Top 10 Mistakes Business Analysts Make When Capturing Rules - Mistake #4: Not Managing Business Rules from the Start

Gladys S.W.  Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Gladys S.W. Lam

Continuing with my Top 10 Mistakes series this month, let's investigate Mistake #4:  "Not Managing Business Rules from the Start."

Here are some of our conversations at home.  I think these issues might be more prevalent for us since we have a teenage daughter in the house.

"I'm going out with Julia tomorrow.  Please don't tell Veronica."

"Arthur is having a party this weekend with Jonathan, Jesse, Veronica, and Michael.  Julia and Alex are not invited so please don't tell them."

"If Sam calls, tell him we're at the library and he can meet us there.  If Veronica calls, you don't know where we are.  She doesn't like Sam so we don't want her going to the library and seeing us hanging out with him."

Then, of course, Veronica's mother calls and my husband answers the phone.  She wants to know if we can give Veronica a ride home this weekend from the party and he says yes.  Then, he proceeds to ask if we need to give her a ride home from the library today (which, of course, Veronica doesn't know about).  I wave my hands frantically, trying to stop him from talking about the library.  He tries to change the subject and suggests that he can give Julia a ride home from the party as well, which, of course, is not good either since you'll recall that, in this soap opera, Julia was not invited.  At this point, he hands the phone over to me to rescue the situation.

As you can see, it is hard to keep track of even a few simple rules.  In order to comply with all these rules, it would be extremely helpful if the rules could be organized so that we could find the rules for a particular event, for a particular friend, a particular date, or any combination of those.

Your organization has lots of business rules.  One of the first principles of the Business Rules Manifesto is to treat business rules as a first-class citizen.  This means externalizing your business rules from all your documents and managing them on their own right.  Business rules are embedded in business documents, such as agreements, regulations, and marketing materials, or in requirement documents, such as use cases and business requirements documents.  For a business rules project, these business rules should be specified independently from the other deliverables.

When you conduct a project using the business rules approach, you are going to specify a lot of business rules.  These rules are not going to be very useful to you if they are not organized in a way that allows you to find and group them for review and analysis.  I wrote an article back in 2004 entitled Organizing a Pile of Rules.[1]  All the concepts described in that article still hold true today.  I would like to expand on that article and discuss the traceability items you might need to manage your business rules. 

Traceability items are properties of a business rule that you might want to keep track of.  My experience with different organizations is that each organization has very specific criteria for what they like to keep track of.  Here are some that are most popular.

Source:  Keeping track of where the business rule originates. 

The business rule can come from a law, regulation, contract, agreement, business policy … knowledge expert, from a physical document, or from system code.  Knowing the source will allow you to answer the question:  "Where did that business rule from?"

Motivation:  Keeping track of why you have that business rule.

There are business rules where the motivation is fairly obvious.  For example:  "A canceled order must have a cancellation reason."  You can understand (or can guess) the motivation for this business rule. 

However, there are other business rules that have hidden motivation.  For example:  "A customer must not place more than 3 express orders in one day."  There could be many reasons for this business rule.  Is it to avoid fraud?  Is it because IT only allowed 3 slots for express orders in one day?  Is it that if you provide a 4th express order, the system will abend?  Whatever the reason, it is beneficial to keep track of that motivation once you figure it out.  This will allow you to answer the question:  "Why did we have that business rule?" and save a lot of re-discussion and re-investigation time.

Versions:  Keeping track of different variations of the business rule.

When you are deep in the trenches of rule harvesting, I can guarantee that you will have a déjà vu experience.  You will often find yourself saying, "I am sure I have written this business rule before!"  Keeping track of different versions of your business rules will help you answer the question:  "Have I done this before?"

Status:  Keeping track of the current status of the business rule.

You will need to review your business rules at different stages of the project with different audiences.  It is extremely useful to know what status your business rules are in.  Different types of project might require different statuses.  The most common are:  Approved; Under Review; Under Development; Implemented; Retired; Rejected.  Keeping track of the status will allow you to extract the right set of business rules for the right audience at the right time.

Relationships:  Keeping track of the various kinds of relationships between business rules.

Business rules are often related to other business rules.  In your rule analysis, you might find that a business rule is in conflict with another business rule.  A business rule may support other business rules.  A business rule may be interpreted from another rule.

Once these types of analysis have been done, it is good to capture the results.  This will help you answer the question:  "What business rules might be impacted if I change this business rule?"

By now, you might think there is a lot to do in rule management.  You are correct.  Business rule management is no small task.  My advice is to always do what is useful and productive.  Do not collect information about a business rule for the sake of collecting information.  Know why you are doing it and what needs to be done.

Having an automated tool helps a lot.  Microsoft Excel is the most common business rule management tool in the marketplace.  My 2004 article described some of the tool sets in the marketplace.  Since then, several new tools have emerged.  For a look at a best-of-breed tool, see RuleXpress.[2] 

My recommendation is start managing your business rules early in your project.  The longer you wait, the more your business rules will pile up.  You need a structured organizing scheme to keep your business rules at your fingertips, a process to keep your business rules up-to-date, and a tool to help store and report on your business rules.

Just Remember…

Plainly speaking, here are some of the main things you need to remember:

  • Organize your business rules early in the project cycle.

  • Organize your business rules by categorizing your business rules, by collecting traceability items, and by associating related business rules to each other.

  • An automated business rule tool can be very helpful.  If nothing else is available, use Excel but, in any case, make sure the organizing scheme you use is well thought through.


[1]  Gladys S. W. Lam, "Organizing a Pile of Rules," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 5, No. 10 (October 2004), URL: to article

[2]  For more information on RuleXpress, refer to to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Gladys S.W. Lam, "Top 10 Mistakes Business Analysts Make When Capturing Rules - Mistake #4: Not Managing Business Rules from the Start" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, (Feb. 2011)

About our Contributor:

Gladys  S.W. Lam
Gladys S.W. Lam Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Publisher, Business Rules Journal and Executive Director, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Gladys S.W. Lam is a world-renowned authority on applied business rule techniques. She is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC (, the most recognized company world-wide for business rules and decision analysis. BRS provides methodology, publications, consulting services, and training. Ms. Lam is Co-Creator of IPSpeak, the BRS methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak. She is Co-Founder of, a vertical community for professionals and home of Business Rules Journal. She co-authored Building Business Solutions, an IIBA® sponsored handbook on business analysis with business rules.

Ms. Lam is widely known for her lively, pragmatic style. She speaks internationally at conferences, public seminars and other professional events. She is also Executive Director of Building Business Capability (BBC) Conference, which includes the Business Rules & Decisions Forum and the Business Analysis Forum.

Ms. Lam is a world-renowned expert on business project management, having managed numerous projects that focus on the large-scale capture, analysis and management of business rules. She advises senior management of large companies on organizational issues and on business solutions to business problems. She has extensive experience in related areas, including BPM, structured business strategy, and managing and implementing information systems.

Ms. Lam is most recognized for her ability to identify the source of business issues, and for her effectiveness in developing pragmatic approaches to resolve them. She has gained a world-class reputation for fostering positive professional relationships with principals and support staff in projects. Ms. Lam graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Computer Science.

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