Enabling Operational Excellence
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Ten Rules for Validating Business Rules with Business People

Here are some practical do’s and don’ts we’ve learned on the years for validating business rules with business people in facilitated sessions. I should warn you, some of these points are counterintuitive.  
  1. Determine whether there is already a trusted source or implementation for a rule. Always re-use, don’t rewrite.
  2. Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. Document them and move on.
  3. Limit discussion about organizational responsibilities for applying the rules. That’s a different discussion.
  4. A rule only addresses exactly what it says explicitly.  For example, “high credit usage” doesn’t necessarily mean “high risk”.
  5. How strictly a rule is to be enforced is a separate issue from just what it says. Focus on practicality and precision, not on whether a rule is strictly enforced or just a guideline.
  6. Don’t jump into whether or not current data elements support some aspect of the rule. That’s system design.
  7. Take it as a given that analytics might be used to sharpen some rules. That’s homework.
  8. The goal is consistency and precision for people too, not just for automation.
  9. Avoid brain churn. Eliminate all matters from further discussion except what remains uncertain. If a rule in isolation is not that important, just move on.
  10. Rules are living, breathing things. Don’t be afraid to put a stake in the ground, e.g., a specific number for a threshold, because with well-managed rules, it can be changed at any time.

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What Role for Business Rules in *Business Analysis*? One of the ‘Must-Knows’ of Business Rules …

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Business Rules Manifesto[1] http://www.businessrulesgroup.org/brmanifesto.htm FAQ #4 Question: What role should business rules play in business analysis? Business rules are what you need to run the business. You would need them even if you had no systems. So it makes sense that business rules should be captured and expressed in a form that business people and subject matter experts can understand. That way they can ensure that the business rules are correct. If you are designing systems – and that usually is the case – there’s simply no point implementing rules that aren’t correct. So the Manifesto says …

5.1 Business rules should be expressed in such a way that they can be validated for correctness by business people.

Validation and correctness, however, are not the only focus for business analysis with business rules. Another is whether each rule can be justified as being truly productive for the business. Businesses often accrue so many rules over time (include ‘exceptions’ in that!) that their spiraling complexity results in rapidly diminishing return. So the cost-effectiveness of every business rule should be assessed, at least informally. To do so, first you must recognize there is cost associated with each rule. The Manifesto makes that point explicit …

8.2 Rules always cost the business something.

A rule’s true cost, however, might not be exactly what you think – the platform costs may be relatively insignificant. Instead, the principal cost of most rules is organizational. Rules must be documented. They must be taught to new hires. They must be explained to external parties. All these things take time – and time is money. Also note carefully: This overhead doesn’t decrease with each additional rule – it increases. The more rules, the more complexity. The Manifesto in no way suggests that more rules is better. Just the opposite; it emphasizes that a smaller number of good rules is always better. Better to start with a smaller number, then add more as you go. The Manifesto puts it this way …

8.5. An effective system can be based on a small number of rules.  Additional, more discriminating rules can be subsequently added, so that over time the system becomes smarter.

It’s simply a myth that you have to know all the rules before designing and building productive business systems. Just the opposite is true. You can deploy a simpler solution initially, then add rules later on as time and insight permits. Fortunately, rule-based systems are extremely good at incremental design – the goal of many an agile project.  

[1] The Manifesto is free, only 2 pages long, translated into 15 languages. Have a quick look (or re-look!). No sign up required. Well worth your time.

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