Business Rule Basics from Kindergarten Tee-Ball

Barbara   von Halle
Barbara von Halle Founder, Knowledge Partners, Inc. (KPI) Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Barbara von Halle


"Playoff games will be a little different. There will be scoring to determine winners and losers. This may be a difficult adjustment for some of the players."

—Written communication to parents
from a local Little League


If you have never witnessed a kindergarten tee-ball game, you are in for a real treat! The most basic lessons about business rules can be learned from kindergarten tee-ball. The 10 basic lessons are summarized in Figure 1.


Figure 1 -- Lessons Learned From Kindergarten Tee-Ball About Business Rules


Business Rules are the Basis For Orderly Behavior


Business Rules Influence the Behavior of Participants and Onlookers


Business Rules Represent the Knowledge Needed to Carry Out Activity


Business Rules Relieve Stress


Business Rules Aim for Objectives


Business Rules Can Be Shared Across Objectives


Business Rules Motivate


Business Rules Instigate Change


Business Rules Increase Productivity and Instill Confidence


Business Rules Determine the Likelihood of Achieving Common Goals

Lesson 1: Business Rules are the Basis
For Orderly Behavior

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For starters, you might be curious, if not apprehensive, about expectations. After all, how does a coach place a group of 5-6 year olds on a baseball field and have any expectations about their behavior as individuals and as a team?

Not to fear—an uneducated observer will notice that a kindergarten tee-ball game is surprisingly not one of total chaos. It appears to have a semblance of order to it, although this order may appear a bit unusual in some respects until you understand the business rules of the game. In fact, what first seems "odd" results directly from its underlying business rules, which differ from what an educated observer might guess.

Lesson 2: Business Rules Influence the Behavior of Participants and Onlookers

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Without knowing the rules of kindergarten tee-ball, you soon will discover that you are at a disadvantage. In particular, as a novice observer, uninitiated in the kindergarten tee-ball culture, you will be unable to interpret player behavior.

Even worse, you soon will discover that you do not even know how to behave yourself. As an onlooker, you, too, are an actor. Without knowing the rules, you cannot guide your behavior with confidence.

You soon learn an important lesson. The rules of the game influence the behavior of the actors, including onlookers.

For example, when you discover that no one seems to keep score, you will not know when to clap and cheer. Likewise, as soon as you realize that there are no penalties for strikes, you will not know when to express disappointment. Do you do so when a batter incurs three strikes? Five strikes? Twenty-five strikes?

Lesson 3: Business Rules Represent the Knowledge Needed to Carry Out Activity

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To become an educated, productive observer or player, you must understand at least the following four rules of the game:

Rule #1: A half-inning is not over when the team at bat incurs three outs. Instead, a half-inning is over when every player on the batting team has had an opportunity at bat.

(This, by the way, makes for very long half innings. Observers who don't know this rule not only are confused, but also tend to complain a lot about the length of the half innings.)

Rule #2: An opportunity at bat is not over when the batter strikes out, walks, or hits a foul ball. Rather, an opportunity at bat is over only when the batter hits a fair ball.

(This also contributes to the length of the half inning, causing uneducated observers to become quite impatient, if not, stressed.)

Lesson 4: Business Rules Relieve Stress

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Business rules can ease nervous tension that arises from uncertainty. Consider the following rules of kindergarten tee-ball.

Rule #3: The game is not over after a predetermined number of innings. The game is over when a pre-specified time period has elapsed.

(This eases the anxiety of educated onlookers.)

Rule #4: There is never a winner. That is, every game is declared a tie, no matter what.

(This avoids intense emotional outbursts by players and fans at the conclusion of the game.)

Lesson 5: Business Rules Aim for Objectives

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Why the above rules? These rules guide behavior of players so that the objectives of kindergarten tee-ball are achieved. After all, an organization's business rules are useful only when they aim to influence individual behavior so that it is likely to achieve predefined, group objectives. If the target culture has no group objectives, each individual would behave according to his/her own private business rules so as to achieve his/her own private objectives.

