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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New Book Release: Real-World Decision Modeling with DMN

I am pleased to announce the release of James Taylor’s and my comprehensive guide to decision modeling with the Object Management Group’s Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard. The book, “Real-World Decision Modeling with DMN”, has been published by Meghan-Kiffer Press and is now on general release, available from Amazon in paper and Kindle versions. It is also available from Barnes and Noble.

Decision Modeling is an important technique for improving the effectiveness, consistency and agility of an organization’s operational decisions and a vital enabler of the continuous improvement of its business processes. DMN is a standard that is integrated with many other established industry standards. It has been created by experienced practitioners and is maintained by the Object Management Group (OMG; a prominent standards authority). It is flexible and extensible. It is already supported by over 14 software tools. Indeed, DMN represents the most complete and best supported means of modeling business decisions that is currently available or likely to become available in the near future.

“A well-defined, well-structured approach to Decision Modeling (using the OMG international DMN standard) gives a repeatable, consistent approach to decision-making and also allows the crucial ‘why?’ question to be answered—how did we come to this point and what do we do next? The key to accountability, repeatability, consistency and even agility is a well-defined approach to business decisions, and the standard and this book gets you there.”
Richard Mark Soley, Ph.D., Chairman and CEO, Object Management Group, Inc.

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Introduction to Decision Modeling 6

Ahead of the publication of our joint book on Decision Modeling, to be released later this year, James Taylor and I have made a series of video shorts about business decision modeling. In this last video, James and I talk about real benefits that decision modeling using DMN delivered to our clients on some recent engagements. Specifically we discuss how the use of decision modeling:

  • Speeds up business rule and data requirements discovery, quickly identifying wrong assumptions and mistakes
  • Adds effective communication and consistency between teams and across projects
  • Improved business subject matter experts, analyst, developer and program manager engagement and ownership
  • Managing size, complexity and rapid change in business requirements
  • Improves the definition of the automation boundary
  • Gave better tracability between internal decision definitions and external regulations

Let us know what you think. Review the firstsecondthirdfourth and fifth posts of this series. Find out more about decision modeling and its benefits. Talk to us about decision modeling mentoring and training.

Introduction to Decision Modeling 5

Ahead of the publication of our joint book on Decision Modeling, to be released later this year, James Taylor and I have made a series of video shorts about business decision modeling. In this brief video, James and I talk about the real difference between business rules and business decisions, including:

  • How rules and decisons differ for the business organization that defines them
  • Their different relationships with the business process
  • Their different business value

Let us know what you think. Review the firstsecondthird and fourth posts of this series. Find out more about decision modeling. Talk to us about decision modeling mentoring and training.

In our next post we’ll discuss our experience of using decision modeling with clients and how they benefited from the technique.

New Book: Real-World Decision Modeling with DMN

I’m very pleased to announce my collaboration with James Taylor, CEO of Decision Management Solutions, on a definitive guide to Decision Modeling with the Object Management Group’s Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard. Our book, “Real-World Decision dmn front coverModeling with DMN”, will be published by Meghan-Kiffer Press in Q4-2016.

James has a vast experience of Decision Modeling and is a prominent member of the Object Management Group (OMG) panel that designed the DMN standard. He practically invented the term Decision Management. Like us, he has been applying Decision Modeling techniques to help companies master and improve their Business Decisions since the first standards emerged over five years ago. James is an insightful, shrewd and accomplished man and working with him is a real pleasure. We both aim to enrich the book with our practical experience of using DMN on large projects.

This comprehensive book will provide a complete explanation of the Decision Modeling technique, the DMN standard and of the business benefits of using it. Full of examples and best practices developed on real projects, it will help new decision modelers to quickly get up to speed while also providing crucial patterns and advice for more those with more experience.

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Ruleflows Considered Harmful

ruleflow

For some time users of Business Rule Management Systems (BRMS) have used rule execution sequence as a means of binding together and orchestrating the rules in a set—providing a ‘top level’ view of their content. Nearly all BRMS products have enshrined this idea in the ‘ruleflow’ concept. In many of these products the creation of a ruleflow is seen as a standard step in packaging a rule set and many rule authors find it a natural activity.

