The Role of Rule Analyst (Part 2)
In the first part of this series, I defined the role and responsibilities of a Rule Analyst and identified the personality traits generally found in a successful Rule Analyst. In this part, I’ll explore the set of skills a Rule Analyst needs to handle the ever-changing demands of business in the 21st century. I’ll also discuss what the job of Rule Analyst really entails, and how to be effective in the role.
Although most of the skills a Rule Analyst requires relate directly to the activity of analyzing business rules, a Rule Analyst (particularly a senior Rule Analyst) needs to be well grounded in other disciplines such as change management, time management, and communication.
The required skills can be divided into four different categories:
- General skills
Each of these is described in the sections below.
These skills cover an understanding of rule management. This includes:
- the benefits of managing business rules
- the governance process required to manage business rules
- the life cycle of a business rule
1. The Benefits
It is essential for a Rule Analyst to not only understand the benefits of rule management, but also be able to explain them to management, project teams, and IT staff. If the benefits are not clear, it is very difficult to generate support for the function.
2. The Governance Process
A Rule Analyst needs to understand:
- How business rules come into being (whether from external or internal sources),
- How they are propagated throughout the organization (through both manual and automated channels),
- How business rules are enforced,
- How they are changed (whether on an ad hoc or planned basis), and
- How rule-related issues such as conflicting rules are resolved (including escalation procedures).
3. The Life Cycle
A Rule Analyst needs to understand the full life cycle of business rules from inception to retirement. This includes knowing:
- how rules come into being, whether from internal policy-setting or through interpretation of laws and regulations,
- the controls that are in place for changing business rules,
- how rules are implemented,
- how performance measures monitor the effectiveness of the rules, and
- how rules are retired.
These skills cover how to analyze business rules. The key techniques include:
- Business Rule Analysis
- Business Rule Validation
- Business Rule Verification
- Impact Analysis
Business Rule Analysis
This technique covers how to discover, capture, and express business rules. It entails knowledge of process modeling as well fact modeling and includes writing rules using a consistent vocabulary and syntax.
Business Rule Validation
This technique helps to ensure that the rules reflect the business intent and will result in the desired business behavior. It involves validating the rules through walkthroughs with the business and developing scenarios for testing.
Business Rule Verification
This technique assesses a set of rules to ensure that it is internally consistent -- i.e., that there are no conflicts, redundancies, overlaps, etc. It includes knowledge of techniques that determine whether decision tables are accurate and complete. As this task is often automated, knowledge of the tools available to do rule verification is also helpful.
This technique involves comparing the 'as is' and 'to be' business models to determine the impact to the business of changes to the rules. It includes 'what if' analysis to determine the business impact as well as determination of any system impact. In order to support impact analysis, a Rule Analyst needs to know what information needs to be kept about each rule (e.g., jurisdiction, enforcement level, where implemented, etc.) and how to use that information in the impact analysis.
These skills deal with the use of tools to manage and analyze business rules. They include basic tools such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as well as specialized tools such as Visio, RuleTrack, RuleXpress or rule verification tools such as Valens. Proficiency in the tools is a decided advantage for a Rule Analyst as it increases productivity and efficiency.
Although these skills are not specific to rule analysis, they are required in order to be an effective Rule Analyst. Some call for just a general understanding of the skill, while others need to be studied in depth. See the table below for the skills and why a Rule Analyst needs each one.
Skill Rationale Business Writing Writing understandable rules is a surprisingly difficult task. A solid command of the English language and of basic grammar is a definite asset. Change Management Fundamentally, Rule Analysts are agents of change. As such, it is important to understand the basic concepts of change management, particularly the stages an individual goes through during the change process. A Rule Analyst should know what to expect as people deal with the change and have strategies ready to overcome their resistance. Communication A Rule Analyst must be able to explain concepts clearly and listen carefully to others. Also, because a Rule Analyst is rarely in a position of authority, he/she must often use persuasion to gain support for the business rules approach. Conflict Resolution It is very useful for a Rule Analyst to have effective tactics available to deal with the inevitable conflicts between business areas over such issues as rule ownership and conflicting rules. Research Whether it is to find out about best practices in a business area, or just to keep up-to-date on events in the business rules community (e.g., at www.BRCommunity.com), a Rule Analyst needs to know how to track down information. This includes using the Internet as well as library resources (both internal and external). Systems Analysis and Design A Rule Analyst should have some familiarity with how business rules get implemented. A basic understanding of client/server, object-oriented, and use cases also helps a Rule Analyst understand what kind of information the Systems Analysts need to do their job. A working knowledge of rule engines is also important; a Rule Analyst needs to understand how the business rules are transformed at the system level. Time Management A Rule Analyst needs to know how to manage his/her time by setting priorities, keeping tasks on schedule, and using time wisely.
How to be an Effective Rule Analyst
The responsibilities of a Rule Analyst tend to evolve over time. When a rule management function is first established, the Rule Analysts spend much of their time educating the business in the business rules approach. This includes persuading management of the benefits of managing business rules as well as coaching Business Analysts in capturing and writing rules. At this stage, the Rule Analysts often step in and take responsibility for writing the rules, especially the more complex product/service rules.
Over time, as the repository of business rules grows, the role shifts to more of a service orientation that includes:
- providing existing rules at project start up, thereby saving the project time,
- coordinating rule development across multiple projects,
- ensuring the rules conform to standards (e.g., consistent vocabulary and syntax),
- maintaining the traceability of the rules,
- conducting impact analysis for changes to rules,
- resolving rule-related issues, and
- publishing rules.
In order to be effective in the role, it helps to keep these precepts in mind:
- Be perceived as an enabler rather than enforcer.
- Understand the pressure that Business Analysts are under to get things done quickly.
- Set an example -- if you insist on consistent vocabulary and syntax, make sure you use them too.
- Make sure the rules are accessible -- don’t become a bottleneck or gatekeeper.
- Use your judgment.
Common sense and judgment may be the most valuable asset in the role, particularly when it comes to enforcing the standards and guidelines. Because there are never enough resources to manage all the rules, it is important to focus on the ones that are critical to the business. The rules don’t all have to be at the same level of quality -- be prepared to let them evolve over time as the organization gains more experience in writing rules.
Maintaining a network of Business and Systems Analysts helps to keep in touch with what is going on in the various projects and enables better coordination and communication of shared impacts to the rules. Sometimes just letting one project know what the other is doing can be of enormous help.
Impact analysis is one of the more challenging aspects of the job -- it is very detailed work that requires intense focus. However, this is often where the business rules approach provides great value to the business, so it is definitely a skill worth cultivating.
The role of Rule Analyst is, without a doubt, one of the up and coming roles in business today. It offers a myriad of challenges, and demands both passion and a high degree of skill. I know it’s where I want to be. How about you?
Ronald G. Ross. "Who or What is a True Business Analyst?" Business Rules Journal, (March 1999), URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a1999/a412.html
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.
Ronald G. Ross. Principles of the Business Rules Approach. Addison-Wesley, (c) 2003 ISBN: 0-201-78893-4.
 Kristen Seer, "The Role of Rule Analyst (part 1)," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 6, No. 11 (Nov. 2005), URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2005/b255.html
 The set of tools required will depend on your organization. Wherever possible, use tools that your Information Technology (IT) department supports -- it greatly simplifies the installation, training, and ongoing support. RuleTrack and RuleXpress are trademarks of Business Rule Solutions and RuleArts, respectively. Valens is a product of LibRT.
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