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Posts Tagged ‘decision models’

The DMN definition of ‘decision’ … Sorry, I don’t think so(!)

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

In DMN a decision is deliberately defined very broadly … 

“a decision is the act of determining an output value (the chosen option), from a number of input values, using decision logic defining how the output is determined from the inputs”.

Decisions in DMN can be automatic, they can be used for detection, the logic they use can concern the violation of constraints; I see no problem with any of this.

My Response
  • A motorist goes thundering down the motorway, well over the speed limit. A radar gun detects it. What “decision” was made? Would a business person ever say the radar gun “decided” the motorist was speeding? … “Determined” maybe; “decided” no.
  • A company has the (behavioral) business rule:

 A customer that has placed an order must have an assigned agent.

An agent servicing customers who have placed orders retires and moves to Florida (this last part irrelevant). What “decision” is it that says, hey, now have some unrepresented customers and somebody ought to do something about it ASAP?? What “decided” there are now violations?? … “Detection yes”, “decision” no. 

P.S. That definition of decision seems a bit circular. To know what a “decision” is I need to know what “decision logic” means. But since “decision logic” says “decision”, seems like I need to know what “decision” means. Hmmm.

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A Playful Riff on “Decide”

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

I can’t see how you can object to the idea that decisions can be automatic, or used for detection, unless you maintain that decisions can only be taken by people?

  My Response Putting theological questions aside, in the beginning there was man. Well, people. Well, animals and people. As far as science is currently aware, there is nothing else in the universe that can “decide” something. Well, let’s put quantum mechanics aside. How things get “decided” there is just plain weird. That’s not human scale anyway (as far as science is currently aware). My point is that the concept “decide” makes absolutely no sense unless you acknowledge that “deciding” is a human concept. People decide stuff (or decide when things have been “decided”.) When Machines “Decide” Can machines “decide” things? Of course. Can they often “decide” things better than humans? Of course. Can they often “decide” things instead of people? Of course. Would you call what it is the machines do in such cases “deciding” if there were no people who could do the thing we call “deciding” in the first place? Of course not. “To decide” is fundamentally a human characteristic. If you try to remove the “human” sense of “to decide” from the verb, it’s not how the average person would understand it. This sense comes across clearly in the real world definition of “decide” [MWUD]: to dispel doubt on. When Machines “Doubt” Can machines “doubt”? I’ll let the philosophers decide that (yes decide). I’ll just say this: I doubt (yes doubt) it would be called “doubt” unless people experienced “doubt” in the first place. So when you use the word “decide”, even for what machines are doing, use it for things that people would call “decide”. If you want to use the word “decide” for machines in some other way – for things that people wouldn’t call “decide” in the real world – then please, just plainly admit you’re in systemland, not in peopleland.

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The DMN definition of ‘decision’ … I don’t think so(!)

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

In DMN a decision is deliberately defined very broadly … 

“a decision is the act of determining an output value (the chosen option), from a number of input values, using decision logic defining how the output is determined from the inputs”.

My Response I’ve already written that the DMN definition of “decision” seems to be a bit circular. (To know what a “decision” is you need to know what “decision logic” means. But since “decision logic” says “decision”, seems like you need to know what “decision” means.) Let me tell you what else I find wrong with the definition. (All dictionary definitions from MWUD.) Problem 1. MWUD defines “decision” as (1a) the act of deciding. It defines “act” as (1a) a thing done or being done. So which is it? Is a decision a thing “done” or a thing “being done”? In other words, is a decision the result of an action or process, or the performance of an action or process? Big difference! Which does the standard mean? Some clarity would be nice. Problem 2. MWUD defines “decide” as: to dispel doubt on: (a) to arrive at a choice or solution concerning which ends uncertainty or contention *decide what to order for breakfast*  (c) to infer or conclude from available indications and evidence So the real-world definition of “decide” talks about …
  • Arriving at “a choice or solution”.
  • Basing that choice or solution on “indications and evidence”.
Do you see anything in that definition that reduces what is used in making decisions to “inputs” and “outputs”?! That’s ITspeak, not businessSpeak. So let’s not pretend the DMN standard is really about business modeling per se. It’s business reduced to a system view. Problem 3. “Input value” is definitely ITspeak. Fields and attributes in files and databases are what have this kind of “value”. In the business world, people talk about cases, applications (appeals, requests, petitions), communications, situations, circumstances, trends, profiles, and the like. They don’t talk about “input values” to a decision. Get real. Again, the authors of the DMN standard should either be clear it’s really about system stuff … or admit to causing confusion, deliberately or otherwise.

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My 3 Biggest Fears Regarding the DMN (Decision Model Notation) Standard

A person close to the DMN (Decision Model Notation) standard recently wrote:

“Under DMN we would say that the automatic detection of the violation of a constraint is indeed a decision.”

My Response … Which part of any definition of any of the following terms in your statement would in any way, shape or form lead to the notion of “decision”?!
  • automatic
  • detection
  • violation
  • constraint
You’ve put you finger squarely on the three confusions (shortcomings) I fear most from the DMN standard — failure to:
  1. Comprehend that behavioral rules are a quite different animal from decision (or definitional) rules.
  2. View “decision” from a businessperson’s point of view.
  3. Define “decision” as meant in the real world.
Is this going to put another standard emanating from an IT background parading as a “business” paradigm? Another standard where hype beneficial to existing vendor products outweighs true clarity and innovative leadership? I am hoping for the best … I want the standard (if good) to succeed … but fear the worst. I’m afraid your statement doesn’t instill much confidence.

