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Rule Observatory

Do Business Rules Eliminate the Need for Processes?

by Silvie Spreeuwenberg

Many discussions on LinkedIn (and similar venues) argue energetically about the relationship between rules and process.  Most of them leave me with the feeling that:

  • someone wants to make 'their' thing more important than the other, or
  • someone feels threatened by the option of being 'replaced' by the other.

As a specialist in business rules I would like to emphasize that both are wrong.  In most situations you need process and rules to be equally important.

The following thought experiment is very useful in workshops and group settings to get a better understanding of the relationship between business rules and business process.

Once upon a time there was a terrible virus named BRV (for business rules virus) that could remove all rules or all processes overnight in a company.  Two competing companies were affected by this virus.  One company lost all its processes, and the other lost all its rules.  The two attacked companies were lucky in that they both had their operations well documented prior to the virus attack and all the customer and transaction data was still available.  But the virus was severe:  both people and systems had a complete blackout for one of these assets of the company.

The question that I like to ask my audience in a workshop is:

Which company will be the first to return to running business as usual — the company that lost its rule assets or the company that lost its process assets?

Most participants eventually reach the conclusion that the one who lost its rules will have the hardest time.  A common mistake is to conclude that an organization's processes are less important or that an organization can do without them.

Definition of process

Let's be clear that every organization has processes, whether explicitly described or not, because a process is an emergent result of anything one does.  However, for the sake of my argument here I need to limit the notion of 'process' to a predefined process description (excluding emergent behavior).

Can we do without predefined process descriptions?

Well, of course we can.  We (as in humans) are well equipped to deal with a situation that does not have a process description — for example, playing chess.  You know the rules; you play the game.  The smartest player follows the rules, develops the best process, and wins, right?

Yes, an organization can deal without predefined process descriptions since the business consists of people who can, by definition, deal with a bunch of rules.  But the daily operations of organizations are increasingly automated — and computers can't deal with just a bunch of rules.  Computers need a predefined process or some generic method to process rules efficiently.  A rule engine falls in the latter category.  It has a generic method to find a way through a bunch of rules.

The result is a process.  But is the resulting process the process that the business finds efficient and the customer finds intuitive?  It turns out that the answer is very often "no" or … we need to do a lot of fine-tuning to meet the objectives and expectations of the business and the customers.

What does this fine tuning entail?  It results in a predefined process description.  It is a recipe describing what to do first, how and when to gather information, and how to interact with the environment.  So an automated organization needs predefined process descriptions, in addition to rules, for optimal performance.
standard citation for this article:
Silvie Spreeuwenberg, "Do Business Rules Eliminate the Need for Processes?" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 17, No. 8 (Aug. 2016), URL:  

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 about . . .


Silvie Spreeuwenberg has a background in artificial intelligence and is the co-founder and director of LibRT. With LibRT, she helps clients draft business rules in the most efficient and effective way possible. Her clients are characterized by a need for agility and excellence in executing their unique business strategy or policy. Silvie's experience has resulted in the development of tools and techniques to increase the quality of business rules. She writes, "We believe that one should focus on quality management of business rules to make full profit of the business rules approach." LibRT is located in the Netherlands; for more information visit &




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