Essence Definitions and Business Rules ~ Developing Stable Anchor Points for Operational Knowledge

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal , and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross
Developing Stable Anchor Points for Operational Knowledge

The central idea of the business rules approach is that any aspect of business guidance or know-how that might change should be treated as rules.   In forming definitions, therefore, the practitioner should always focus what is unlikely to ever change -- that is, on the fundamental essence of business concepts.   We call such statements essence definitions .

For example, consider the definition of 'customer' proposed by a practitioner in a real-life project.

Customer:   An organization or individual person that has placed at least one paid order during the previous two years

Consider the areas of business practice that might change over time:

  • That a customer may be either an organization or an individual person.

  • That placing orders is the core criterion for being a customer.

  • That a minimum of exactly one order is a criterion for being a customer.

  • That an order having been paid is a criterion for being a customer.

  • That the timeframe of exactly two years is a criterion for being a customer.

Now consider the Webster's definition (2a) of 'customer'.

Customer:   one that purchases some commodity or service; especially: one that purchases systematically or frequently

The Webster's version is clearly better.   The embedded business practices of the practitioner's version should be treated as forms of guidance, as follows.

Rule:   A customer always places at least one paid order during the previous two years.

Clarification:   A customer may be an organization or individual person.

Is the Webster's definition exclusively 'essence'?   Almost, but not quite.   Note the word 'purchases' in the 2a definition.   Having to purchase something to be a customer is a constraint.   Many people (especially marketing!) would probably not want to place that constraint on being a 'customer'.

We might therefore want to go the Webster's definition one better by relaxing the embedded 'purchases' constraint, as follows.   (This modification builds on the sense of Webster's definition 4, so actually we are not going very far afield.   Straying from Webster's is always the last-ditch option.)

Customer:   one that purchases or that might purchase some commodity or service

This is about as close to pure essence as a definition for this concept could possibly become -- a very stable anchor point for encoding operational business knowledge.

# # #

Standard citation for this article:


citations icon
Ronald G. Ross , "Essence Definitions and Business Rules ~ Developing Stable Anchor Points for Operational Knowledge" Business Rules Journal Vol. 6, No. 5, (May 2005)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2005/b233.html

About our Contributor:


Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal , and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the IPSpeak methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:


Ron serves as Executive Editor of BRCommunity.com and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997., now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on http://www.brsolutions.com/category/blog/. For more information about Ron visit www.RonRoss.info. Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross
Subscribe to the eBRJ Newsletter
In The Spotlight
 Jim  Sinur
 Silvie  Spreeuwenberg

Online Interactive Training Series

In response to a great many requests, Business Rule Solutions now offers at-a-distance learning options. No travel, no backlogs, no hassles. Same great instructors, but with schedules, content and pricing designed to meet the special needs of busy professionals.