It’s a shame to have to resort to a ‘meta’ discussion to have what should be a direct conversation about governance process(es). After all, what’s more fundamental to an organization than those?! Does the BPM space ‘get’ it? Recent discussion in social media makes me doubt it. So back to ‘meta’ we go. Here’s a recent wrong-headed post in social media that got my attention.
“I don’t see the appropriateness of labeling governance processes (e.g., business planning process, inventory policy process) as ‘meta’. They’re on a par with all the other business processes (i.e., request for proposal process, hiring process, product commercialization process, etc.). The process management process, on the other hand, is a meta process in that it stands above every one of the other processes, both governance and non-governance.”
My goodness! The process management process stands above governance processes? In what conceivable universe?! From a business perspective something is fundamentally flawed about a BPM approach that fails to recognize governance processes as above all others.Let’s think about it a bit. Some definitions …
I define ‘governance process’ as ‘process that governs other processes’. It’s ‘meta’ because both subject and predicate are the same kind of thing. (Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary 3b.)
I define ‘meta-process’ as ‘process that transforms other processes’. Since ‘governs’ is a specialization of ‘transforms’, that makes governance process a specialization of meta-process. I recognize there can be other kinds (specializations) of meta-process.
In other words there is a governance variety of meta-process that is the class of all processes that govern other processes. One example or instance of that class is THE governance process (singular) that governs the organization as a whole.
Aside: I can’t believe I had to prove in theory that an organization has a governance process!
To take the analysis further, you could specialize governance meta-process beyond THE governance process (singular) for an organization as a whole to suit governance of individual business areas or processes. The results (outputs) of all other specializations, however, should be consistent with the results (outputs) of THE governance process (singular). That’s a fancy way of saying you want to ensure business alignment.In social media, I wanted to initiate a discussion of what form the results (outputs) from all governance processes should take. If you want to talk about process improvement for governance processes, wouldn’t that be a foremost question?! No luck. These BPM participants wouldn’t go there. It leads me to believe they don’t really ‘get’ that governance is always about setting business policies. Indeed, if you want to improve the governance process sooner or later you’ll have to come to grips with business rules.
Instead, they seemed satisfied to conclude the conversation with simply “a process is a process is a process”. I’m afraid not!
It’s time to come to grips with what is meant by “rule” in the context of big data. There’s much confusion out there.In a recent keynote, Rick van der Lans stated, “… big data leads to more and more interesting insights, and from there to more and more rules.”What does he mean? The funny thing is you can also call ‘insights’ rules … and some people do(!). Not me! Read on.An ExampleOne of Rick’s examples of rules born from big data:
If 2 calls disconnect within 10 minutes, then offer a product discount.
What’s the insight and what’s the rule? Does the statement represent both? Does it express a business rule? The syntax of the statement is in if-then form. Doesn’t that imply a business rule?!No! According to the standards SBVR and the Business Motivation Model (BMM), business rules must be:
Declarative. The statement above is not declarative because it includes the command “offer”.
Practicable. The statement above is not practicable – not ready to roll out into prime-time business operations – because it’s ambiguous. More on that momentarily.
My analysis …
“2 calls disconnect within 10 minutes” … That part of the statement suggests an insight: Calls on hold for 10 minutes or more are likely to disconnect.
“offer a product discount” … That part of the statement suggests a remedy, a way to recover from a bad situation.
The motivation behind the statement might be:
We can assume people are getting frustrated at the 10 minute mark or before. If we offer a product discount, they’ll be mollified and more likely to hold on or to purchase.
What should we call the statement? It does give guidance and it does clearly have a role in strategy. However, neither the insight nor the remedy is practicable. Here are some unanswered questions that could produce ambiguity.
The insight part: Does the 10 minutes refer the wait period on each individual call? Or to any time interval during which calls are waiting?
The remedy part: How much discount? On which product(s)?
So according to the standards the statement represents a business policy, not a business rule. A corresponding business rule might be:
A caller must be offered a 15% discount off list price on any product in stock if the caller has been on hold for more than 10 minutes.
