The Role of Rule Analyst (Part 1)
As an organization matures in the business rules approach, there arises a growing recognition of the value of managing business rules over the long term. This generally leads to the next logical step -- establishing a rule management function. One of the critical success factors of this function is the development of a new role -- that of Rule Analyst.
This article describes the roles and responsibilities of a Rule Analyst. It discusses:
- the organizational positioning of the role
- the responsibilities of the role
- the personality traits of a Rule Analyst
- the difference between a Rule Analyst and a Business Analyst
- the skills required for the role
- what the job of Rule Analyst really entails
- how to be effective in the role
For this article, the term 'business rules' refers to the plain language expression of the rules, not the implementation form.
In order to understand the role of Rule Analyst, it is important to understand how the role fits into the organizational structure. Generally, the requirement for Rule Analysts arises because of the establishment of a rule management function.
"To support the specification, organization, and improvement of business rules for the benefit of company business practices."
The rule management function is most often a centralized function that supports either a business area or the entire organization. The function provides a cross-departmental/cross-project perspective and usually coordinates rule-related activities across these groups.
The rule management function may be a stand-alone department or it may be a part of an overall business architecture function. It generally reports to a business executive, although, in some cases, it is part of the Information Technology (IT) department.
The function provides a centralized location to manage business rules across their entire life cycle from inception to retirement. This process can be considered the governance process of an organization.
Defining the Role of Rule Analyst
- valid (i.e., they accurately represent the business intent)
- verified (i.e., they are logically consistent within a set of rules)
Rule Analysts often act in a consulting capacity to a project. They can provide value to a project by:
- kick-starting the analysis by supplying existing business rules that are within the scope of the project,
- assisting with expressing the business rules, and
- reviewing the business rules for adherence to standards and guidelines.
A Rule Analyst maintains the traceability of each rule (i.e., where the rule came from and where it is implemented) in order to be able to perform impact analysis when the rules change. The impact analysis may include analysis of the impact to all the components of the architecture (terminology, workflow, etc.).
A Rule Analyst encourages the reuse of terminology and business rules. This is a difficult task, as it requires a cultural change, but it is critical to the success of managing the rules.
Although the job may vary somewhat from one organization to another, it generally consists of the basic responsibilities outlined in the table below.
Rule Analyst's Responsibilities
Assist business in identifying existing rules.
Research the meaning and origin of business rules.
Ensure the quality of the rules (consistent syntax, readability, etc.).
Ensure consistent terminology is used in the rules.
Maintain traceability for business rules.
Analyze business rules to identify conflicts, redundancies, etc.
Ensure the consistency of business rules across functions, geographical areas, and systems.
Conduct impact analysis for revising or replacing business rules.
Integrate new or revised rules into the existing set of rules.
Make recommendations for business rule changes based on business knowledge.
Facilitate resolution of business rule issues.
Act in a consulting capacity to a project team.
Act as liaison between business and Information Technology (IT) staff.
Promote awareness about the business rules approach.
The Personality Traits of a Rule Analyst
Being a Rule Analyst requires more than a set of learned skills; there is a certain personality that comes with the territory. Although the traits of this personality can be developed or refined, they cannot be taught.
The key traits of a Rule Analyst are very similar to that of a Business Analyst and are described in the table below (in alphabetical order). A Rule Analyst should strive to develop these traits.
Personality Trait Description Ability to see the 'big picture' A Rule Analyst needs to keep the 'big picture' in mind when analyzing a set of rules. A Rule Analyst must also be able to see how disparate projects or change initiatives fit together and impact each other, particularly with respect to the rules. Ability to work at a detailed level As well as being able to see the 'big picture', a Rule Analyst needs to be able to zero in on the smallest details, as it can be the little things that make or break the effectiveness of a business rule. Adaptability As Heraclitus said over 2000 years ago, "There is nothing permanent except change." If it was true in his day, it is exponentially truer today. A Rule Analyst must be flexible in approach, comfortable with ambiguity, and good-natured about last-minute changes. Analytical ability A Rule Analyst must be able to partition a large set of rules in a logical fashion to enable validation and verification of the rules. The ability to break things down into manageable parts is innate. Diplomacy A Rule Analyst must always exercise tact and consideration in dealing with others, whether they are senior managers, IT staff, or front line employees. A Rule Analyst implements change; considerable effort is required to keep feathers unruffled along the way. Empathy As an agent of change, a Rule Analyst introduces disruption into people's lives. It is essential that he/she empathize with people so that changes can be implemented in the least disruptive, most considerate manner. Fluency A Rule Analyst must have a facility with language. This includes verbalization, vocabulary and a good grasp of grammar. In some organizations, this may also mean being fluent in more than one language. Inquisitiveness A Rule Analyst must be like a three-year-old child, always asking "why?" He/she must be relentless when it comes to asking questions, even seemingly 'dumb' ones, in order to dig down to the business motivation of a rule. Curiosity is also necessary to learn about the business. Leadership The ability to inspire confidence and motivate others to buy into managing business rules is essential for success. Mentoring ability A Rule Analyst must have the ability to help others learn about the concepts and rationale behind the business rules approach. This applies not only to mentoring other Rule Analysts, but also to coaching each person that is new to the approach. Objectivity It is very important for a Rule Analyst to remain 'outside the fray', that is, to not get involved in political maneuvering or interdepartmental struggles. A Rule Analyst must be able to objectively identify the business implications associated with the rules and ensure that the business properly considers each one. Problem-solving ability A Rule Analyst needs to be able to look at a problem from all angles and find multiple solutions. Each solution must address all aspects of the problem and be assessed as to its advantages and disadvantages. Quick learner Although a Rule Analyst should have a solid knowledge of the business, it is impossible to know everything. Therefore he/she must be able to learn quickly about various aspects of the business. Self-motivation A Rule Analyst must be willing to 'step up to the plate' and get things done, rather than waiting to be told what to do. He/she does not complain about a situation, but seeks to do something about it. Team orientation A Rule Analyst needs to be able to operate in a team setting and relate to people at all levels of the organization. Trustworthiness A Rule Analyst needs to win the trust and support of the people being affected by the business rules approach. This means always being as honest as possible as well as delivering on promises.
