A Relationship between Process and Business Rules

Gladys S.W.  Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal , and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Gladys S.W. Lam

Are there rules without processes?

After a long, exhausting day of screaming at my daughter to "do this," "don't do this," "walk, don't run," or "be quiet," I always find myself staring at her sleeping at night and think to myself "what a perfect angel"  Why is she so perfect while she is asleep?  Every parent knows…  It is because she is not breaking any rules.

Remember the philosophical question:  "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?"  Similarly, "do rules exist while a child is sleeping?"

The answer to our question is yes… rules exist.  However, without a child who is awake to perform a task (i.e., conduct processes), the rules are not applied (i.e., complied with or violated).

Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules

In a Business Rule Approach, rules should be viewed as guiding all tasks.  However, when organizing rules from a process perspective, I find separating rules as 'Task Independent' and 'Task Dependent' very useful.

  • Task Independent Rules are rules that govern behavior no matter what you are doing.

  • Task Dependent Rules are rules that guide a specific process.

When I ask my daughter for some examples of Task Independent Rules, she immediately says "don't hit people," " don't lie," and "don't steal."  To her, these are Task Independent Rules -- you don't hit people, lie, or steal in any situation, whether it is playing monopoly, doing homework, or attending class.

Task Dependent Rules guide the specific process you are performing.  For example, there is a set of rules that apply when playing monopoly.  You will likely not use the rule "You must have three houses to build a hotel" in any other situation.

Handling Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules

Our businesses also have Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules.  A Task Independent Rule may be "An order must be charged to a valid account number."  This rule applies to all processes that create or change orders and account numbers.  A Task Dependent Rule may be "The Net Pay must be calculated as Gross Pay less Deductions."  This rule only applies to the process "Calculate Employee Pay."

Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules should be managed and executed differently.  In order to effectively manage and execute these rules, we need a Rule Management Tool and a Rule Execution Tool.

The Rule Management Tool must be able to:

  1. Organize Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules in one repository.

  2. Relate Task Dependent Rules to the process(es) that require the rules.  These rules should be associated to each process and not replicated.

  3. Report all rules related to one process.

  4. Report all Task Independent Rules.

  5. Show all the processes that a particular rule is involved in.

The Rule Execution Tool must be able to:

  1. Enforce Task Dependent Rules with an easy way to trigger the rules. This is fairly common. Most commercial rules engine can handle this function.

  2. Enforce Task Independent Rules with minimal triggering required.  This is a more advanced feature for rules engines.  Imagine a Task Independent Rule that impacts fifteen processes.  You do not want to have to trigger this rule from each of the fifteen processes.  It is more desirable to have a rule engine that can automatically detect the event when the rule needs to be triggered.

Going back to my sleeping child, the rules are there even when the child is sleeping.  As soon as the child wakes up and conducts a task (process), the rules are complied with or violated.  When she plays 'go fish' with her friends, there are a set of rules of the game that her friends ensure she complies with.  These rules are Task Dependent Rules.  When she gets upset and pulls her friend's hair, she violates a Task Independent Rule.  An alert rules engine (a.k.a mother) should then fire up and apply the appropriate enforcement.  A not-so-alert rules engine will not notice and let the bad behavior continue.

Just Remember…

Plainly speaking, here are some of the main things you need to remember:

  • In a Business Rule Approach, all rules should be viewed as guiding all tasks.  However, when organizing rules from a process perspective, separating rules as 'Task Independent' and 'Task Dependent' is useful.

  • You should be able to access all rules (Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules) easily.

  • Task Dependent Rules guide one or more processes.

  • Task Independent and Task Dependent Rules are handled differently by Rule Management Tools and Rule Execution Tools

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Standard citation for this article:


citations icon
Gladys S.W. Lam , "A Relationship between Process and Business Rules" Business Rules Journal Vol. 4, No. 9, (Sep. 2003)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2003/b166.html

About our Contributor:


Gladys  S.W. Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal , and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Gladys S.W. Lam is a world-renowned authority on applied business rule techniques. She is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC (BRSolutions.com), the most recognized company world-wide for business rules and decision analysis. BRS provides methodology, publications, consulting services, and training. Ms. Lam is Co-Creator of IPSpeak, the BRS methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak. She is Co-Founder of BRCommunity.com, a vertical community for professionals and home of Business Rules Journal. She co-authored Building Business Solutions, an IIBA® sponsored handbook on business analysis with business rules.

Ms. Lam is widely known for her lively, pragmatic style. She speaks internationally at conferences, public seminars and other professional events. She is also Executive Director of Building Business Capability (BBC) Conference, which includes the Business Rules & Decisions Forum and the Business Analysis Forum.

Ms. Lam is a world-renowned expert on business project management, having managed numerous projects that focus on the large-scale capture, analysis and management of business rules. She advises senior management of large companies on organizational issues and on business solutions to business problems. She has extensive experience in related areas, including BPM, structured business strategy, and managing and implementing information systems.

Ms. Lam is most recognized for her ability to identify the source of business issues, and for her effectiveness in developing pragmatic approaches to resolve them. She has gained a world-class reputation for fostering positive professional relationships with principals and support staff in projects. Ms. Lam graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Computer Science.

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