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

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Posts Tagged ‘definitions’

5 Basic Criteria for Great Business Definitions

criteriaDefinitions of business terms with subtle IT or ‘data’ bias are an anathema to effective communication with business partners. Good business definitions are oriented to what words mean when used by real business people talking directly about real business things.

Here are 5 basic criteria for great business definitions:

 

  1. It should be easy to give examples for the thing defined, but there should be no counterexamples.
  2. Each definition should communicate the essence of what a thing is, not what it does, how it’s used, or why it’s important.
  3. The definition of a thing should focus on its unique characteristics.
  4. Each thing you define should be distinguishable from every other thing you define using the definition alone.
  5. Each definition should be concise and as short as possible without loss of meaning. A definition should be readable.

One thing may surprise you about great business definitions. The very first noun in each definition is absolutely key. These first words are the secret sauce of excellent business definitions. Read more in our new Primer (free download).

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Extracted from: How to Define Business Terms in Plain English, by Ronald G. Ross – free download, 26pp, pdf, http://www.brsolutions.com/publications/crafting-definitions-a-primer/

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How to Define Business Terms in Plain English

plain-english-3There’s a high premium on knowing how to craft great definitions. Every business analyst should know how. We’ve just published a new Primer on creating business definitions (see below – free download).

There are various schools of thought about how to define terms, some arising from professional terminologists and academia. But those approaches are often relatively arcane and not well-suited to everyday business practice.

So you should stick with common dictionary practices. They are perfectly adequate for your needs. By ‘dictionary’ I mean natural language dictionaries of course, not any kind of dictionary arising from IT (e.g., data dictionaries).

If you want to talk about how data is retained or exchanged, do a data model. A good data model has definitions too of course, but they subtly relate to fields and data types, not directly to things in the real world. That bias throws them off-center for business communication. This implicit mindset is often hard for those with a data or IT background to unlearn. But not impossible! If you fall into this category, our Primer will teach you how.

Our new Primer is organized as a set of guidelines, each with one or more examples. Each guideline can be understood on its own, but the overall set is mutually supportive and comprehensively interlocking. Master this set of guidelines and your definitions are guaranteed world-class.

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Extracted from: How to Define Business Terms in Plain English, by Ronald G. Ross – free download, 26pp, pdf, http://www.brsolutions.com/publications/crafting-definitions-a-primer/

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Legality and Business Rules

How does legality work with business rules? To say that differently how should an intelligent tool work so as to help you establish the business regimen you want to follow where legality is involved? Consider the example of Same-Sex Marriage. Let’s suppose you want to make it illegal. SBVR[1] does not have an innate concept/approach for “legality” in the sense of MWUD[2] 1: attachment to or observance of law. So if you wanted “is legal” in the most direct sense, you must define a unary verb concept for the concept Same-Sex Marriage. In a looser sense, if you are in an organization (business) with the standing to define business rules, you could do several things, as follows. (I’ll make up a bit of vocabulary here.) 1. Specify a behavioral rule A behavioral rule is one that can be potentially violated by people or organizations. The relevant rule might be expressed as follows:

The people united in a marriage must not be of the same gender.

Then you would decide how strictly you want to enforce the rule. Options range from strictly enforced to guideline. The rule would be active when a relevant state of affairs arose (i.e., specific people get married). 2. Define several definitional rules A definitional rule is one that cannot be violated; it exists to ensure the consistency of the concept system you chose to follow. Relevant definitional rules might be expressed as follows:
    • The people united in a marriage are not to be of the same gender.
    • The people united in a same-sex marriage are to be of the same gender.
See the conflict? Your friendly intelligent tool would (immediately) disallow one or the other specification. The rules are clearly in conflict; the logical conflict would simply not be allowed to stand. 3. Define the relevant definitions
    • Marriage: the uniting of people of different genders in wedlock
    • Same-Sex Marriage:  the uniting of people of the same gender in wedlock
Again, your friendly intelligent tool would (immediately) disallow one or the other specifications. The definitions are clearly in conflict; the logical conflict would simply not be allowed to stand. Actually, under the covers, approaches 2 and 3 work exactly the same way In SBVR. SBVR recognized that some people prefer to do things via rules, some with definitions, and if truth be told, most times you will do some of both. ~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com  


[1]Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules
[2]Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
 

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Controversial Concepts: How to Tackle Defining and Naming Them

Guest Post by Markus Schacher We should first agree on the semantics of underlying concepts and only then start to think about the best terms for those concepts. One particular technique I often apply in such cases is the following: 1.    Name controversial concepts with proxy names such as “Greg”, “Mike” or “John” (or whatever name you prefer) to get potentially misleading names and their implicit connotations out of the way of progress. 2.    Draw a concept diagram showing those concepts as well as important semantic relationships among them. 3.    Formulate intensional definitions for each concept – still using the proxy names. Ensure that those definitions are consistent with the relationships shown on the concept diagram. 4.    Identify one or more communities that “baptize” those concepts by giving them better names. If synonyms and/or homonyms appear among those communities, that’s just how the world is; we simply have to live with it. This is why SBVR formally supports semantic communities as well as speech communities. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~  www.BRSolutions.com