This version removes the ambiguities. It clarifies that we’re referring to:
The wait period on an individual call.
A 15% discount off list price.
Any product in stock.
Only WonkNerds Beyond This point“Rule” has several meanings – one reason I try to avoid the word as much as possible. Compare the following definitions for “rule”. (All definitions from Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.)
2a(1): a statement of a fact or relationship generally found to hold good : a usually valid generalization
Let’s call this meaning rule1. It roughly corresponds to insight … i.e., “as a rule we find that …”. It’s experiential – based on evidence.
1f: one of a set of usually official regulations by which an activity is governed
Let’s call this meaning rule2. It roughly corresponds to the underlying sense of business rule … i.e., “It’s necessary or obligated that you must …”. It’s deliberate, based on policy.Job one in analysis of big data is to identify interesting relationships (rule1) and then deliberately formulate business rules (rule2) to produce outcomes desirable for your company. In other words, starting from rule1 you want to move expeditiously to rule2.Logicians have been on top of this distinction for a long, long. Only they speak in terms of implications, not rules. There are two kinds of implications – material and logical. Let’s repeat the discussion above using these terms. Don’t overlook the word strictly in the second definition.material implication (rule1)
2b(1) : a logical relationship of the form symbolically rendered *if p then q* in which p and q are propositions and in which p is false or q is true or both
logical implication (rule2)
2b(2) : a logical relationship of the form symbolically rendered *if p then strictly q* in which q is deducible from p
Let me repeat myself on job one in analysis of big data using implication:
Job one in analysis of big data is to identify material implications (rule1) and then deliberately formulate logical implications (rule2) to produce outcomes desirable for the company. In other words, starting from material implications (rule1) you want to move expeditiously to logical implications (rule2).
I use “business rule” only for a statement of the rule2 variety, and only if that statement is both declarative and practicable. A statement has to prove itself to be a business rule – it’s only a pretender if it fails to meet the standards.
United Airlines recently rolled out this new business policy regarding upgrades on one of its routes. Once you get past the fluff, it simply says its Houston-Lima route is no longer eligible for free upgrades. A practicable version of the business policy would be a bit wordier.
How easy would it be for your company to deploy a change in business policy like this to all relevant operations and IT systems? How long would it take and how much in resources would it consume? Would the results be traceable and reversible?
The ‘thinking’ part of changing business policies will never be easy. The goal of rulebook management is to make the discovery and deployment parts as easy as single clicks. Why not move toward smart governance today?!
United Airlines today rolled out this new business policy regarding upgrades on one of its routes. How easy would it be for your company to roll out a change in business policy like this to all operations and all systems with a single click?
The Business Motivation Model (BMM) ~ Business Governance in a Volatile World. [May 2010]. Originally published Nov. 2000. Now an adopted standard of the Object Management Group (OMG).
Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (Version 2.5). . Merriam-Webster Inc.
Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) (Version 1.0). [January 2008]. Object Management Group.
rule:[MWUD ‘rule’ 1a]:guide for conduct or action;
[MWUD ‘rule’ 1f]: one of a set of usually official regulations by which an activity (as a sport) is governed [e.g.,] *the infield fly rule*
*the rules of professional basketball*;
[MWUD ‘criteria’ 2]: a standard on which a decision or judgment may be based
Note: When we say rule we always mean real-world rule.business rule:[SBVR]:a rule that is under business jurisdiction
Discussion: A business rule is a criterion used to guide day-to-day business activity, shape operational business judgments, or make operational business decisions.
Some people think of business rules as loosely formed, very general requirements. Wrong. Business rules have definite form, and are very specific. Here are a few simple examples expressed in RuleSpeak:
A customer that has ordered a product must have an assigned agent.
The sales tax for a purchase must be 6.25% if the purchase is made in Texas.
A customer may be considered preferred only if the customer has placed more than $10,000 worth of orders during the most recent calendar year.
Each business rule gives well-formed, practicable guidance. Each uses terms and wordings about operational business things that should based on a structured business vocabulary (concept model, also called fact model). Each expression is declarative, rather than procedural. Your company’s business rules need to be managed and single-sourced, so we strongly recommend rulebook management.