It becomes important to know the objectives of the group so as to craft the optimum business rules for achieving those objectives. With this in mind, consider that the objectives of kindergarten tee-ball are twofold: (1) to encourage the feeling of being a team player, and (2) to allow each player to experience and build the skills required for each position. Figure 2 correlates the objectives of kindergarten tee-ball to the business rules that support each one.


Figure 2. Objectives of Kindergarten Tee-Ball and Supporting Business Rules

Objectives of Kindergarten Tee-Ball

Supporting Business Rules

1. Encourage the feeling of being a team player.

1. Each player must be assigned to one team for the length of the season.

2. Allow each player to experience and build the skills required for each position.

2. Each player must have an opportunity at bat in each inning.

3. An opportunity at bat must result in a batter hitting a fair ball.

3. Discourage winning.

4. Every game must have a tie score.

4. Discourage competition.

3. An opportunity at bat must result in a batter hitting a fair ball.

Lesson 6: Business Rules Can Be Shared Across Objectives

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Notice that business rule 3 (in Figure 2) supports two objectives, illustrating that business rules are indeed something to share across objectives. Business rules, as the foundation for the organization's guidance system, are an asset to leverage and share among objectives, activities and workflows.

Kindergarten tee-ball has no objectives for winning. Hence, there are no rules for determining a winner. Kindergarten tee-ball has no objectives for encouraging competition. Hence, it has no rules for measuring the skills and performance of each player. In fact, if a coach adds rules for keeping score or for calculating batting averages, the coach may compromise the group objectives. Players may focus more on competition and winning, less on encouraging the feeling of being a team player and experiencing all skills.

Lesson 7: Business Rules Motivate

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Because the rules for kindergarten tee-ball are different from those for other forms of baseball, a kindergarten tee-ball game may allow for, or encourage, behavior that does not appear with other forms of baseball.

Consider that, in some versions of kindergarten tee-ball, a runner (by definition) never incurs an out. That is, the runner gets to base, no matter what. Imagine, if you will, a game of baseball unconstrained by the concept of an "out"!

When there is no business rule about incurring an out, a player quickly learns knowledge, such as:

  1. It does not matter what a fielder does with the ball, should a fielder actually catch the ball.

  2. It does not matter how fast or slow a runner runs, when a batter finally hits a fair ball.

  3. It does not matter if a batter, when running to a base, picks up the ball and hands it to the fielder on the base.

In fact, players and onlookers realize quickly that most behavior of the fielders and batters is essentially meaningless. After all, most such behavior has no effect on the results of the game. In other words, according to the rules of the game, every batter will eventually hit a fair ball, almost every batter will eventually cross home plate, every game will eventually end (at a predetermined time), and every game will end in a tie score.

So, what is the point of running fast, sliding into base, throwing the ball, or even catching the ball? These specific behaviors are not encouraged or rewarded by the rules of kindergarten tee-ball. They are simply practiced.

Lesson 8: Business Rules Instigate Change

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If a kindergarten tee-ball league decides to have a playoff day among teams, the officials must change some rules. Specifically, the group now has the new objective of determining a winner. A change in business rules instigates change in behavior, hopefully more likely leading to the group objectives. Often the changed rules cause confusion and tears among players. In kindergarten tee-ball, changed rules can heighten the emotional outbursts from onlookers.

Business leaders change business rules so that group objectives are more likely to be achieved or because group objectives have changed.

Regardless, changes in business rules can cause confusion and anxiety. This happens even when these changes are for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole. The confusion and anxiety reflect the fact that even though business rules aim for better group results, they do so by first impacting the behavior (and emotions) of the individual.

Let's walk through such a change. Consider the influence on player behavior when league officials introduce the notion that a batter or runner actually can incur an out. When incurring an out, a player must exit the playing field; the player loses the potential to run around the bases. The first time a player incurs an out, the player is usually not happy to learn that exiting the field is mandatory.

