How Do Business Rules Fit with Business Analysis?

CEO, International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA)
Chair, Business Analyst Forum, BBC 2010 Conference

BRJ:  How aware of business rules do you find Business Analysts (BAs) and their business counterparts to be in North America and around the world?

Barret:  Not very, although it does depend on the BA's experience and on the process maturity of the company.

BRJ:  What impact does that level of awareness about business rules have on the results BAs achieve?

Barret:  Lack of awareness generally creates embedded inefficiencies in the requirements.  Business rules are captured as part of the solution and are not recognized as something that is fundamental to the business ... something that can stand apart from a specific solution and that can be reused.

BRJ:  What are the biggest challenges facing BAs today and how can business rules help?

Barret:  Immaturity of organizational processes is a huge challenge.  You can have a very seasoned BA practitioner, but if the organization is not structured to support that individual, they will be less than successful (if not fail) in delivering quality requirements that can be implemented.  Many organizations are focused on getting things done, reacting to market pressures, and not thinking holistically about what is required to deliver quality solutions.

The reason any organization exists is to deliver products and/or services to its customers.  Its success or failure is determined by whether or not those customers continue to support the organization through the use or purchase of those goods.  An organization's processes describe how those products or services are produced; the business rules describe the parameters under which those processes operate.  Business rules are fundamental in helping BAs understand the business.

BRJ:  How would you characterize the current state of practices that BAs employ with respect to capturing, expressing, and managing business rules?

Barret:  Fair to poor.  This is both a reflection of the immaturity of the BA role as well as ignorance of business rules.  While experienced BAs understand that business rules are critical to describing the business — and that changes to the organization through projects or other initiatives may require changes to the business rules — BAs don't necessarily have a consistent, repeatable approach to dealing with business rules.

BRJ:  How can business rule professionals help BAs be more successful?

Barret:  They can explain how business rules are fundamental to an organization ... that business rules (in addition to business processes) define what the organization is, and that description forms the framework under which business analysis operates.

BRJ:  What have BAs learned that business rule professionals should know?

Barret:  It's all about the business — their titles say it all.  Business analysis and business rules are tools to help organizations understand how they currently operate and what changes are required to ensure that they remain successful.

BRJ:  How can BAs help business rule professionals be more successful?

Barret:  They are a team.  It is difficult for one to be successful long term without the other.  As I mentioned earlier, both BAs and business rule professionals help ensure the organization is successful by describing how it operates and identifying the changes necessary to make it more effective.  If the business fails, then neither the BA nor the business rule professional can be considered successful.

One of the key responsibilities of a BA is to liaise with the various stakeholders to understand and formally document what the stakeholders think needs to change within the organization to ensure its ongoing success.  BAs draw on their relationship management, facilitation, and negotiation skills to manage their interactions.  They can provide the channel for effective communications for the business rule practitioner.

What Business Analysis is really about

BRJ:  How do you define business analysis?

Barret:  I will give you two definitions.  The first is the official definition from the BABOK®:  "Business analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals."

The second is my simpler definition.  Business Analysis is about meeting business needs and ensuring investment in the right solution by answering five critical questions:

  1. Why does the organization exist — its vision and mission.
  2. How an organization works — its processes and rules.
  3. What are its goals and objectives — its strategy.
  4. How it accomplishes those objectives — its structure.
  5. How it needs to change to better accomplish objectives or to meet new challenges — its projects.

BRJ:  Why aren't good project management skills enough for BAs to be successful?

Barret:  While a number of the skills are similar, the focus and measures of success for each of the disciplines are different.  Project management's measures of success are that the project is delivered on time, within budget, within the agreed-to scope.  Business analysis' measures of success are that the solution meets business needs in terms of alignment, functionality, usability, and sustainability.  Project management is about driving forward to get things done; BA is about eliciting information to understand needs.

BRJ:  Why aren't good technical skills enough for BAs to be successful?

Barret:  More than 50% of a BA's role requires effective use of soft skills.  Business analysis is about engagement of the multiple stakeholders to clearly understand and articulate their needs to help address whatever problem or opportunity they are dealing with.  Good technical/analytical skills will only get the BA part of the way.  The underlying competencies of business analysis are:

  • Analytical thinking & problem solving (e.g., creative thinking, decision making, learning, problem solving, systems thinking)
  • Business knowledge (e.g., business principles & practices, industry knowledge, organization knowledge, solution knowledge)
  • Communications skills (e.g., oral, written, listening)
  • Interaction skills (e.g., facilitation & negotiation, leadership & influencing, teamwork)
  • Technology skills (e.g., software, development life cycle)
  • Behavior characteristics (e.g., ethics, personal organization, trustworthiness)

BRJ:  What skills do you see business rule professionals and BAs having in common, and what skills are different?

Barret:  I think many of the skills are the same; it is the degree to which they are applied that differs.  For instance, if we look at the underlying competencies of BA, many of the areas under analytical thinking are required equally for a BA and business rule practitioner.  The same would be true of business knowledge.  However, the level of maturity in the communications or interaction area may be much less for the business rule analyst vs. the BA.

