Eight Things You Need to Know About Fact Types -- Bringing Verbs into Structured Business Vocabulary

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   http://www.brsolutions.com/b_concepts.php

In a structured business vocabulary (a.k.a. fact model), the noun concepts represented by terms can be connected to each other much as ligaments connect bones in the human skeleton.  Connections between noun concepts are generally expressed using verbs and verb phrases.  These noun-and-verb constructions are called wordings — phrases of predictable types that permit sentences, especially expressing business rules, to be made for business operations.

Examples of wordings are given in the table.  Note that each wording involves a verb or verb phrase (italicized in the table) to connect relevant terms.  Selection of the best verbs and verb phrases to succinctly represent connections between noun concepts is fundamental to building a robust business vocabulary.

Wording for a
Connection Between
Noun Concepts

Sample Business Rule
Using the Wording

customer places order

A customer has always placed at least one order.

shipment is approved by employee

A shipment must be approved by at least two employees.

shipment includes order

A shipment must not include more than 10 orders.

Here are eight important observations about fact types:

  1. Wordings extend a standard business vocabulary in important ways.  Most obvious is that wordings add standard verbs and verb phrases.  Less obvious, but equally important, is that by connecting terms they bring structure to the business vocabulary (think ligaments).  For this reason, we like to say structured business vocabulary.

  2. The sample wordings in the table actually represent types of connections, called fact types, rather than individual connections, called facts.  For example, for customer places order an actual fact might be Global Supply, Inc. has placed the order A601288.  Structured business vocabularies are generally more concerned with identifying fact types rather than actual facts.

  3. A fact type is always worded with a verb or verb phrase (wording); therefore fact types are often called verb concepts.

  4. In English and many other languages, every wording follows a strict subject-verb-object structure — for example, customer places order.  The wording thus provides a building block for constructing sentences of arbitrary complexity that unambiguously express business rules or other kinds of knowledge.

  5. A fact type does not imply or establish any business rule on its own, nor does any associated wording.  For example, the wording customer places order creates no business rule.  It would be inappropriate to express a wording as:  A customer has always placed at least one order.  This latter statement is more than a fact type — it expresses a business rule pertaining to the fact type.

  6. Verbs (e.g., places) used in wordings do not represent or label any action, task, or process per se (e.g., place order).  Any such operation represents a different aspect of business activity — the power (or "muscle") aspect.  Think of a structured business vocabulary as providing the most appropriate way to organize knowledge about the results (or potential results) of such operations.  By most appropriate, I mean anomaly-free and semantically-clear.  In other words, a business vocabulary organizes what we can know as the results of operational processes or transforms taking place in the business.

  7. A majority of connections of core interest for structured business vocabularies involve exactly two terms — e.g., customer places order.  Connections involving more than two terms, however, are sometimes appropriate (e.g., person visits city on date).  It's also possible for a wording to concern only a single term (e.g., person smokes).

  8. In formal logic, each wording represents a predicate.  More precisely, a wording represents the meaning of a predicate.[1]  Although not directly important for practitioners, this point is a crucial one for engineers and others concerned with tooling and formalisms.

In the third and final part of this series, I discuss special-purpose elements of structure for fact models.  These additional elements of structure enable a complete and robust business vocabulary to be developed.


[1]  An SBVR distinction. return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Eight Things You Need to Know About Fact Types -- Bringing Verbs into Structured Business Vocabulary" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 11, No. 5, (May 2010)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2010/b537.html

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 BRCommunity.com 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 http://www.brsolutions.com/category/blog/. For more information about Ron visit www.RonRoss.info. Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

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