Business Vocabulary: The Most Basic Requirement of All

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross
Excerpted from Chapter 1, Business Rule Concepts:  Getting to the Point of Knowledge (Third Edition), by Ronald G. Ross (August 2009). ISBN 0-941049-07-8

Ask managers and workers in the business what they mean by requirements for developing software systems, and typically you get answers centered on features and functions, or on the look-and-feel of user interfaces.  The answer "business vocabulary" (or "shared business vocabulary") is almost never among the responses.  Nonetheless, a shared, well-structured business vocabulary is indeed a kind of requirement.

A shared, well-structured business vocabulary, of course, is by no means the only kind of requirement necessary for software development.  Without such a vocabulary, however, you cannot provide real meaning or coherency (sense) to all the others, especially to the business rules.  For that reason, a shared, well-structured business vocabulary represents a fundamental kind of requirement.

A shared, well-structured business vocabulary literally provides meaning (semantics).  This meaning, of course, is abstract.  It might not be as obvious as what a system does or how the system looks on the outside. Just because something is less obvious, however, does not mean it is any less important.  Break a bone, and see what happens to the body's behavior.  (I have, so I can speak with some authority!)

The problem is by no means limited to communication of requirements between business workers and IT.  Indeed, in many organizations today, business workers from different parts of the organization often have trouble even talking to each other.  Or to say this more accurately, they talk to each other, but they are not really communicating.  They live in different semantic silos.

A well-managed, well-structured business vocabulary should be a central fixture of daily business activity.  We believe it should be as accessible and as interactive as, say, spellcheck in Microsoft Word.

Developing and managing a shared, well-structured business vocabulary means capturing business knowledge from the business-side workers and managers who possess it (or adopting it from some outside source or community of practice).  The skills involved with distilling that business knowledge are essential for business analysts. Every business analyst needs to know about fact modeling, the means to provide a robust blueprint for basic business vocabulary.

You also need appropriate business-level platforms to manage your business vocabulary.  Such automated support is crucial to effective business communication, as well as to organizing large sets of business rules.  You need special tooling for this purpose, which we call a general rulebook system.[1]

Part 2 of this three-part series examines fact types, a differential feature of fact models, and the means to add elemental verbs to your structured business vocabulary.


[1]  I talked about rulebook management in my September, 2009 column.  See: to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Business Vocabulary: The Most Basic Requirement of All" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 11, No. 4, (Apr. 2010)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

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