BRJ:  What role does business process modeling play in business analysis?

Barret:  Like business rules, business processes are fundamental to BA.  It is the business processes and business rules that describe the organization the BA is analyzing to understand what needs to change.

BRJ:  Do you find BAs more engaged in business process modeling than in business rule analysis, and what effect does it have?

Barret:  Yes.  Because BAs focus on activities within the organization they are analyzing, they generally describe the organization in terms of process rather than rules.  Process is what happens within the organization so it is somewhat easier to relate to than rules, which are more abstract.  The result is that rules get embedded in the solutions and not captured in a rules repository for reuse.  There is duplication and potential conflict across the organization if the reoccurrence of fundamental business rules is not tracked.

Business Rules, Business Analysis, and the Future

BRJ:  What does the future hold for BAs, and why is that important for business rule professionals?

Barret:  The future of the BA looks great.  Organizations are now just beginning to understand how effective application of business analysis discipline can help make them much more successful.  They are investing in training; they are defining career paths; they are establishing communities of practice to support the BA professional.

I think that bodes very well for business rule professionals.  As organizations better understand how Business Analysis is performed, they will realize the importance of business rules.  They may formalize the role of the business rule practitioner; invest in rules repositories; align the various components of the organization together (e.g., information, process, rules).

BRJ:  Do you see the roles of BAs and business rule professionals merging, or do you think there will be continuing specialization?

Barret:  Both — it depends on the organization.  There will always be hybrid practitioners, and some organizations will be able to maintain specialized roles.  I think, however, that as business rules become better understood and identified, there will be a specialized BA role whose focus in on formalizing and documenting business rules.

BRJ:  If you could create the perfect BA center of excellence for a company, what would it look like?

Barret:  It depends.  That is the answer any good BA would give you. 

First, a company needs to understand what type of BAs it needs.  I like to express that need in terms of a mathematical function:  Need for BAs = ƒ(maturity, size, diversity).

A mature company may need relatively few, mid-level BAs.  Since business analysis is all about identifying and managing change to an organization, a mature one probably does not undergo much change.  You don't want to hire a bunch of senior practitioners only to have them leave because they are under-utilized and bored.  On the other hand, an immature or growing company — one operating in a dynamic market — will probably need senior BAs.  Large or diverse companies will need a variety of BAs, operating at different levels of maturity.

So the perfect BA Center of Excellence?  That CoE would:

  • Focus on the entire enterprise, including both IT and the business BAs.
  • Define the enterprise standard for business analysis, recognizing that that standard may vary a bit, depending on the specific project or initiative.
  • Identify and maintain the training and mentorship program for BA practitioners.
  • Engage with the different stakeholders within the organization, to understand its need for business analysis and to ensure that capability exists within the organization.
  • Possibly include a centralized group of very senior practitioners that can go in to support/coach different BAs, or act like a SWAT team for initiatives in trouble or struggling.
  • Track industry changes and keep the BAs informed of changes in the industry.

BRJ:  What role would business rules and business processes play in the BA Center of Excellence?

Barret:  They are a fundamental part of the BA tool kit.  They would need to be understood — BA practitioners would need to be trained in both areas.  Depending on the organization, there might be separate groups focusing on business rules and business process.  In that case, the BA CoE would need to interact with those groups to ensure an efficient and effective relationship between them and the rest of the organization.

BRJ:  What would the relationship be between the BA Center of Excellence and IT?

Barret:  IT represents one of the CoE's critical sponsors /stakeholders.  In many organizations, the BA CoE sits within the IT department, but that does not necessarily have to be the case.

BRJ:  How can BAs and business rule professionals stay on top of all the necessary areas of professional expertise?

Barret:  The market is evolving so quickly, keeping up can be a challenge.  I would recommend picking a couple favorite publications — either printed or online — that you can reference regularly.  Periodically, take some time to Google a topic and spend some time reading from various sources.  And attend the Building Business Capability conference!

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Kathleen Barret , "How Do Business Rules Fit with Business Analysis?" Business Rules Journal Vol. 11, No. 10, (Oct. 2010)

About our Contributor:

Kathleen   Barret
Kathleen Barret

In June of 2009, Kathleen Barret became International Institute of Business Analysis's full-time President and CEO, after having held the role as a volunteer since the organization's inception in October 2003. IIBA, a professional association for Business Analysts, focuses on defining and enhancing the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK®) and on implementing a certification program for qualified practitioners.

With over 25 years of experience in information technology, Kathleen has held many roles, including (most recently) managing the offshore software development work for a large financial services organization. Her involvement in the field of business analysis began when she was asked to create a centre of competency for BAs for her company in 2002. That work lead her to create — along with 23 other individuals — IIBA. Kathleen is experienced in CMMI and benchmarking and, through her many years of consulting, brings cross-industry knowledge to her role at IIBA. Kathleen received her degree in International Economics from Georgetown University

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