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

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Posts Tagged ‘modeling decisions’

Semantic Muddle in the Decision Model & Notation (DMN) Standard

Comment by DMN proponent: In common business use the term “decision” is often overloaded to mean “decision output”. So I “make a decision to do X” is the act, whereas I “use the decision as input to another decision” is referring to the decision output. I’m not sure there are any semantic issues with (i.e. possible problems caused by) this overloading? My response: Since DMN is a standard (and in particular claims to be a business standard), then it must stick with its own definition of terms in all cases. Otherwise, in what sense is it a standard (especially a business standard)? In defining “decision” DMN had two fundamental choices (from Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary): 1. a : the act of deciding; specifically : the act of settling or terminating (as a contest or controversy) by giving judgment 1. b : a determination arrived at after consideration : SETTLEMENT, CONCLUSION DMN explicitly chose the first meaning. I strongly prefer the second, but then I’m a big fan of all things declarative. So in BRS TableSpeak[1] an outcome by definition is a decision. Since DMN explicitly chose the first meaning, however, an outcome (conclusion) is by definition *not* a decision. A decision is an act, never the result of the act. Hey, I’m just reading what is written in the standard. If DMN somehow allows ‘overloading’ of the term “decision” — the central term in the standard — all bets are off. A term that you can use any way you want when it happens to suit you is a term that has not been standardized at all. The result is semantic muddle. Pretty big deal. Sorry! www.BRSolutions.com  

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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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Announcing New Online Interactive Training: Decision Analysis & Decision Tables: All About Modeling Decisions

Location: Online Interactive Training Why Attend … Working on developing requirements? Wrestling with complex business process models? Harvesting business rules to implement in a rules engine? Many professionals are finding there are big gaps in their current approaches:
  • Their requirements methodology fails to capture and specify decision logic.
  • Their business process models mangle the logic for making decisions.
  • Their decision management platforms support implementation but don’t connect to the business.
This training provides proven, pragmatic solutions. It provides 8 easy steps so you can think clearly before you implement. More info:  http://www.attainingedge.com/online-training-decision-analysis-and-decision-tables.php

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