Although the list appears rather daunting, it can be narrowed down to what I would consider the five most crucial traits:
- Analytical ability
- Problem-solving ability
In my experience, these seem to be the ones that successful Rule Analysts exhibit the most.
Rule Analyst vs. Business Analyst
Role vs. Position
In most organizations, 'Business Analyst' is a defined position with different levels and corresponding pay structure. 'Rule Analyst', however, is often a role rather than a position, particularly when it is first established.
A Rule Analyst can be considered a Business Analyst with a specialized focus. Business Analysts are often the main source for recruiting Rule Analysts.
Although the skills are very similar for both the Business Analyst and Rule Analyst, the focus of the work and the day-to-day activities are quite different. For example, a Business Analyst will likely facilitate sessions to help capture business rules; whereas, the Rule Analyst would likely review the outcome of those sessions.
The two roles need to work closely together. A Business Analyst, because they work closely with the business staff, has a good understanding of the business intent of the rules. A Rule Analyst is a great source for materials, knowledge about the existing rules, and awareness of other initiatives/projects.
A Business Analyst is generally concerned with a certain scope, either that of a business area or a project, whereas a Rule Analyst needs to maintain as broad a perspective as possible, potentially across the entire organization.
The perspective comes into play when examining the impact of a business rule -- a business analyst ensures that the rule functions within the scope of the business area or project, whereas the rule analyst is concerned with its fit into the entire set of known rules.
A Business Analyst is focused on meeting the objectives of a project or business area, which generally tend to be short-term. A Rule Analyst needs to think of the long-term impact of the business rules on the organization, particularly from the perspective of ensuring that the business rules are consistent with overall corporate governance.
This can sometimes lead to conflict; however, the approach should be to find a resolution that either meets both short and long-term objectives or at least moves the organization in the direction of the long-term objectives.
Types of Rules
While a Business Analyst is often responsible for capturing Process Rules as part of developing business requirements, a Rule Analyst will often play a more active role in defining Product/Service Rules as this is a very heads-down, complex task requiring extensive knowledge of rule structure and inter-dependencies.
Rule Life Cycle
A Business Analyst is concerned with the rules within the context of serving the immediate business needs. The Rule Analysts takes a longer-term view, being concerned with the entire life cycle of the rules -- from inception to implementation, through all changes until retirement.
Ronald G. Ross. Principles of the Business Rules Approach. Addison-Wesley, (c) 2003 ISBN: 0-201-78893-4.
Ronald G. Ross. Business Rule Concepts ~ Getting to the Point of Knowledge (Second Edition). Business Rule Solutions, LLC, (c)2005, 1998. ISBN: 0-941049-06-X.
Kristen Seer, "How to Develop Effective Business Analysts" (Parts 1-3)," Business Rules Journal, (May/July/Sept. 2002), URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2002/b106b.html
Dr. Silvie Spreeuwenberg,"Using Verification and Validation Techniques for High-quality Business Rules," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, (February 2003), URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2003/b132.html
 Taken from the Analyzing and Managing Business Rules seminar offered by Attaining Edge (www.attainingedge.com).
 For an excellent explanation of the difference between validation and verification, see Dr. Silvie Spreeuwenberg's article "Using Verification and Validation Techniques for High-quality Business Rules."
 The role will also vary based on the size of the organization. In smaller organizations, it may be combined with a more traditional Business Analyst role; however, it is important to keep the two roles distinct even if one person fills them. Alternatively, it may be part of a Business Architect role.
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