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

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

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Posts Tagged ‘business rules and smart processes’

Decision Analysis: Don’t Drown in Decisions

Consider the following examples of decisions arising in a regulated environment (acks James Taylor):

Government agency in Europe has regulations relating to Social Benefits. The agency itself must make decisions like “Is this person eligible for this benefit?” and “How much benefit, and for how long, is this person entitled to?”” that conform with those regulations.

An individual company might also have a decision like “Is this person entitled to paid leave to care for a sick child?” that is dependent both on company policy/practices and regulations that relate to social benefits (because they might require companies of a certain size to pay for this kind of leave).

My Analysis Indeed, these are operational business decisions. I’m not surprised, by the way, they are in effect about money. Of course money entails decisions! But here are two important observations. 1. Regulations typically include a great many one-off behavioral rules (“one-off” meaning following no particular pattern). Examples might include:
    • Payment of benefits shall cease immediately upon the death of the beneficiary.
    • Payment of benefits shall not be made to any beneficiary living outside the country for more than 9 months of a fiscal year.
    • Payment of benefits shall not be made directly to any minor.
Is decision analysis suited to capturing/interpreting such one-off rules? Is it meaningful to have a decision such as “Should a benefit payment be made?” Shouldn’t such behavior be presumed automatic (but traceable and adaptable)? A better option is to simply have a task or action such as “Make payment”. Violations of related business rules for any particular case produces exceptions, possibly to be addressed by appropriate messages and/or procedures invoked automatically. That’s how basic business behavior becomes autonomous, so the business can concentrate on matters requiring greater skill, experience or intelligence. If you’re not careful everything becomes a decision. Where do you draw the line? Isn’t there a difference in simply being competent vs. being smart in doing business?

Aside:  Business vocabulary is as always obviously important. For example, does “payment” mean “accrual of benefit”, “act of payment”, “amount of payment”, or something else? No small issue.

(2.) Consider the following (one-off) behavioral rule:

A non-citizen may cash a payment of benefits for a citizen only if married to that citizen and the citizen is not deceased.

What happens in the case of death or divorce, and then the non-citizen tries to cash a payment? There’s no organizational decision involved there. There’s a personal decision … the non-citizen can decide to try to violate the rule … but we don’t really care about that. We only care about detecting the violation. We really don’t need or want an (operational business) decision here, do we? Again, if you have a decision for every possible kind of violation of every behavioral rule, you’ll very quickly drown in decisions. Don’t go there!  

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Do Business Rules Define the Operational Boundaries of an Organization?

Have you heard business rules described that way? You certainly have to stop and think about it for a minute. Without additional explanation the term “boundaries” could easily be misleading. For example the term could be interpreted incorrectly as suggesting business rules define scope – i.e., the operational edges of an organization or an initiative. They don’t. Let’s revisit the meaning of “business rule”. Business rules are guides or criteria used to:
    • shape conduct or actions
    • form judgments of behavior
    • make decisions
Respectively, yes, business rules therefore establish “boundaries” for distinguishing:
    • acceptable or desirable conduct or actions from what is unacceptable or undesirable.
    • proper behavior from what is improper behavior.
    • correct or optimal decisions from what are incorrect or suboptimal decisions.
But these “boundaries” (delimitations) are a result of applying business rules, not what business rules fundamentally are (i.e., guides or criteria). Furthermore, these boundaries (delimitations) are not as rigid as the term “boundary” suggests. Depending on enforcement level, many business rules can be overridden with proper authority or explanation, or even ignored (e.g., guidelines). Level of enforcement is an organizational decision. Note that the transgressing behavior in such cases is nonetheless still within the scope of organizational operations. My bottom line re “boundary”. Describing business rules can …
    • misleading.
    • wrongly suggest scope.
    • incorrectly assume all business rules are strictly enforced.
But otherwise sure, business rules do set up boundaries (delimitations) for how activity in the organization is undertaken. And that’s especially important when you start thinking about smart processes – as my recent posts suggest.

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What Makes Business Smart?

I am certainly interested in what makes processes smart. But I’m a lot more interested in what makes business smart. My observations:
                                • A process lets you interact with customers, but doesn’t guarantee those interactions are the best possible.
                                • A process crosses silos and boundaries of place and time, but doesn’t ensure you communicate across those silos and boundaries.
                                • A process produces things, but doesn’t ensure you produce the right things.
                                • A process pays the bills, but doesn’t find you new money.
                                • A process lets you play the game, but doesn’t determine whether you will win.
                                • A process lets you act, but doesn’t guarantee you will learn from it.
Here are things I know are directly involved in making your business smart. All of them affect processes, but none of them are processes:
    • Business rules
    • Core business concepts
    • Operational business decisions
    • Strategy
    • Policy monitors (KPIs)
So as you start hearing analysts say that smart processes are the next big thing, take it with a grain of salt. Be very clear about three things:
    1. The target should be smart business – not smart processes per se.
    2. Smart automation won’t go very far unless you specify the right things.
    3. The things you need to specify are knowledge things, not process things.
(I suppose I could add there are no silver bullets, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.)

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