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Lessons from Peggy Sue’s Diner

Guest post by Keri Anderson Healy, Editor, www.BRCommunity.com
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On our departure from this year’s Building Business Capability (BBC) conference in Las Vegas, we stopped at Peggy Sue’s Diner.  In 2013 I had sent you a photo of the “Non-Dairy” Creamer as a humorous example. This year I’m sending you the rest of the story … a lesson in definitions in regulations vs. the definition from the dictionary. Read on!
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From regulations …

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Circular Definitions: Quiz

Question: Can you spot the circularity among these three definitions?

Need: a problem, opportunity, or constraint with potential value to a stakeholder

Solution: a specific way of satisfying one or more needs in a context

Stakeholder: a group or individual with a relationship to a change or a solution

  Answer 1: The definition of “need” references “stakeholder”, whose definition references “solution”, whose definition references “need”. The definitions don’t need to be circular. It’s simply bad definition/glossary practice. How can the circularity be removed? “Need” should simply be defined as “problem, opportunity, or constraint”. That’s the essence of the concept. Whether it has “value to a stakeholder” is an assessment. Just because one person says something (a need) has value and another person says it (the need) does not (which happens all the time by the way) doesn’t mean the thing is not a need to either: (a) the person who has it, or (b) the person who says it has no value. The latter person would say “that need has no value”. He/She just called it a “need”, so how can it not be a ‘need’? Answer 2: There is actually a second circularity in the definitions: need –> value –> stakeholder –> solution –> need. Changing the definition of “need” as I propose above will fix that second circularity too. “Need” is a very basic concept. If there were no need, there would be no reason to assess what value it has to what stakeholder (including the one who proposed it). If there were no need, there would be no solution, context or change (in the BA’s world). It’s a seed concept. Principle: In developing a vocabulary it’s best to start from terms whose definitions use no other terms … i.e., from seed concepts. Otherwise, circularities will make Swiss cheese of your brain. www.BRSolutions.com

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More on Concept Model vs. Conceptual Data Model

As part of a continuing dialog, I recently asked these questions: What does the term “conceptual data model” really mean? Is it the best term for what is meant? To me, it sounds like “conceptual data model” might be about “conceptual data”. Surely not(?). What exactly then? (Some of my thoughts on the matter: http://goo.gl/8GX5o.) A practitioner responded with the following 3-part challenge below. With each challenge is my response. Challenge part 1: Which of the following, if any, would you see in a conceptual data model: primary keys, foreign keys, abstract keys, constraints, nulls, non-nulls, 1:1s, 1:Ms, optionality, cardinality, etc.? My response: Wrong approach. Bad definition practice one three counts. 1. Things should be defined in terms of their essence, what they are, not in terms of what are allowed or disallowed. 2. Suppose none of the above were allowed. You’d end up simply with a description of what the thing is not, not what it is. Since you can’t possibly list everything it’s not, the definition is woefully incomplete. 3. The list attempts to describe something in terms of an implementation or design of the thing, not in the thing’s own terms. That’s simply backwards. Challenge part 2: So let’s turn the question around. What would be the minimum types of objects you need to explore a concept, produce a mini model, and convey knowledge about the concept and its relationship to other concepts? My response: To develop a concept you need: 1. A concise definition for the concept, which distinguishes the concept from all other concepts and conveys its essence to the business. 2. A business-friendly signifier (term) for the concept that has only that one meaning (or is properly disambiguated by context). 3. A set of facts that indicates the place of the concept within a structure of other concepts (e.g., classification, categorization). 4. A set of verbs that permits the business to communicate unambiguously about how the concept relates to other concepts (e.g., customer places order). 5. A set of structural rules for the concept and its relations to other concepts, as needed. Why the verbs? Because you can’t write sentences without verbs and business rules can always be written in sentences. ‘Requirements’ should be too(!). Challenge part 3: When you are finished do you call that a ‘conceptual data model’? My response: You notice that I didn’t say anything, directly or indirectly, about “data”. That term is irrelevant. Taking away “data” leaves “conceptual model”. But that term suggests what the model is made of (concepts), not what it is about. Of course the kind of model we’re talking about is made up of concepts – it’s certainly not made of physical material (e.g., wood, plaster, etc.) or through use of math (some formula). That leaves “concept model” (also sometimes called “fact model”). Bingo. Is there a standard for this kind of model? Indeed there is: SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules). See the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com for more information.

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