Top 10 Mistakes Business Analysts Make When Capturing Rules - Mistake #8: Not Having the Right Skill Set

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

My husband and I just installed our daughter to university back east.  As an only child, my daughter has been very well cared for (in other words, spoiled) all of her 18 years of life.  When we stepped into her dorm room on the first day, we were greeted with a wooden bed, a wooden table, a plastic covered mattress, and dust balls rolling around the floor.  My daughter took one look and announced that she would be late for orientation. 

Guess who was left with doing the clean up and furnishing of her dorm room?  Talk about not having the right skill set.  I have zero cleaning and decorating skills and my husband is no handyman.  We ended up cleaning floors (on my hands and knees); lugging a refrigerator, microwave, and shelves up five flights of stairs (my husband and I are not physically fit); putting up shelves (of course, it is only when you are 70% done that you realize you have to start all over again); and moving furniture (with what little muscles we have). 

At the end, I have to say the results were amazing.  She now has a very comfortable, clean, and colorful room.  My husband and I are patting ourselves on the back.  How did we achieve success when we are so unskilled to do the work?  One answer:  Because we wanted it bad.  We had one goal of building my daughter a home away from home.  We were focused on that goal and we did whatever it took.

Having the right skill set to do business rules type projects is essential, but what's even more important is having the right vision or goal of what you want to do.  Keep that focus.  And the rest will fall into place.

Kelly Karlen (Manager, Business Rules Center of Excellence, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota) said this:

"Not everybody can be a good rules analyst — not even good business analysts … they don't necessarily equate to a good analyst.  You really need to make sure that you're finding people with the right skill set; it's a different mindset, to sit down and think through how your business is using its knowledge."

So, how do we train a good rules analyst?  There are practical skills you can learn (which I believe is the easy part):

  • Rule harvesting — knowledge of how to capture business rules from people's heads, from documentation, and from system codes

  • Rule specification — knowledge of how to express the business rules in a consistent manner

  • Rule analysis — knowledge of how to analyse rules for duplication, redundancy, and conflicts

  • Rule management — knowledge of how to organize a large set business rules

  • Vocabulary management — knowledge of how to define, model, and manage corporate business terminology and concepts

Kristen Seer said:  "Being a Rule Analyst requires more than a set of learned skills; there is a certain personality that comes with the territory.  Although the traits of this personality can be developed or refined, they cannot be taught."  I can't agree with Kristen more.   Rule analysis is not for everyone.  Certain innate personality traits seem to pave the way for more natural rule analysis:

  • Strong analytical ability — A Rule Analyst must be able to partition a large set of rules in a logical fashion to enable validation and verification of rules.  The ability to break things down into manageable parts is innate.

  • Ability to see the 'big picture' — While a Rule Analyst must be able to 'break things down into parts', he/she must also be able to keep the 'big picture' in mind.  A Rule Analyst must be able to see how disparate projects or change initiatives fit together and impact each other, particularly with respect to rules.

  • Ability to work at a detailed level — As well as being able to see the 'big picture', a Rule Analyst needs to be able to zero in on the smallest details, as it can be the little things that make or break the effectiveness of a business rule.

Refer to Kristen's articles[1] for more information on different personality traits and skills required for a Rule Analyst.

As Kelly Karlen mentioned above, a Rule Analyst needs to have a different mindset.  The mindset she refers to is the ability to see business rules as a commodity of its own right — the ability to see business rules outside the context of process, people, or events.  This is especially difficult for those of us who have an IT background.  We like to see things in a procedural manner (i.e., first do this, then do that; etc).  True business rules thinking requires a type of declarative thinking.  One of Ron Ross's favourite examples is the Ten Commandments:  for example, "Thou shalt not kill."  There is no "If you kill, then this."  There is no way to specify all situations where you "shalt not kill."  A rule (in this case, a commandment) is just that:  a declarative statement that can be applied in endless situations. 

A good Rule Analyst has to be able to identify the rule and then identify the processes, people, or events that it guides or constrains.    This kind of thinking requires a different mindset.  Reading helps; training helps; but most importantly, it is the willingness of the analyst to open his/her mind to a different type of thinking.  This comes back to focusing on the goal.  Just as my husband and I had the determination to build a comfortable 'home' for my daughter, the analyst has to have the right attitude to accept a new way of thinking.

Just Remember…

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

  • The most important skill is not a skill.  It is the analyst's willingness to accept a new way of thinking.

  • Practical skills can be trained.

  • Rule analysis requires an analyst to be able to see the big picture, to be able to logically break things down into smaller parts, and to be able to be meticulous with details.


[1]  Kristen Seer, Senior Consultant Business Rule Solutions, LLC, wrote a series of articles on different personality traits and skills requires for a rule analyst:
• Kristen Seer, "The Role of Rule Analyst (part 1)," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 6, No. 11 (Nov. 2005), URL:
• Kristen Seer, "The Role of Rule Analyst (part 2)," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Jan. 2006), URL: 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 #8: Not Having the Right Skill Set" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 12, No. 10, (Oct. 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.

Read All Articles by Gladys S.W. Lam

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