With the changed business rule, the concept of an "out" suddenly becomes an obvious inconvenience. As the game progresses and the rule is enforced, players learn the following about behavior:

  1. It is important for runners to run as fast as they can.

  2. It is undesirable for a runner to overrun a base.

  3. It is important for runners and fielders to actually watch where the ball goes.

  4. It is important for fielders to actually try to catch the ball.

  5. When a fielder catches the ball, the fielder should actually make an informed decision as to what to do with it.

  6. There comes into being the concept of a "forced play."

  7. It becomes important to know where the play is.

  8. The audience becomes emotionally charged over fielding activities: successes and failures.

  9. People begin to count the runs because not every player crosses home plate.

  10. People begin to question the other business rules, such as Must there be a winner or are there rules about overtime?

Lesson 9: Business Rules Increase
Productivity and Instill Confidence

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Notice that this one new rule introduces the logic behind baseball "strategy" into the game. Introducing baseball logic and strategy into the game requires players and fans to:

  1. Respond to an event. An event is a happening, such as—someone hits the ball, someone throws the ball, someone catches the ball.

  2. Become aware of the facts. Who is up? Who is on base? Where is the ball?

  3. Apply rules in making a decision. Where do I throw the ball? How far do I run? How far do I not run?

  4. Invoke behavior. Throw the ball! Run! Slide! Stop running!

By knowing the rules in (3) above, a player can guide his/her behavior productively and with confidence, where doing so aims for group objectives (i.e., winning the game).

Lesson 10: Business Rules Determine the Likelihood of Achieving Common Goals

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In the end, a player's behavior causes results. The results trigger a new event. The new event creates a new set of circumstances that require evaluation.

Upon learning of the new event, each player once again evaluates the circumstances. Each player executes the freedom of choice in his/her action, but hopefully guided by the rules (and usually by coaches). The rules guide individual behavior so that results are predictable within reason. In this way, other players can be prepared to make optimum choices.

It is difficult to be prepared to make optimum choices if behavior is chaotic. The business rules influence individual behavior so that, together, the collective behavior of the players moves the team closer to its goal because there is shared reason (through shared business rules) behind it.

The Most Important Lesson of All

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This brings us to competition. An organization sets objectives, but its competitors may set the same objectives, fighting for the same customers and financial returns. Each organization, even with the same objectives, will craft its own business rules to guide its behavior toward those goals. The most successful competitor will not necessarily be the organization that crafts the most rules or even the optimum rules up front. Rather, the ultimately successful competitor will be the one who studies its results, its behavior, its underlying rules…and can change those rules spontaneously…so as to be smarter, to be more competitive, to be more customer-oriented, to be an ongoing winner. The most successful competitor will be the one who can rethink itself over and over and redefine itself dynamically by tuning the rules by which it interacts within and outside of itself.

Today, most of these rules are in our legacy program code. To be a successful competitor (or survivor), an organization must liberate these rules, manage them, and deliver them in technology that not only enables, but also compels an organization to change itself dynamically. 

© 2000, Barbara von Halle 

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Barbara von Halle, "Business Rule Basics from Kindergarten Tee-Ball" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Feb. 2000)

About our Contributor:

Barbara   von Halle
Barbara von Halle Founder, Knowledge Partners, Inc. (KPI)

Barbara von Halle is the founder of Knowledge Partners, Inc. (KPI), a NJ-based consulting company specializing in information and rules. Ms. von Halle is probably best known for pioneering in the world of Business Rules through her writings and consulting work.

Ms. von Halle has an international reputation in the field of data/knowledge management. In 1996, she received the honored Outstanding Individual Achievement Award from the International Data Management Association. She has co-hosted, with Ronald G. Ross and Technology Transfer Institute, the 3-day practitioners' conference dedicated to "Business Rules at Work.

Barb specifically designed KPI as an employee-owned company comprised of leaders and peers in information management (data warehousing) and business rule delivery. Most recently, KPI has developed a partly automated methodology for mining business rules from legacy code, managing them in a rule repository, and is moving toward delivering business rules through e-business solutions.

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