Using a business rules approach prior to developing system requirements is a thorough way to ensure all issues are covered before you get started.
Every company has business rules that govern how things will work. Often business rules are well known across the enterprise, but undocumented. It’s these rules that can trip you up when you’re planning for a new system. Knowing all the business rules that are established and used in day-to-day work prior to defining system requirements will help you understand the scope of the work.
So what is a business rule anyway? According to Wikipedia:
“A business rule is a rule that defines or constrains some aspect of business and always resolves to either true or false. Business rules are intended to assert business structure or to control or influence the behavior of the business.”
Business rules help a company fulfill its mission and goals. When collecting and documenting business rules, it’s important that you focus at the enterprise level, not just the project level.
Ronald Ross, author of Principles of the Business Rule Approach, describes ten basic principles of the business rule approach. He believes that rules should:
- Be written and made explicit.
- Be expressed in plain language.
- Exist independent of procedures and workflows.
- Build on facts, and facts should build on concepts as represented by terms.
- Guide or influence behavior in desired ways.
- Be motivated by identifiable and important business factors.
- Be accessible to authorized parties.
- Be single sourced.
- Be specified directly by those people who have relevant knowledge.
- Be managed.
Basically, a business rule is well defined when the person who is expected to follow it can do so in an effective and consistent manner when required. Here’s an example of a business rule.
A customer’s phone service can’t be suspended for nonpayment unless:
- They are more than fifteen days delinquent
- They were on a payment plan and have stopped making payments
- They have been notified of the planned suspension
To Collect Business Rules, Gather Input From Many Sources
- First, identify key processes or areas of focus that you will be collecting information for such as finance, customer service, operations, etc. No need to document processes at this point, just capture the main process areas.
- Then create a questionnaire to be completed by key stakeholders that will provide you with a starting point. This questionnaire should include thought provoking, information gathering, general questions to help you learn about how the business works. For example, if you’re focusing on customer service, you might ask, “How do customers pay bills?”
- Next you’ll gather any rule or policy documents that already exist, dig through them and pull out business rules.
- Finally, conduct a work session with subject matter experts to discuss processes and rules around your area of focus. Listen carefully here for business rules that you’ll need to capture. People get so used to working within a company’s defined culture that they often don’t realize it when they are citing a rule.
Put It All Together
Once you’ve received information from all your sources — questionnaires, rules and policy documents, and work sessions – it’s important to consolidate them into one document for review by key stakeholders. An excel spreadsheet works pretty well for this unless you have an alternative method.
And once you have all of your business rules set, you can tackle defining the requirements that will solve that business rule in your new system.