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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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.

Who Models Business Decisions?

One of the main motivations that James Taylor and I had for writing our book Real World Decision Modeling with DMN  was sharing our experience of using decision modeling on many large projects and training engagements. One specific question that interested us was: “who uses Decision Modeling?

James recently discussed how Decision Modeling is used. Assuming your organization is persuaded of the benefits of Decision Modeling, which specific project team members are most often tasked with building and maintaining a decision model (using DMN, TDM or any other notation)? We present our project experiences here. Let us know if and how yours are different.

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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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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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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 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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