Top 10 Mistakes Business Analysts Make When Capturing Business Rules - Mistake #6: Not Having Strong Sponsorship

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

Over the past months in my Top 10 Mistakes series, I've covered issues that I see recur time and time again in the field, including:  folks not focusing on terminology; treating business rules initiatives as simply IT projects; assuming everyone knows what a business rule is; not managing business rules from the start, and not having the right business infrastructure.  This month, let's investigate Mistake #6:  "Not Having Strong Sponsorship."

Children know about the importance of sponsorship at an early age.  Any parent can tell you how quickly a child figures out which parent will let them get away with what.   In my household, my husband is the generous one.  So when my daughter wants that pair of designer jeans and I say no, she will say (you guessed it), "But Daddy said I can."  On the other hand, dating is a hard thing for my husband to swallow.  So my daughter will carefully ask me about going out before telling Dad.  Of course, then she can say, "But Mommy said I can."

With business rules projects, sponsorship is especially important because it means both business and IT need to take on different roles than with traditional projects.

Mukundan Agaram, Enterprise Architect at Delta Dental of Michigan, and Kevin Chase, Project Director of Customer Information Technology Service Group at ING, said the following in the "DOs and DON'Ts of Business Rules" Practitioners' Panel at the 2009 Business Rules Forum:[1]

"Get executive buy-in early on.  Educate them about what business rules can do for them; explain the value-add.  You've got to do a lot of evangelism to get their buy-in because business rules, once you've put it in place, is a two-headed monster — business and technology.  As such, in the organization, you need the clout to bring both sides together and to lead it as one effort for the whole enterprise.…" — Mukundan Agaram

"You need strong executive sponsorship, and evangelism is a good word for this.  You really need strong evangelism, both at the grass roots level, which I provided early-on, but also at the executive level, which my boss provided." — Kevin Chase

How do you get strong sponsorship?  The key is having compelling business drivers.  Business sponsors do not usually care about how something is done or what approach is used; they just want to know what business results are generated.  To get a strong sponsor, you need strong business drivers.  Below are some strong business drivers we have encountered over many years of working with different organizations worldwide:

  • Fiduciary Responsibilities Support.  Demonstrate compliance by officers of the organization with their fiduciary responsibilities.

  • Risk Management.  Enable more effective, timely, and focused management of risks by monitoring performance around critical items of business policy and strategy.

  • Liability Management.  Reduce or eliminate legal and financial liabilities due to non-compliance with contractual obligations and statutory responsibilities.

  • Quality Assurance.  Ensure consistency in business behavior, and appropriate interactions with external stakeholders.

  • Regulatory Compliance.  Ensure conformance with external regulation.

  • Agility.  Ensure timely and coordinated deployment of changes in business policy and strategy.

  • Knowledge Retention.  Ensure that specialized knowledge, business intellectual property (IP), and core competencies are captured and managed rather than being tacit, so that survivability and sustainability is less dependent on individual workers.

  • Accountability.  Ensure clear lines of responsibility for interpretations and deployments of business policy and regulation into day-to-day operations.

  • Transparency.  Ensure that business activity subject to external regulation is conducted in a manner that can be fully audited.[2]

The driver for sponsorship might also change over time.  Before the global financial crisis in 2009, we had a major banking institution that adopted the business rules approach because they needed to be agile.  They needed to change products and get new products out into the market place as quickly as possible.  After the financial crisis, that driver changed.  Instead of agility being the principal driver, they needed to demonstrate more risk adversity and transparency.

Another client, a not-for-profit joint powers agency, shares their experience on the benefit of using a business rules approach:[3] 

"The Independent System Operator (ISO) recently implemented the Market Redesign and Technology Upgrade (MRTU), a comprehensive program that enhances grid reliability and fixes flaws in the ISO markets.  MRTU lasted three and a half years.  Changes to the electricity market design meant constant change — weekly changes from the ISO for most of the last two years.  Market defects would be found and ISO would change the rules accordingly.  This in turn would mean our customer would need to update the rules in its systems.
     Compared with how other organizations have implemented MRTU the results have been dramatic.  While some groups of municipalities spent upwards of  $10M on components and consulting over three years implementing the rules, our customer spent just $300,000 on components and consultation — a substantial reduction in costs.  And this saving is in development cycle — ongoing maintenance will continue to be much less, boosting lowering the total cost of ownership over time."

That is 97% savings.  A very compelling business driver indeed!

Just Remember…

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

  • Ensure you have a strong sponsor who can support you in both the business and IT.

  • Be clear on the business drivers.

  • Communicate and reconfirm the business drivers regularly.


[1]  Business Rules Forum 2009 Practitioners' Panel:  The DOs and DON'Ts of Business Rules," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Apr. 2010), URL: return to article

[2]  Business Rule Concepts:  Getting to the Point of Knowledge (Third Edition), by Ronald G. Ross (August 2009).  ISBN 0-941049-07-8, URL: return to article

[3]  From customer interviews conducted by James Taylor ( return 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 Business Rules - Mistake #6: Not Having Strong Sponsorship" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 12, No. 6, (Jun. 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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