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Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence

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Posts Tagged ‘business rule’

Business Rules – Sure You Really Understand Them?

communication-2The things that IT implements under today’s software platforms are mostly not true business rules; rather, they are encoded representations of business rules. Don’t underestimate how pervasively across your organization business rule is misunderstood. What are true business rules?

 

  • True business rules are about running the business, not its systems. Your company would need its true business rules even if it had no software. True business rules are simply criteria used in daily business operations to shape behavior or make decisions.
  • True business rules are not meta-data or information. Only through gross misinterpretation or misunderstanding do they fall under that umbrella (and the related organizational function). Instead, true business rules are a form of knowledge. They are about what you need to know to make things work properly in daily business operations. Knowledge is knowledge. Information is information. They are simply not the same thing.
  • True business rules are about human communication – people-to-people communication, people having business conversations. True business rules enable business people to communicate operational business knowledge, not just things IT can implement. Such communication is especially important if (as is so often the case these days) the people are displaced by time and space.

Achieving these knowledge-related goals requires two things:

  1. Business rules must be written. (If you are part of an agile project that believes otherwise, you need to rethink.)
  2. Business rules must be written in declarative form using structured natural language. Here is an example of how a true business rule is written.

An account may be considered overdrawn only if cash withdrawal is greater than the current balance of the account.

When it comes to communicating knowledge, Murphy’s Law definitely applies. If something can be misinterpreted it will be misinterpreted. Capturing and expressing true business rules completely and accurately is a rich skill. (By the way, machines should certainly be able to help us with that.)

The need to communicate business rules in structured natural language led our company to create a world-wide set of conventions called Rulespeak® (free on www.RuleSpeak.com, now in 6 languages). There’s simply no substitute for precise, unambiguous communication of operational business knowledge. It’s central to business knowledge engineering.

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Read about the new knowledge paradigm: http://www.brcommunity.com/articles.php?id=b900

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How Good Are You at Business Rule Analysis?

mowing-the-lawn[1]Can you understand that all three of the following business rule statements mean the same thing? Here’s what must be true: If you mow the lawn on Sunday your lawn mower is to be electric; otherwise the lawn is not to be mowed on Sunday.

1. It is permitted that the lawn be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

2. It is prohibited that the lawn is mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

3. It is obligatory that the lawn not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

I’m fairly certain you can. And if you can determine they all mean the same thing, I contend a machine ought to be able to do so too. I mean as stated in this exact same human-friendly, structured natural language form. And tell you that the statements mean the same thing (in effect, that they are redundant). That’s the kind of language-smart (cognitive) capability that business innovators should be expecting – no, demanding – from software vendors.

P.S. In the OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) the three statements are a restricted permission statement, a prohibition statement, and an obligation statement, respectively. You might prefer one or another of these forms of statements, but each is correct and reasonably understandable. Here are the RuleSpeak©[1] equivalents – even more friendly:

  1. The lawn may be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

  2. The lawn must not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

  3. (same as 2)

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Get trained: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: April 4-6, 2017 – Business Analysis with Business Rules: From Strategy to Requirements. http://www.brsolutions.com/services/online/strategy-to-requirements/

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2017. www.BRSolutions.com

[1] Free on www.RuleSpeak.com

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What is a Business Rule?

It’s become more and more apparent that software vendors are misleading people (badly) about the true meaning of ‘business rule’. Time to set the record straight. Here is an authoritative 3-part explanation. Take a moment and reacquaint yourself. As a business-oriented professional you’ll be glad you did!

   Reference Sources

[MWUD] Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (Version 2.5).  [2000].  Merriam-Webster Inc.
[SBVR] Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) (Version 1.0).  [January 2008].  Object Management Group.
  1. Rule When we say rule we always mean real-world rule. Here’s the dictionary meaning of “rule”. That’s what we mean.

[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

A real-world rule always tends to remove some degree of freedom.  If it does not, it’s not a rule.  2. Under Business Jurisdiction    When we say business rule we mean only rules that the business can opt to change or to discard. 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. So external regulations are not business rules per se. Business rules include only the rules that a business creates in response to external regulation. SBVR explains: 

“The laws of physics may be relevant to a company … ; legislation and regulations may be imposed on it; external standards and best practices may be adopted. 

These things are not business rules from the company’s perspective, since it does not have the authority to change them. 

The company will decide how to react to laws and regulations, and will create business rules to ensure compliance with them.  Similarly, it will create business rules to ensure that standards or best practices are implemented as intended.”

3. Business Rule

[SBVR]:  a rule that is under business jurisdiction

A business rule is a criterion used to:
    • guide day-to-day business activity
    • shape operational business judgments, or
    • make operational business decisions. 
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.  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.” Some people think of business rules as loosely formed, very general requirements.  Wrong.  Business rules have definite form, and are very specific.  Each should give well-formed, practicable guidance 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.

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. 

More observations about business rules:
    • In SBVR a business rule can be either a behavioral rule or a definitional 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.
    • Expression of business rules should always be declarative, rather than procedural.
    • A business rule statement should use terms and wordings about operational business things that should be based on a structured business vocabulary (concept model).
    • Your company’s business rules need to be managed and single-sourced, so we strongly recommend rulebook management.
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.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  Excerpted 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

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Rules, Business Rules, and Big Data: What’s It All About?

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 Example One 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.

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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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