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Calling everything a decision? That does no more good than calling everything ‘thing’!

A decision management tool vendor recently wrote:

“The relation between business rules and decisions is I think pretty well agreed by all – it’s just that some focus on 1 or the other, and some both – any “disagreement” is more on the value in the different approaches.”

I respectfully disagree (strongly).  There are fundamental differences between decision rules and behavioral rules including these: 1. Behavioral rules are usually one of a kind. They don’t fit in decision tables. Some might appear in decision models if you are concerned about such things as integrity (will the DMN standard be?), but the large majority don’t. 2. Decisions are generally single point of determination for any given real-world case. Most behavioral rules are multi point of determination, meaning they could be violated under quite different circumstances. 3. The detection of violations of behavioral rules should be automatic and event-based. There’s no “decision” involved in the detection … it should be automatic. (This is where the current generation of rule engines … mostly based on 1980s expert-system thinking … fall woefully short. It’s also probably one reason they haven’t become more mainstream in industry mindshare.) 4. Behavioral rules generally have a different source than decision rules … laws, regulations, contracts, agreements, deals, certifications, warranties … and business policies. Decision rules sometimes arise from those sources, but if so, have limited coverage. Decision rules in contrast often arise from the heads of knowledge workers and inspection of big data and event streams. (Behavioral rules do too, but likewise don’t begin to cover everything.) So the issue is by no means simply a “matter of approach”. Spinning it that way might be useful for vendors, but it won’t be helpful to business analysts. We need to think soberly about the true range of business rules and the fundamental distinctions that exist. If not people will end up very frustrated on the other side of the DMN hype cycle. We can do better than that, and for the sake of the DMN standard, we should. P.S. For discussion and examples of the fundamental distinction between behavioral rules and decision rules see Appendix 3 in the DecisionSpeak Primer … available for free download on http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php.  By the way, DecisionSpeak and its companion TableSpeak are *quite* concerned about integrity in decision models.

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Will Decision Models Supplant Business Rules?

The answer is no, but read on. RuleSpeak 3.0 featuring tabulation was just recently released. See http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php (free download). RuleSpeak is structured natural language for expressing business rules in the clearest way possible, yet very precisely. I know some people argue that decision models will supplant the need to express any and all individual business rules. Pardon me, but that’s either highly uninformed or not-so-innocently misleading. Having said that, do I think there’s much to be gained from decision analysis and a revival of decision tables (a very old technique)? Absolutely. We’ve been busy fine-tuning methods for a good number of years. I’m glad we waited. The results speak for themselves. See the new DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak (free downloads) on that same webpage. All 3 ‘Speaks’ are highly complementary … as of course they should be! You need all these tools to be successful with business rules. By the way, all 3 ‘Speaks’ are business-oriented and tool-independent … as they should be(!).

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Open Letter re: Decision Models

written in response to Jacob Feldman: http://www.brsolutions.com/2013/05/07/response-to-decisionspeak-tablespeak-annnouncement/ Jacob, Thanks! And I agree with you about the ‘executable’ part. Our emphasis is on business-friendly, business-driven models. I believe DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak move things forward significantly in that regard. There’s no reason why decision models have to be oriented to IT development. If they are robust, they will nonetheless be executable. I would sound a note of caution. Decision models are no silver bullet. There are issues of semantics (vocabulary) and integrity (restrictions) to be addressed. And they don’t cover even the majority of all business rules – especially behavioral rules. If you throw everything you (should) know about business rules out the window when you use decision models, you will be in for a very rude awaking. I’m glad we did not rush to the market. We’ve taken our time to do our homework with respect to theory (which has been out there for a great many years) and to hone our approach in real-life consulting work. I think the results speak for themselves!

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Response to DecisionSpeak / TableSpeak Announcement

guest post by Jacob Feldman First of all, congratulations on your new Primers that provide very detailed convention sets for the decision management domain. I quote from your documents: * DecisionSpeak™, a set of conventions for expressing the meaning of operational business decisions. * TableSpeak™ is a set of conventions for business-friendly representation of decision tables and their meaning (semantics) in declarative fashion. Naturally, my first thought is: can we make these conventions EXECUTABLE? More precisely: Can we help subject matter experts (not programmers) to: – create documents that follow these conventions? – automatically validate (enforce) compliance to these conventions? – execute the compliant documents? After a quick walking through the documents, I think the answers are YES. We, at OpenRules, should be able to build OpenRules templates (in Excel) that supports these conventions and to direct users how to apply these templates to create, validate, and execute concrete decisions, decision tables, and other types of rules. There are certainly many details how better to address certain constructions described in TableSpeak™, but they all look solvable to me. Previously, we provided a similar implementation as soon as another decision modeling methodology (TDM) was published. Now we are working with James Taylor making business requirements created by his newest DecisionFirst Modeler executable. As you know, OpenRules is also working on a reference implementation for the DMN as this standard comes to the age. It would be only natural to provide support for the IPSpeak™ methodology. Based on our previous positive experience working with you, Gladys, and other experts from BRS, I am looking forward to making IPSpeak™ executable. http://openrules.com

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