Tracing the Path of Rule Reduction

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

In this one-per-month special 'notepad' series, I am taking a quick look at important issues facing practitioners who are seeking to understand and apply the business rule approach for capturing business requirements and developing business systems.

In last month's column, we discussed the difference between decomposition of processes vs. reduction of the business logic expressed in rules.  In this month's column, we take a closer look at rule or logic reduction itself.[1]

Business Rule Solutions (BRS) broadly categorizes rules into governing rules, operating rules, and automated rulesTraceability for business logic results when information about the 'what, how, where, who, when, and why' of rule reduction from one level to the next is retained in an organized manner (e.g., in a rule repository).

  • Governing Rules tend to be high-level directives with broad applicability -- for example, Thou shalt not steal.  In business, such rules are often called policies.  On their own, governing rules are usually not directly actionable.  (For example, what is the meaning of 'steal' and how does that interpretation apply in various specific circumstances?)  Nonetheless, they do (or should) govern all actions in a general way.

  • Operating Rules are interpreted from governing rules.  An operating rule must be actionable -- that is within the specific context(s) to which it applies, it should provide unambiguous guidance.  For example in context of settlement activity, an operating rule might be:  The amount settled for an item on an order must be equal to the amount ordered for that item.

  • Automated Rules are representations of rules in a form that a computer (e.g., rule engine, 3GL, etc.) can directly evaluate.  They are the 'coded' counterparts of operating rules, sometimes having gone through significant translation and/or re-composition to satisfy the syntax understood by the given class of platform.

What are the linguistic properties of governing rules?  Since we are not likely to have much luck reinventing the language of lawyers, politicians, regulators, or CEOs and other company managers, this should probably be considered outside our control.

What about the linguistic properties of operating rules?  In RuleSpeakô, a rule statement must include one of the keywords must or only.  Everything else in the rule statement (except for articles to increase readability and quantifiers of various kinds) are explicit fact statements from the associated fact model (i.e., structured business vocabulary).

Let me clarify what I mean above when I say an operating rule must be actionable.  It literally means that a worker can read it and know how to act in a given situation.  I do not mean that the operating rule could necessarily be understood in the context of a knowledge/record-keeping system.  (Translation to that format should happen eventually -- sometime during system design -- but this is not the discriminator for operating rules.)

I definitely do not mean that the operating rule could be understood (i.e., evaluated or interpreted) by any kind of hardware/software platform!  That would put things into the realm of class of platform -- that is, models for automation -- and that's nothing you should be worrying about for either the business model (Zachman row 2) or system model (Zachman row 3)!


[1] Acks to Stan Hendryx for his input to this column.  return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Tracing the Path of Rule Reduction" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, (Feb. 2004)

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 BRS 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 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 For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

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