We argue, using an example, that not only are flows rarely required, but that they are frequently harmful to the agility of a rule set, can introduce harmful and hard to find errors and can make rule sets difficult to understand by business users. Furthermore, users frequently misunderstand the goal of ruleflows and misuse them.

We show that there is an alternative to ruleflows that orchestrates rules (especially large rule sets) more effectively and is easier to understand—the business decision model.

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How Decision Modeling Allows Business Rules to Scale

Experience has shown that sets of business rules, even those administered using Business Rule Management Systems (BRMS), become very hard to manage and understand once they reach a certain level of size and complexity. Although small, very tightly focused rule sets can be effective for simple business domains, large rule sets are challenging to create and even harder to maintain. Small rule sets that become large over time (scale up) present the most difficulty. They are at risk of collapsing under the weight of their own growing complexity or becoming the sole preserve of a small number of ‘gurus’ and ‘high priests’ who alone understand them—defeating a key objective of business rules.

In a previous article, I described how to overcome the challenges of maintaining a business rules over a long period. But how can you manage the complications of rapidly growing rule sets: keeping them easy to understand, changing them safely without unintended consequences  and avoiding ‘stale’ and duplicate rules? Here we show, by example, how Decision Modeling, used from the outset can address all these problems and we discuss in more detail the difference between business decisions and business rules.

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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 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 and open to wide review. Modeling reveals how decisions can be decomposed into smaller sub-decisions for scalability and exactly what data and business knowledge are required to support them. This thorough understanding of decision dependencies enables effective change impact assessments and leads to agile change cycles. These advantages cannot be provided by existing approaches like Business Rules.

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. Here, we explain why.

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The Role of Decision Management in Financial Compliance

James Taylor, CEO of Decision Management Solutions, and I co-presented a webinar earlier this month to discuss the application of business rules and business decisions in implementing financial compliance solutions.

We agreed that regulatory compliance (e.g., Basel III, FED 5G, FATCA) is a problem well suited to a Business Rules approach. Primarily because:

  • it is repeatable and tractable to automation
  • it demands transparency and traceability (regulations need to be followed and be seen to be followed) which implies the rules need to be expressed in business English
  • regulations change frequently and typically mandate a ‘short time to market’
  • it requires a degree of rigor to cope with the complexity of regulation
  • it stipulates many regional variations in business logic which need to be coordinated

However, we identified five key issues for financial compliance and discussed why business rules alone do not fully address these challenges. In summary, we feel that Business Rules alone does not resolve:

  • how business metrics can be used to monitor the effectiveness of compliance rules
  • ‘big picture’ impact analysis to a compliance rule set when regulations or underlying financial conditions change
  • the need to consistently apply a compliance policy throughout a complex business process
  • the ability to precisely define rule semantics and align them to compliance policies
  • the ability to scale a rule set while maintaining coherence

Decision management can address these issues and the webinar illustrates this with a demo of a compliance decision model using DecisionsFirst Modeler. Please see the recording of the webinar at http://decisionmanagementsolutions.com/agile-and-cost-effective-financial-compliance

If anyone is using decision management (or just business rules) for financial compliance I would be most interested in your views.

 

The Decision Model: Business Rules Grow Up

The world of business rules and business rule management has grown up. Welcome to the world of business decisions—a much more compelling technique with which companies can manage their operational business policies.

Until now business decision analysis and maintenance—the means by which business logic is discovered within current business practices, mined from opaque legacy systems, represented in transparent format and managed as a business asset directly understood by business subject matter experts—has been rather vendor-specific and lacking in rigour and scalability. Many methods are available (e.g., EDM, ABRD and BRS), but all are either lacking in formal structure, subjective and/or poorly supported by tools. Developments of the past few years have changed this.

With the advent of The Decision Model (TDM) and tools (like BiZZDesign, Sapiens DECISION and OpenRules) that support it, an era of new rigour and effectiveness has dawned within enterprise decision management.  TDM, a precise method and framework for expressing business decisions, has addressed many of the flaws of business rules and prompted a slow evolution from business rules to business decisions. We examine these flaws, what TDM can do for you and the promise and power of this approach.

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