Why Every Business Analyst Should Be Able to Model Business Decisions

A decision model being edited

Introduction

In this article I propose that every business analyst should be capable of identifying and modeling business decisions precisely and transparently. They should use a prescribed, standard format to describe decision-making that can be understood by other analysts with minimal explanation, rather than the individualistic, ad-hoc spreadsheets, text documents or technical business rules that they so often use today. Business analysts should be as proficient in modelling decision as they are with data or process and decision modeling should be a recognized as a ‘tool of the trade’. Being able to precisely represent business data, process and decisions should be seen as essential to the analyst role.

Without this skill, vital business knowledge will be buried in the volumes of incoherent verbiage that constitutes most written specifications; lost in the heads of SMEs who ultimately leave the company; or obscured in millions of lines of programming code or equally obscure excel spreadsheets where it may safely hide without fear of discovery.

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How DMN is Different

In a recent article on the LinkedIn Group ‘The Decision Model and Notation (DMN)’, and on his own blog, Bruce Silver elegantly described why DMN is different to (and better than) other means of representing business decision models and asserted that these differences are set to make DMN of crucial importance to businesses that rely on their operational decisions. While I agree with Bruce’s feature list, I have some reservations about some of his observations.

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Our DMN 2.0 Wish List II: Decision Requirements

While James Taylor and I were collaborating on our Decision Modelling book and discussing our experiences of using DMN with clients, the question “what additional features should be adopted in the next major release?” frequently arose. We found that our respective wish lists had a lot in common, reflecting our views on decision modeling best practice. We decided to describe these proposed new features in a series of posts and encourage readers to give their own opinions.

We’ve already explained our wishes for the decision logic level of the standard. Here we consider the requirements level, mainly the Decision Requirements Diagram (DRD). As with the previous article in this series, wish items were constrained to new or amended notation, not method or approach.

Given this, do you agree with our items? What features would you like to see included in the decision requirements level of the standard?

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Our DMN 2.0 Wish List I: Decision Logic

While James Taylor and I were collaborating on our Decision Modelling book and discussing our experiences of using DMN with clients, the question “what additional features should be adopted in the next major release?” was a frequent subject of conversation. We found that our respective wish lists had a lot in common, reflecting our views on decision modeling best practice. We decided to describe these proposed new features in a series of posts and encourage readers to give their own opinions.

DMN (The Decision Model and Notation) is a way of representing  Decision Models using diagrams and text; it does not address issues such as method or approach. Therefore wishes must be constrained to new or amended notation. Given this, do you agree with our items? What features would you like to see included in the decision logic level of the standard?

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Why We Need a Book on DMN

When James Taylor and I began our collaboration on our new book ‘Real World Decision Modeling with DMN’ it begged the question: ‘Why is a book on DMN  necessary? After all there is a well-documented specification.

The Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard—a document defined and published by the Object Management Group (OMG)—does define the notation, so why is a book on Decision Modeling, and specifically DMN, needed? What can it do that the specification cannot? What should users of DMN be aware of that the specification cannot tell them?

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Why DMN? (In 1000 Words)

At the time of writing there are two major industry standards for modeling business decisionsThe Decision Model (TDM) defined by Sapiens Inc, established in 2009 and documented in The TDM book by Larry Goldberg and Barbara von Halle and The Decision Model and Notation (DMN) an open standard defined by the Object Management Group (OMG) in 2014 and version 1.1 is due to ratified later this year.

In this article we explain why, given the choice, you should model your business decisions using DMN as opposed to any other notation. Decision modelers should understand how TDM and DMN are similar, how they differ and their comparative strengths and weaknesses.

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Why Decision Modeling? (In 1000 Words)

In a recent article we explained why any organisation that makes business decisions needs decision management, what it is and how it helps them become more effective.

Decision Management is a means of explicitly identifying and nuturing your business’s operational decisions—much as you would any other vital business asset (like data or process)— so that you can describe, share, change manage and monitor their performance to see how they are contributing towards your enterprise goals. Decision Modeling focuses on representing decisions in a precise, standardized and transparent way.

Through Decision Modeling, businesses can:

  • Build and share a robust documentation of how their business decisions work, rendering them transparent, open to wide review and revealing any hidden flaws.
  • Tame complexity by decomposing complex decisions into smaller sub-decisions for scalability.
  • Prepare their decisions for external (compliance) audit by ensuring their behaviour can always be explained and justified against a specification.
  • Understand quickly exactly what data and business knowledge are required to support their business decisions.
  • Through a thorough understanding of decision dependencies, enable effective change impact assessments and agile change cycles.

These advantages cannot be provided by existing approaches like Business Rules alone.

In addition, decision models can be made so precise that they are executable. Modeling can also be the first step in automating decisions to reduce the cost of manual processes and capturing the expertise of manual decisions to avoid losing business expertise when key members of staff leave a company.

If your business systems make manual or automated decisions that influence your operations then you should consider adopting Business Decision Modeling as a matter of priority. Companies that leave their business decisions embedded in obscure program code, ‘technical’ business rules or in the heads of staff who manage manual operations, will be outmaneuvered by competitors who practice Decision Management and Decision Modeling and will be less able to justify the behaviour of their systems to an auditor. In this article we explain why.

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Why Decision Management? (In 1000 Words)

Do you ever have the feeling that running your business is rather like being on the prow of an ocean liner at full speed in a squall? You may have a feeling of progress, your engine-room may be generating considerable power, but ultimately: your route to the destination is not clearly visible, you cannot discern if the ship is tracking the right course towards that destination and you know that it would be difficult to change course quickly to avoid an obstacle if the need arose. Better, perhaps, to be in the bridge of a fully-equipped motorboat where you have charts that clearly define your destination and your route to it, a GPS which shows you how you are tracking that route and the ability to change course quickly and take advantage of ever changing prevailing circumstances.

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10 Reasons Why Business Decision Management is a Matter of ‘Do or Die’

Potential clients often ask: “why do businesses practice decision management: what’s the return on the investment?

If your business systems make any kind of automated decisions that influence your operations (e.g., dynamic product pricing, shortlisting up-sell opportunities for a customer, liquidity aggregation, risk management) and you have any competitors, then you need to adopt business decision management as a matter of priority. It’s as simple as that. Here is a short guide to decision management.

It’s no longer a matter of choice. Enterprises that leave these decisions embedded in their IT infrastructure, or in the heads of their human staff who manage manual operations, will be vanquished by those who practice mature decision management and can easily out-manoeuvre them. In this article we define the top ten reasons why decision management really is a case of ‘do or die’.

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Business Decisions and Business Rules: What’s the Difference?

Within the past ten years the business rule community has been referring increasingly to business ‘decisions’ in its books, papers and internet forums and somewhat less frequently to business ‘rules’. But what is a business decision? Is it a synonym of business rule? Some certainly seem to use it that way—some tabular rules even come in the form of ‘decision tables’.

Is ‘decision’ a new term for ‘rule’, invented to help with marketing of the same old ideas for comparatively ‘new’ disciplines like Enterprise Decision Management? Are decisions the new rules, or just hype? Or is a decision a genuinely new idea in its own right?  Are business rules and business decisions compatible: can they be used together, or must one choose between them?

This article explains our view—forged by front-line experiences and reading over the past decade—that business decisions and rules are very different things.

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