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 ‘Q-Charts’

What’s a “Decision”? Here’s How I See It

In BRS Question Charts (Q-ChartsTM) we refer to an operational business decision by the question it answers (a very nifty idea we pioneered). Does that mean a decision is a question? Shouldn’t decision refer either to the answering of a question or to the answer itself? To be clear, we definitely do not think or say that the question is the same as the decision. However, if decision is understood properly in a business rules sense (the trick), there is only one question[1] a decision answers. So as a (very) convenient shorthand, you can use the question as the name of the decision. With that issue aside, so which should decision refer to, the answering of a question or the answer itself? The dictionary will support you either way you go. From MWUD[2]:

1a: the act of deciding

1b: a determination arrived at after consideration : SETTLEMENT, CONCLUSION

If you’re a process person, you’d probably pick the first definition. But if you’re a true business rules person, you have to pick the second. From a business rules perspective, a decision is the answer (conclusion) you produce, not the act of producing it. The “act of” is something else altogether.[3] So a decision is an answer. But is answer alone enough? No. Digging a little deeper into MWUD we find these definitions:

determination [2]: the resolving of a question by argument or reasoning

decide [c] to infer or conclude from available indications and evidence

Here’s the point. For business rules it’s crucial to capture the logic path (reasoning, inferences) that gets you to the answer. To say that differently, for business rules just knowing the conclusion isn’t very useful; the determination must be directly traceable (from conditions or cases to conclusions or outcomes, and vice versa). So focusing on answer in isolation for decision doesn’t quite get you where you want to be. The bigger picture is that the answers are traceable. www.BRSolutions.com
P.S. That’s me in the picture, standing at the Cape of Good Hope, pointing toward Antarctica.

[1] I mean the meaning of the question, not the way it happens to be expressed. There are many ways, even in the same language, to express the same meaning.
[2]Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
[3] The OMG’s Decision Model Notation (DMN) standard simply gets this wrong (at least as of my most recent reading).

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A Buzzword Like ‘Decision’ that Covers Everything May Soon Cover Nothing

One thing that concerns me about ‘decision’ or ‘decision management’ is that everything potentially becomes a decision. Software vendors love it when complex problems can be reduced to a single buzzword. Engineers of true business solutions should hate it. I’m sure I’ll be accused of negativism, so for the record, let me say that top down analysis of operational business decisions is extremely useful, either along with, or outside of, business processes. We have a highly pragmatic approach for decision analysis based on ‘question charts’ (Q-Charts). We use it extensively to capture decision rules. But do I think that decision analysis is the most important part of delivering a winning business solution? Not by a long shot. Your strategy for the business solution is much more important. Even that’s not enough though – strategy only tells you why. We need business models that cover all aspects of a business solution (think what, how, where, who, and when). So no, it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) all boil down to ‘decisions’ … unless by that you mean anything and everything. And what good is that? I’m always very careful to say ‘operational business decision’ instead of simply ‘decision’. Immediately that excludes governance decisions (e.g., creating a business policy) and strategy ‘decisions’ (as in MBA-school ‘business strategy’). That’s an important first narrowing of the field. Something else commonly mistaken for an operational business decision is a simulation of “what would happen if we did this operational task right now”. For example, let’s run a claim by all the behavioral business rules and see if the claim is acceptable before we do it for real. That’s simply a test, not a decision. That’s a second important narrowing of the field. Clearly we need a solid definition of what a decision is and isn’t in the context of business analysis. We define an ‘operational business decision’ as: a determination in day-to-day business activity requiring know-how or expertise; the resolving of a question by identifying some correct or optimal choice. To make such decisions you need decision rules (think classification or inference rules) that ‘map’ cases to outcomes. Decision rules are one type of definitional rule. The two types of business rules in SBVR are definitional rules and behavioral rules. Business capabilities do usually involve large numbers of decision rules, but they also always involve large numbers of behavioral rules. Behavioral rules are rules you can violate, like speeding through a school zone. There’s no decision to that … you either are or you aren’t speeding. Well, you may have made a personal decision to speed, but let me tell you, City Hall doesn’t care. Personal decisions – out of scope too, a third important narrowing of the field.

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