Realistic Rulebooking

April 12 013

A rule book is ‘what’ I’ve identified as the end product of documenting business rules to support the delivery of superior business achievements, but I’ve been revisiting this in my ponderings this fortnight.

See, if I was going to talk about the whys and hows of documenting business rules I might as well just refer you to Mr Ronald Ross, the ‘father of Business Rules’ as he would give a much more authoritative explanation than me.

And I do see the value in taking a business rules approach by identifying and clarifying the business rules of an organisation.

However the things I have always grappled with are:

  • What organisation has the time, resources and motivation to identify ALL its business rules – and thus get to the point of having a reliable rule book?
  • Is it really cost effective for an organisation to get to this point?
  • And how can a rule book be genuinely implemented and maintainable without a huge whizz bangingly wonderful rule engine system to support it (a system that I’ve always assumed would be very expensive to purchase, populate and implement)?

So – as I said – I have been doing a bit of pondering on this subject so as to finally get the application of business rules straight in my head. The next challenge is to articulate my thoughts in a way that makes sense to another sane human (my husband would suggest I remove the “nother”) so I’m going to take a numbered approach through my logic path. You’ll just have to bear with me this week. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on any of these points or my logic as a whole.

1. The only ‘thing’ that goes far enough toward providing a black and white statement on what is or is not acceptable in an organisation is a business rule. (‘An IT Support Officer must complete the setting up of a new staff member’s email account within 2 days of receiving a job request.’ or ‘A new policy must be reviewed by the lead business architect prior to being submitted to Executive for approval.’)

2. Some areas may perform well enough without business rules (probably depending on the tenure and quality of the people in a team at a given point in time), but some areas will not meet, let alone exceed, behavioural or performance expectations without these expectations being clearly set out.

3. Business rules can be identified / extracted from many places. If you are operationalising strategy and other components of a rigorous organisational model – when you’re bedding down goals, constraints, principles, policies, processes, metrics and the data that needs to be collected to report against metrics – it is inevitable that the pile of business rules will stack
up. It doesn’t take long to start identifying what must and must not happen when you dig below the surface of each component. Therefore you ideally need a usable and scalable way to manage all these rules.

4. Business rules are implemented into processes. Thinking back to a previous post on traceability I still think that it’s so important. It’s all very well having a strategy, or a process, or a reporting requirement, but if they don’t line and link up, you’ve just got burdens on your back that are not going to let you achieve what you want. The ultimate level of implementation is processes (or procedures) that are being adhered to and maintained. Therefore to comply with business rules, you must embed them within process. Some would argue that there are some ad hoc unproceduralised actions with associated ad hoc business rules… Well I am unconvinced, but will leave this thought experiment for another time.

5. Therefore, the most practical way of presenting business rules may well be as an overlay on documented business processes. Expect this idea to come up again when we explore business processes.

6. …And rulebooks? Well maybe they still are useful in terms of the ultimate repository of business rules for an organisation. (Especially so for a forward thinking organisation that wants to not only standardize business rules across areas, but also leverage existing business rules when they are identifying business rules for a new business area).

7. The thing with an aligned organisational model though is that every concept (including each business rule) should be able to be traced back to the other concepts (eg the relevant metrics). Which is an EXCELLENT thing. It means when you change one process or rule or goal, as you know what all the other linkages are, you quickly know what else needs to change.

So if you change a metric from focussing on the number of resolved customer enquiries you have in a period of time to being about how many customer queries you receive, you know that the business rules need to shift to being about when information gets posted on your website instead of about (or in addition to) within how many days a customer query must be addressed. Hopefully you can work backwards yourself and think about what the initiating change in strategy might have been!

So at the end of today’s spiel, I am happy to still support the need for a Rule Book in an organisation seeking alignment, cost effectiveness and success. However I still think the format of a rule repository is up for grabs.

I think it is worth exploring this further though, so what do you think?

What is the best way to hold these rules so that they can be most practical and complied with? And what do you think of documenting business rules in your organisation?

What do you think?