entry, but it must be closed behind you. If we wanted to be very complete, we might explain the basic motivation for the rule by adding, Fire Door. Further analysis of this simple rule reveals the basic ideas of business rules: 
  • The rule was posted; that is, written down. Why? The answer lies in the motivation for the rule – its purpose is to protect the inhabitants against the dangers of fire. When a rule becomes important enough, it is always written down.
  • The rule was written in plain English. If the rule were difficult to understand, or encoded in such way that many of the inhabitants could not readily interpret it, it would not serve its purpose very well. A rule important enough to write down is worth writing down plainly.
  • A process or procedure for this situation is not really needed. We could write one, of course, but in this case, it would probably be trivial (approach door; grasp doorknob with hand; twist doorknob is clockwise direction; pull/push carefully …). Nonetheless, the rule is still crucial. Rules can exist independent of processes.
  • This rule – like all rules – serves to shape behavior. The posting of the rule reminds inhabitants, staff and others to close the door, and presumably they are therefore less likely to forget, or perhaps even block the door open. The purpose of a rule is always to guide or influence behavior in desired ways.
  • The rule serves a purpose – it is neither frivolous nor arbitrary. Fire is a deadly risk, and all reasonable measures must be taken to protect against it. Business rules never arise in a vacuum; there are always by identifiable and important business factors motivating them.
  • The rule was posted right where the action is – that is, where actual entry can occur. This proximity to the action helps ensure the rule is followed as events actually unfold. The best way to ensure rules are followed is to get them right in front of people at the exact point where the guidance is relevant.
  • The rule is undoubtedly part of a larger body of fire code rules for buildings. Even though the rule may be posted thousands of times for enforcement purposes, these postings arise from a single source. This ensures consistency. If rules are important enough to be enforced, they are important enough to be single-sourced.  
  • The body of fire-code regulations was undoubtedly produced by experts experienced in the field, and is backed by the political authority of the city or state. Changes must be reviewed, incorporated, and disseminated carefully. Because new dangers and liabilities can be discovered at any time, this process should be streamlined and efficient. In other words, the rules must be managed.
These commonsense observations represent the basic ideas of business rules. Your business has many hundreds or thousands of such rules guiding its operational business activity. Yet in practice, these basic business rule principles are seldom followed. Can you do anything about it? Yes! The business rules approach offers proven solutions. Now back to that question, “Is a door you must never open really a door?” The answer is obvious – yes, of course it is. A wall without a door will always just be a wall. If you need a door sometime in the future, you must remodel, and that means time and money (not to mention disruption for the inhabitants). If you have ever remodeled your home, you know exactly what I mean. The wall with a door acts like a wall until such time that the must-remain-closed rule is discontinued. Then, with relatively little delay, expense or disruption, it becomes a functional door. Think of business rules as a relatively inexpensive way to build potential doors for your business in all those many cases they might one day be needed. That way you can avoid walling yourself in. In a world of constant and accelerating change, business agility is the name of the game!

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Re-Cycling Shut-Down … Let’s Face It – Some Rules Are Just Silly!

From late 1974 to mid 1977, I worked in IT at one of the largest public schools districts in the country. You’re probably too young to remember, but those were the days of mainframe computers. Virtually all software development was done in-house, in batch. Jobs were submitted as decks of cards (sometimes quite large) and came back as paper print-outs (several hours or even a day later). Often, a job had to be rerun many times to get it right. The outputs took the form of over-sized, folded listings sometimes inches thick. Systems administration produced even larger listings, sometimes over a foot thick. Computers in those days must have been a gold mine for paper companies. I’m sure there are landfills all across North America chock-full of discarded paper from the era. Some of us thought it was a shame (actually, shameful) all that paper just got tossed. So we organized a recycling scheme. We found a storage room. We got everyone to stack throw-away card decks and listings beside their desks, then we picked it up after work every few days. Twice a month or so, we called a recycling company to come get it. They’d give us checks, which we would endorse over to charities chosen by fellow employees. The checks totaled as much as $50 to $100. We kept all the paperwork. Everything went fine for the best part of a year, gathering steam as it went. We felt pretty good about it all. Then one day some higher-ups from outside the IT Department got wind of the scheme. They put an immediate stop to it. Technically the discarded paper was property of the school district. Naturally there were rules against selling any school property outside proper channels – including trash(!). As long as the paper was just thrown out, everything was fine. The minute any value was gained from it, they said it violated the rules. Crazy logic! We argued strenuously, but you can guess the outcome. The rules were the rules. So back to the landfills went all that paper.

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Lost in Identity Limbo … Silly Rules

Gladys has started a new LinkedIn Group ‘Rules Say Must Not’. She’s looking for silly or dumb rules. I’m sure you know some — we run into them all the time! Share for the fun of it. (Prizes  offered for the best — uhm, worst — including an iPod!)   See  http://goo.gl/0tLD3  … Here’s my own first post. ~~~~~~~~~~~ A recent graduate from a top-ranked university registered for the MCAT, the gateway test to medical school. Let’s call him Jeffrey Hamilton (not his real name). Someday Jeffrey, known to all as Jeff, will make a great doctor. But Jeff made the mistake of actually calling himself ‘Jeff’ in registering and paying for the MCAT. Go figure.  Jeff knew the MCAT rules called for two forms of id. (Rule 1: A person’s name must be verified by two government-issued identity cards.) Not a problem. He had a passport and a driver’s license, both with photos and signatures. (Not great photos, but you know how id photos go.) He had not signed either one with his full name – just ‘Jeff Hamilton’.  As the date of the test approached, Jeff was talking to friends who had already taken the test. Just to make sure, it occurred to him to check whether his having registered as ‘Jeff’ instead of ‘Jeffrey’ might cause any problems.  As it turned out, big problems. The full names had to match. (Rule 2: A person’s full name must be given in an MCAT registration.) Only “Jeffrey” (the id’ed person) could take the test. ‘Jeff’ (the registered person) could not. O.K., he had messed up. So ‘Jeffrey Hamilton’ (the real person), being a poor recent college graduate, naturally asked for a refund of his registration fee (considerable for college kids). Not allowed – the rules said must not.  You would think that ‘Jeffrey Hamilton’ (the real person) had to be either ‘Jeff’ (the registered person) or ‘Jeffrey’ (the id’ed person). Since ‘Jeffrey Hamilton’ (the real person) could not take the test, he must not have been ‘Jeffrey’ (the id’ed person). So he must have been ‘Jeff’ (the registered person). But ‘Jeff’ (the registered person), couldn’t take the test, nor could he get a refund, even a partial one. (Rule 3 (presumably): A refund may be issued only if the name of registered person matches the full name on two government-issued id’s.) Bottom line: Poor Jeff was not himself. He was lost in identity limbo.

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Rules in a Knife Fight?! Classic Advice

The other night I watched the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for about the 50th time. It’s a highly entertaining movie – all you have to do is suspend judgment.  As a rules person, the classic scene for me is Harveychallenging Butch to a knife fight (with a knife about the size of a machete) for leadership of the gang. Now Butch is the one who’s always thinking. Stalling for a bit of time he walks an angling path toward Harveyand says, “No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.” Harvey, thrown off guard, says (paraphrasing), “Rules?! There are no rules in a knife fight!” Well, exactly! Poor Harvey pays for his moment of verbal clarity with a challenge-ending reminder that, well, there are no rules in a knife fight.  In SBVR terms, Harveyexpressed an advice, a non-rule. If Harvey had been a rule analyst (doubtful) he might have said: “Any action is permitted in a knife fight.” The statement is not a rule because it removes no degree of freedom. Butch, always thinking, complied completely.

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