Creative Artifacts to Accompany our Business Rules
When I began writing business rules for the restructuring of our energy market settlements a year and a half ago I found it difficult to keep track of the relationship between hundreds of rules and terms. I have a visual and hands-on learning style and often need something I can print, hold in my hands, or have next to my monitor — a picture to be able to scribble notes on. Sure, a Fact Model is helpful in keeping the terms bounded; however, I need something other than the linear representation provided by a text-based report. There are times when I'm not interested in the actual rule statement, term definition, or any other meta data for that matter. I just want to see which rule invokes another and what terms are used in those rules.
In the beginning, I began to play around with drawing diagrams in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, but very quickly found a limitation with space and diagram options. I then turned to Visio and tried out a few different diagram templates before I came to one that started to show me the picture I was trying to create. I ended up with a basic diagram that I've called a Bubble Chart.
Figure 1. Example of a Simple ©NCPA Bubble Chart (names are examples only)
In energy settlements the settlements calculations can be (and are) very complex; however, the basic rule of thumb is Quantity * Price = Amount. In addition to this, we need to perform a verification and/or validation for each calculation. To follow this rule of thumb, I needed to be able to see all of the parts that made up the amount on one page (if possible), even if they don't directly tie to each other. As you can see in Figure 1, the rule for Charge Code Price is not connected to the Charge Code Quantity or Charge Code Quantity Verification; however it is nearby to show that it is important for viewing the whole picture.
There are four main elements I needed to see to help me keep track of and avoid missing any important concepts:
- the Main Rule or Concept
- any Embedded Rule within the Main Rule
- Preferred Business Terms used to write the Rule Statements
- any Synonyms tied to the Preferred Business Terms
I began with placing the main rules — in this case Charge Code Quantity, Charge Code Price, and Charge Code Quantity Verification. Using my Business Rule Repository to glean information, I then added any rules that were embedded within ("invoked by") the main rules. Arrows are used to show the direction of use. For example, Charge Code Quantity Verification invokes the Validation Tolerance rule. Finally, preferred business terms and their associated synonyms were added in the same fashion. I had found myself a basic way to see the whole picture.
What began as a tool to help me visualize important concepts and relationships has blossomed into a valuable design tool and artifact for others in our organization. When providing training on the various settlements calculations, for example, using bubble charts has been valuable in reflecting a high-level overview before diving into, what can be, more confusing details. Creating bubble charts has also helped me and others in the middle of developing complex groupings of rules to keep track of all of the requirements, as well as to see which ones we're missing. Figure 2 is an example of a complex bubble chart used in such a case. Prior to creating the bubble chart, our team spent a lot of time trying to figure out the relationships between rules and which terms we still needed to define. After taking the 1-2 hours necessary to create a bubble chart, it was easier for the team to remain focused and fill in the blanks in a more time-efficient manner. When in readable form, the example in Figure 2 barely fits on a ledger size piece of paper. Essentially, there is no limit to the size or use of this creative artifact.
Figure 2. Example of a Complex ©NCPA Bubble Chart
Yellow = Main Rule,
Blue = Embedded Rule,
Green = Preferred Business Term
Purple = Term/Rule that needs to be created
Of course, a bubble chart is not the only creative artifact possible. I have also needed to create links (mappings) between business terms and IT terms used in various settlements calculations. Some of these settlements calculations are quite complex, and I've again needed a visual way to be able to tie all of the pieces together. I could have used a bubble chart to do this, but found that in this case a more hierarchal method worked better. My goal was not to recreate the equation using our preferred method — my goal was to figure out which level of the calculation provided us the necessary data to be able to compare to our internal data. We didn't necessarily need the data at the root of the calculation, nor was the data at the highest level sufficient. The hierarchy shown in Figure 3 not only helped me to understand the calculation as I dissected it, it also gave me a visual representation of all of the parts so I could better choose the correct level of data to compare.
Figure 3. Example of a Hierarchal Visual Artifact (names are examples only)
Colors other than blue = those values used in other parts in the equation as well (not shown)
Creating innovative artifacts is not just a great tool for the Business Analyst. Our IT counterparts can also benefit from creating their own visual artifacts ... although theirs will likely have actual equations or scripts in the background. Figure 4 gives an example of part of an Equation Map created by one IT Analyst to aid in discussions between the Business and IT about coding a particular calculation.
Figure 4. Example of an Equation Map created by an IT AnalystThere is no limit to the types of creative artifacts that can be created using business rules and terms to aid with training, discussions, implementations, and so on. While it is important we place boundaries around our terms and rules so that we don't haphazardly set up our business language, there shouldn't be a limitation set on how we are able to present that business language.
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