Constructing a Business Rules Process Is Like Building a Delicious Sandwich
You don't think a business rules process has anything to do with eating? Au contraire! A business rules process should be well thought-out, planned, organized, constructed, and consumed. My best sandwiches have been made using this same general construct. When I create a sandwich, there is planning for the type of sandwich, gathering of the best ingredients, organizing the food items, assembling, creating them in the perfect order, and consuming.
I use the sandwich analogy since there are distinct layers that are assembled in a particular way to create a cohesive culinary experience. The real value and appreciation come when the rules are assembled and related to the overall business plan (or architecture). Then all consumers see the value and want to use the business rules process. Sure, if I were hungry, I could just grab a piece of bread or a slice cheese, but that would not satisfy my needs for very long. A company could start gathering rules here and there to solve a particular immediate problem, but the overall effort will not fulfill your company's needs for the long run unless the business rules process is constructed and related correctly.
This sandwich story provides a quick peek into our business rules process and provides insight into our strategy to provide a process that can help the organization rapidly react to change. Your business "sandwich" can be constructed in any way that best "feeds" your organization.
A sandwich is enjoyed by someone who really wants the food and likes the way it is put together. A business rules process will be "consumed" by your users if you understand your organization's needs, gather the rules, and link them to your business plan. I love a Reuben sandwich, and the reason I enjoy it so much is because I like the different tastes individually (rye bread, cheese, corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing); however, the real joy comes when these layers are assembled and linked together with the Russian dressing and melted cheese. In like manner, much job satisfaction and company benefit can result from a business rules process that is executed with the overall business plan in mind.
Now I will prove my point and relate sandwiches to business rules (and try to prove that I am not overly obsessed with eating). I view the base or bottom piece of rye bread as the data (this includes metadata). The bottom piece of bread is essential for the structural integrity of a sandwich, as is the data in any organization.
The next layer, the cheese that melts and sticks to the bread, represents the business rules of the data. I believe that data is vital to an organization, but I believe the rules associated with that data are even more essential. The melding of the two creates a wonderful thing (just like melting Swiss cheese on rye bread – yum). I could stop with melted cheese on a slice of bread, but that would be thin on substance. Only concentrating on capturing your organization's data and associated rules will not provide your organization with the real power of documenting organizational business rules to improve the understanding of the who, what, where, when, and also the how of the rules' implementation.
Corned beef goes on next. It is important to find the best, leanest beef around. I think of this layer as your organizational business rules – the real "meat", or essence, of your business. Discovering and capturing business rules is time-consuming, but worth the effort when done thoughtfully and then related to your business data. Our business rules process has linked every business rule with the logical data element in our organization's data model. (This layer may not meet everyone's "appetite," but it provides an essential link and the assurance that the data is modeled correctly to support the rules of our organization.) This process takes time and thoughtful planning, but the relationships and linkages between the organizational business rules and data (and then the data rules) really provide a substantial "meal" for your company. Architects, data modelers, and users all see if new business rules can be related to the "current menu" of data elements or if "new menu items" (data elements) need to be created to support the change.
On top of the corned beef is the sauerkraut. Now, I understand not everyone is a sauerkraut fan; so this layer is optional. For our business rules effort, the sauerkraut represents the systems that use, contain, and implement the business rules. All of our rules (and their associated data) are related to our IT systems so that we can use the business rules project as an impact analysis tool. If rules change, we know how it will affect our business. The same goes for data; if the data or metadata structure or rules change, we have a good idea of how it will affect our IT systems.
The construction of the sandwich is nearly complete. Before a piece of bread is perched on top, it needs a little something else to complete the union with the other sandwich items: Russian dressing. The dressing really joins the meat to the bread, linking the flavors together. Linkages are key to a business rules process since they bond different areas of a business into one interconnected effort. Architectures (our business functions) are the Russian dressing to our business rules effort. Not every organization may have a formal business plan (we were lucky to have described our business based on the Zachman Framework). A sandwich could be constructed without it, but this addition certainly would create a wonderfully melded flavor that touches every part of the sandwich. Without linkages to business functions, our business rules process would not show how the rules support our core business strategies and goals.
The crowning piece of rye bread to the sandwich is the high-level strategy, motivation, and direction of our organization. It sits on top and is the over-riding guide of all of the organization's actions. Business rules, IT systems, and data should not exist unless they support implicit goals. Sometimes in life, much time, money, and energy are expended to support areas that are not the core essence of the business. This top piece of bread is there to always remind us to ensure that our actions support the business.
The completed sandwich is held together with one of those fancy, frilly toothpicks with an olive. The decoration certainly is not needed for one to enjoy or consume the sandwich, but it does complete the package. This points out the importance of presentation and marketing. No business rules project will be effective without the proper marketing and support from management. The toothpick also represents how all of the parts, which are inter-related, affect the separate (but related) layers in an organization.
Now that you are hungry (!) here are a few quick thoughts to get you started in the right direction:
- Build a business rules process that your company can use and enjoy. There would be no sense spending the time and money creating a Reuben sandwich when your company would prefer a Club sandwich.
- Start by building a small sandwich (maybe a finger sandwich or business rules process prototype) before you undertake the construction of a 10-foot submarine sandwich.
- Support from management is essential.
- No process of sandwich-making is perfect. There is always room for improvement and change because of lessons learned. Even I would be open to a unique sandwich twist if it would satisfy a new need.
- Link your business rules to your architecture, creating a linkage that ensures a cohesive inter-relationship between rules and your organization's business.
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