Amongst our business rules are… I’ll come in again

Business rules are key to the efficient and flexible functioning of BPM systems, but what should the analyst do when the Business does not know what the rules are?

Wait a moment! Surely the Business always knows what its own rules are. Not necessarily. Businesses often have to respond quickly to market changes and the behaviour of competitors. In order to demonstrate agility, the CEO of a company might therefore announce to market analysts that the company will have X system in place by then end of Q2. Similarly, a government minister might respond to political pressures and announce a change in policy which requires a new IT system. The CEO or minister will then turn to senior management and say “Make it so.”

In those circumstances, the Business is placed under severe pressure, especially when the proposed policies and processes are completely new. You would expect the business rules to start coming out during the As Is modelling and developed further during To Be modelling, but sometimes either or both of these models are not produced in order to “save time”. In some cases the rules are not really considered until the requirements gathering stage.

The Business might also be ignorant of its own rules because the details of those rules are buried deep within the code of various software programmes, but not documented outside those systems in a way that can easily be read and understood by humans.

Problems can also arise when different Business representatives cannot agree on what the rule should be or how it should be expressed, especially if they represent different departments.

It’s very easy to allow fear to take over in these circumstances. The Business representatives might be fearful because they are expected to leap into the unknown and produce a working system within a tight schedule. The software producers might be afraid that if they don’t get the business rules, development will be delayed and the Business will try to blame them. This frame of mind helps nobody.

Unknown business rules should be handled in a structured way so that they can be managed. You will start by identifying where the the rule is needed. Modelling the process visually will draw the rules out. At the very least, you should document the intent of the rule. If the detail of the rule is unknown, you will need to do the following:

  • Get the Business to make an assumption about the detail of the rule. For example, if the rule involves a number, get them to make an educated guess about what the number should be.
  • Document the assumption.
  • Agree a deadline with the Business for confirming the rule.
  • Make it clear to the Business that the assumption will become the requirement if no confirmation is received by the deadline.

If the Business does not have enough information even to be able to make an assumption, then you must document a risk assessment against that rule and inform the project manager.

You need to be firm with the Business and help them appreciate the risks if they do not define their rules in a timely fashion. However, don’t be too harsh. They aren’t expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition, after all.

Of course, you could always just give ’em the comfy chair.

Kind regards,

Declan Chellar

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