I’ve been writing a lot recently about the knowledge economy and what makes a business smart. Let me dig a little deeper. The kind of knowledge I’m talking about might be better described as know-how.
know-how: accumulated practical skill or expertness … especially: technical knowledge, ability, skill, or expertness of this sort
Know-how that you can encode and retain is represented by business rules and the structured business vocabularies (concept models) on which the business rules are based.
Know-how is a subset, a small one probably, of knowledge. Briefly, knowledge can range from practical to theoretical, from certain to probabilistic, and from frequently applicable to infrequently applicable.
At the risk of saying the obvious, you can’t run the day-to-day operations of a business on knowledge that is theoretical, probabilistic, or infrequently applicable. In short, business rules are about know-how management, a strictly limited subset of knowledge management.
Like knowledge, know-how can be either tacit (in people’s heads) or explicit. The classic test for when knowledge is tacit is ‘lose the person, lose the knowledge’. Obviously you want to retain know-how. As a senior manager recently put it, “No organization should depend on absent brains.”
know-how retention: expressing know-how explicitly in a form understandable by business people and business analysts, and managing the know-how, such that it is always available for future reference or use (by those capable and authorized)
The over-time infrastructure needed to retain know-how is provided by a general rulebook system (GRBS). It’s what rule management should really be all about.
from Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules
, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, An IIBA® Sponsored Handbook
, Business Rule Solutions, LLC, 2011, 304 pp,http://www.brsolutions.com/bbs
 Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
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.