Business Rules vs. Business Requirements

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

I am asked this all the time.  What is the difference between a business rule and a business requirement?  It is simple, really.  Business rules are lists of statements that tell you whether you may or may not do something, or give you the criteria and conditions for making a decision.  One factor of a business requirement is what you need to do to enable the implementation of and compliance with a business rule.

Believe it or not, my daughter will be turning thirteen this summer.  She is definitely a twelve year old going on twenty-one.  One Saturday morning during breakfast, we got into a conversation about what some of her rules will be when she is old enough to go out on her own (I say around sixteen or seventeen... her dad would say twenty-five).

Here are my rules to my daughter:

  • Must not stay out past 10:30 pm.  (Of course there were grumbles.)

  • Must not let a new driver (this includes all her friends) drive you home without my permission.  (I got one of those looks and an "Oh!  Mooommmm!")

  • I must know where you are at all times.  (I got an "Oh, boy!" and a big sigh!)

  • Must not go in a car with someone I don't know.  (I got a big fat "WHAT!  You might not know all my friends when I am sixteen, you know.")

  • Must not go anywhere with a stranger.  (I got an "I am not stupid, you know!")

So I said those are the rules -- take it or be prepared to stay home through your teenage years.

She thought about it for a little while and said ok.  However, she said she has one requirement.  She needs a car!

There you go — she requires a car in order to comply with the rules.  

Here are some questions for the readers:

  1. Do the rules exist even when you can't implement the requirement?  Absolutely.

  2. Will implementing the requirement mean all the rules will be complied with?  Not for sure.

  3. Will implementing the requirement enable easier compliance with the rules?  Yes.

  4. Is this the ONLY feasible requirement to enable compliance with this set of rules?  No.

How does this relate to your projects?

Consider the following examples:

Example 1:  License Inspection Project

Business Rules:

Rule 1:

A Driver of a Vehicle must have a valid Driver's License.

Rule 2:

A Driver's License must be considered valid if all of the following are true:

      • The Driver's License belongs to the Driver.

      • The Expiry Date of the Driver's License is later than the Inspection Date.

      • The physical proof is produced within 24 hours of the Inspection Date.

Possible business requirements to enforce these rules:

  1. Police officer to inspect driver's license.

  2. Scanner to read driver's license for validity.

  3. Card reader for driver to insert driver's license when driving through a checkpoint.

Any one of these requirements can enforce the above 2 rules with different degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.  Which business requirements are appropriate largely depends on the corporation's business strategies, business risk tolerance, and budget.

The important point to remember is that the business rules are what we need to guide behavior.  However you choose to implement or enforce those rules is a different matter.  Do not confuse the two.

Example 2: Order Entry System

Business Rule:

A Customer must have an Email Address.

Business Requirement:

Capability to enter email address for a customer.

This can easily be implemented by providing a GUI to enter an email address.

Now consider a simple change to the business rule:

Business Rule:

Revised Rule:  A Customer must have a valid Email Address.

A second rule is required to define 'valid email address'.

Rule 2:  An Email Address must be considered Valid if an email sent to Email Address does not return 'undeliverable' within 60 minutes.

Additional Business Requirement to support revised rule:

Capability to immediately send email to customer after email address is received.

Notice how the change of one word in a business rule can mean different or additional requirements.  Keep in mind one affects the other.

The question I want to leave you with now is:  What do you need to manage?  The rules or the requirements?

Just Remember...

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

  • Business rules are lists of statements that tell you whether you may or may not do something or that give you the criteria and conditions for making a decision.

  • Business requirements are what you need to do to enable the implementation of and compliance with business rules.

  • There can be many different alternative business requirements to implement/enforce a set of business rules.

  • Business rules are what they are.  They shouldn't change to fit the business requirements.

  • A change in a rule can mean different or additional requirements.

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Gladys S.W. Lam, "Business Rules vs. Business Requirements" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 7, No. 5, (May 2006)

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.

Read All Articles by Gladys S.W. Lam
The BRSolutions Professional Training Suite

BRSolutions Professional Training Suite

All About Concepts, Policies, Rules, Decisions & Requirements
We want to share some insights with you that will positively rock your world. They will absolutely change the way you think and go about your work. We would like to give you high-leverage opportunities to add value to your initiatives, and give you innovative new techniques for developing great business solutions.