Family Reunion ... Facilitated Session -- Same Difference

Gladys S.W.  Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Gladys S.W. Lam

What are we doing here?

Our family decided to get together.  You must understand that when a Chinese person says ‘family.’  it never means just immediate family of 3 or 5.  It almost always means an extended family of at least 10.  In my case there are 29 -- my maternal grandparent’s immediate descendants.

The confusion started immediately after everyone decided to meet in Vancouver, Canada, this last summer.  Some thought they were coming to Vancouver to do some sight-seeing; there were plans to visit Victoria and Whistler.  Some thought they were visiting my sister’s new baby.  Some thought we were celebrating my aunt’s 60th birthday.  Some thought we were meeting my cousin’s new wife.  This cousin is the only male descendent on that side of the family, so it was a big deal!

Essentially, I had 29 people ranging from 65 years of age to one month, all wanting and needing to do different things.  You can imagine the chaos!  Within a four-day period, we had demands for golf games; visits to Victoria, Grouse Mountain, and Stanley Park; a dinner party for my sister and her new baby; a dinner party with out-of-town aunts and uncles; a dinner party with out-of-town cousins, and so on and so on.  It amounted to requests for 9 dinner parties, six day trips and 20 lunch appointments.

Finally, I had to stop everyone’s excitement and force everyone to focus.  We had to agree on the purpose of our get-together:  to spend time with each other.  Once that was established, we scheduled one day where everyone agreed to spend the entire day together.  We had activities planned from 2:00 pm to midnight for that one special day.  After that, scheduling all other activities to satisfy each party and age group became a lot easier.

This is no different from a facilitated session to gather business rules.  I receive many phone calls from organizations asking us to help them harvest their rules.  We find properly-executed facilitated sessions very effective for capturing business rules, especially when the rules are in people’s heads.

Just like my family reunion, in order to eliminate confusion and chaos in the facilitated session, the first vital step is to define and communicate the purpose of the session to participants.

The Objectives of the Business Rule Facilitated Sessions

I never know what people expect when they ask us to harvest their rules.  Sometimes I have a picture of people expecting me to stand in front of a room and asking the participants to "give me their rules."  I believe if I do that, I will either get blank looks on everyone’s faces or I will get rules coming at me from all directions.  I would have no way of knowing whether the rules were accurate, complete, or relevant.

A structured and organized way of harvesting rules is to first build a foundation for capturing and organizing rules.  A solid foundation can be represented in a detailed Business Model.  Once the Business Model is formed, we can gather rules in a controlled and systematic manner using the Model.

Therefore, I organize my rule-capture activities into two facilitated sessions.  The first session is focused on building the business model.  The second session is focused on gathering the detailed business rules.

The objectives of the first facilitated session are:

  • To develop a viable business solution represented in a Business Model.
  • To develop a common set of appropriate guiding policies.

At the end of the first facilitated session, we produce a Business Model that contains:

  • A Policy Charter, containing a set of business tactics, business risks, and core business rules.
  • A Business Process model, illustrating the collaboration of relevant actors from the business perspective and showing the relevant tasks and hand-offs between them.
  • A Fact model, showing clear business definitions for all terms and concepts needed to support the business processes.
  • High-level process rules required to guide and/or control the processes.

The objectives of the second facilitated session are:

  • To confirm the Business Model.
  • To develop detailed business rules.

At the end of the second facilitated session we produce:

  • Detailed process rules required to guide and/or control the processes.

The objectives of each session must be defined and communicated to all participants.  At the start of each session, these objectives are explained carefully.  Just like our family reunion, participants in a facilitated session will come to a session with their own perceptions of process and outcome.  There will be chaos until all involved are focused into going through the same process to achieve a joint solution.

What’s Next

In fact, there are four essential elements for conducting a successful facilitated session.  They are:

  1. Define and communicate the purpose of each session.
  2. Select the right participants.
  3. Ensure sufficient preparation.
  4. Have the know-how to drive out the results.

We have only talked about the first of the four in this article.  Stay tuned for future articles on how to select the right participants, how to prepare for the sessions, and how to drive out the results.  Besides, you want to find out how the Big Fat Chinese Family Reunion turned out, don’t you?

Just Remember…

Plainly speaking, here are some of the main things you need to remember:

  • In order to conduct a successful facilitated session, the first vital step is to define and communicate the purpose of the session to participants.

  • In order to be effective in gathering business rules, you must build a foundation (i.e., Business Model) before harvesting rules.

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Gladys S.W. Lam, "Family Reunion ... Facilitated Session -- Same Difference" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 11, (Nov. 2003)

About our Contributor:

Gladys  S.W. Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Gladys S.W. Lam is a world-renowned authority on applied business rule techniques. She is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC (, the most recognized company world-wide for business rules and decision analysis. BRS provides methodology, publications, consulting services, and training. Ms. Lam is Co-Creator of IPSpeak, the BRS methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak. She is Co-Founder of, a vertical community for professionals and home of Business Rules Journal. She co-authored Building Business Solutions, an IIBA® sponsored handbook on business analysis with business rules.

Ms. Lam is widely known for her lively, pragmatic style. She speaks internationally at conferences, public seminars and other professional events. She is also Executive Director of Building Business Capability (BBC) Conference, which includes the Business Rules & Decisions Forum and the Business Analysis Forum.

Ms. Lam is a world-renowned expert on business project management, having managed numerous projects that focus on the large-scale capture, analysis and management of business rules. She advises senior management of large companies on organizational issues and on business solutions to business problems. She has extensive experience in related areas, including BPM, structured business strategy, and managing and implementing information systems.

Ms. Lam is most recognized for her ability to identify the source of business issues, and for her effectiveness in developing pragmatic approaches to resolve them. She has gained a world-class reputation for fostering positive professional relationships with principals and support staff in projects. Ms. Lam graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Computer Science.

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