A number of years ago, a colleague of ours, Mark Myers, came up with a highly pragmatic test to determine whether some statement represents a business rule or a system rule. Except for eCommerce, it almost always works. Imagine you threw out all the systems running your business and did it all by hand (somehow). If you still need the statement, it’s a business rule. If you don’t, it’s not.
A colleague on the SBVR standardization team, Don Baisley, puts it another way:
“Business people don’t set variables and they don’t call functions.”
Business rules represent a form of business communication and must make sense (communicate) to business people. If some statement doesn’t communicate, it’s not a business rule. Consider this example: If ACT-BL LT 0 then set OD-Flag to ‘yes’. Not a business rule.
Consider another example: An account must be considered overdrawn if the account balance is less than $0. This statement communicates and therefore is a business rule. Business rules can be technical, but only in terms of the company’s know-how or specialized product/service, not in terms of IT designs or platforms.
SBVR provides the semantics for business rules. In SBVR a business rule can be either a behavioral rule or a definitional rule. Incidentally, SBVR does not standardize notation. We use RuleSpeak to express business rules (including ‘exceptions’) in structured natural language.
In SBVR, a real-world rule always tends to remove some degree of freedom. If it does not, it’s not a rule, but rather an advice. A business rule is always under business jurisdiction of your organization. The point with respect to external regulation and law is that your organization has a choice about how to interpret the regulations and laws for deployment into its day-to-day business activity – and even whether to follow them at all.
Business rules are not about mimicking intelligent behavior, they are about running a business. Mimicking intelligent behavior in a generalized way is far harder (an order of magnitude or more) than capturing the business rules of an organization. Unfortunately, expert systems have generally focused on the former problem, causing considerable confusion among business practitioners.
business policy:a means that limits or establishes a degree of freedom for day-to-day business activity
Discussion: Business managers create business policiesto control, guide, and shape day-to-day business activity. Business policies are an important element of business strategy (e.g., Policy Charters) and the source of core business rules.
A business policy is not a business rule per se. To become some business rule(s) first the business policy must be interpreted into a practicable form. The Business Motivation Model [BMM] contrasts business policies and business rules this way:
“Compared to a business rule, a business policy tends to be less structured, less discrete, less atomic, less compliant with standard business vocabulary, and less formally articulated.”
In general, business policies can address any of the concerns in Table 1, often in combinations (e.g., how many people are needed to produce a desired yield in the desired cycle time). Business policies can also address exceptions (rules).
Table 1. Concerns that Business Policies Can Address
what things should (or should not) be available
required kinds, quantities, states, or configurations
how things should (or should not) be done
required outputs or yields
where things that should (or should not) be done
required facilities, locations, or transfer rates
who should (or should not) do things
required responsibilities, interactions, or work products
when things should (or should not) be done
required scheduling or cycle times
why certain choices should (or should not) be made
The relevant standard on the question is OMG’s Business Motivation Model (BMM). I prefer the English (not UML) version: http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/second_paper/BRG-BMM.pdf. Business policies and business rules are both ‘elements of guidance’. The difference is that business policies are not practicable, whereas business rules always are. A business rule must be ready to deploy to the business, whether to workers or to IT (i.e., as a ‘requirement’). So business policies must be interpreted and refined to turn them into business rules. An example I often use:
Business Policy: Safety is our first concern.
Business Rule: A hard hat must be worn in a construction site.
It’s very important to retain information about these interpretations for the sake of traceability. That’s at the heart of business rule management.Business policies are an integral part of strategy. In general, we find only 2-3% of business rules trace directly back to strategy. But those *core* business rules are very, very important (to enforce and monitor).One last point: Business rules must be expressed in a form that is understandable to business workers (who are authorized and capable). What IT usually specifies or implements as ‘business rules’ aren’t. They might be rules, but not business rules.And what do I mean by “rule”? Exactly what it means in the real world – ‘guide for conduct or action’ (Merriam-Webster Unabridged).
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