Estimating the Time Required for Business Rules Harvesting — Part 1: Ask These 13 Questions

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

Many organizations ask me to provide estimates on the time required to harvest business rules within a particular project scope.  I, of course, give the standard consultant reply:  "It depends."  However, after providing estimates for literately hundreds of business rules projects, I find that there is a standard set of questions that I do ask.

In Part 1 of this two-part article, I share my standard 13 questions.  In Part 2, I will provide a baseline effort and will discuss how this baseline can be adjusted by the answers to these 13 questions.


Your answer can be:


  1. What are your objectives for business rules harvesting?
  • On-going business rules management by the business

  • System implementation

  • Both

Organizations often initiate projects with the objective of harvesting business rules from source documents, from the heads of people, or from computer code, in order for the business to gain understanding and control of their own business rules.  For those projects, ongoing management of business rules by the business is critical to achieving the ultimate vision.

Most traditional IT projects specify business logic in the form of detailed business rules.  For this type of project, once business rules are specified for system development, the rules are transformed into system code and are embedded in the implemented system.  In this form, it is hard for the business stakeholders to get to the rules.

Newer IT projects that have a business rules focus require that business rules be harvested for both business management and for system development.  Traceability of the business rule from source to implementation is an ultimate goal.
  1. What types of business rules?
  • Behavioral rules

  • Decision rules

Behavioral rules are business rules whose purpose is to shape (govern) day-to-day business activity.

Decision rules are business rules that guide a particular situation to some appropriate outcome.
  1. What is the availability of subject area knowledge and expertise?
  • Subject area expertise is available

  • Subject area expertise is not readily available

The subject area experts required are those who have the business knowledge and expertise specific to the scope of the project. 

These subject area experts are especially important if they are the source of the business rules (i.e., the business rules are in their heads).  The subject area expert(s) with the business rules in their heads must be available.

If the source of the business rules is in documentation (see next question), then there might be some flexibility in getting different subject area experts to review or validate the business rules.
  1. How understandable is the source material?
  • Understandable

  • Not easily understood

Identify the source.  This can be:

  • business documentation (regulations, agreements, policy guidelines, websites, procedure manuals, etc.),

  • use cases,

  • system code.
Some sources are easy to understand, and some are not.
  1. How many business rules?
  • By Process tasks/activities

  • By Decision

Be sure to count all sources.  Identify process tasks, activities, and decisions.  Estimate by process tasks, activities, and decisions.  Break down to sub-tasks or sub-decisions, if required.

Ensure you count only business rules (not system rules).  Remember that there will always be more rules than you think there are.
  1. Does the scoped area use consistent terminology?
  • Yes

  • Not always

Terminology is the backbone of business rules.  Consistent use of business terminology will ensure consistent, accurate, and precise business rules.  If the business has confusing or undefined terminology, there could be a lot of work required to align terminology with the harvested business rules.

  1. Is there already a terminology model?
  • Yes

  • No

An already-approved terminology model can save a lot of time on business rules specification.

Is there an industry glossary?  Is there a corporate glossary?  Also, remember that sometimes having more glossaries is not necessarily better.  Finding that a term has differing definitions in various glossaries can result in a lot of work to resolve.
  1. What is the level of rule harvesting experience of business (rules) analyst(s)?
  • Has harvested business rules for 2 projects or more

  • Has been trained but has not conducted any project work

  • Has not been trained

The business (rules) analyst needs expertise and experience in Business Rules:

  • Harvesting
  • Specification
  • Analysis
  • Management

And in Business Vocabulary:

  • Definition
  • Modeling
  • Management
  1. How many external review cycles?
  • More than 2 review cycles

  • 2 review cycles

  • Fewer than 2 review cycles

This question refers to external reviews only.  Project team reviews need to happen as often as necessary. 

External reviews can be:

  • Business Team Review, involving business stakeholders who are not in the immediate project team;

  • Technical Team Review, involving system designers and developers (for knowledge transfer).
  1. What are the traceability requirements for business rule management?
  • Do not need to manage any information about the business rules

  • Manage basic 3-5 elements

  • Manage more than 5 elements

Examples of basic traceability elements include:

  • Status
  • Motivation
  • Source
  • Violation message /action

Examples of additional traceability elements could include:

  • Where are all the places that implement this business rule? (this might need investigation);

  • Jurisdiction that this business rule applies to.
  1. How complex are the business rules?
  • Low complexity

  • Medium complexity

  • High complexity

Low-complexity business rules might have only 1-2 conditions and do not have much overlapping logic with other business rules.

Medium-complexity business rules might have 3-5 conditions and have some overlapping logic with other business rules.

High-complexity business rules might have 5 or more conditions and have overlapping logic with other business rules.
  1. Do the business rules need to be re-engineered?
  • Yes

  • No

Are you harvesting the 'as-is' set of business rules?  Or do you have to improve on the as-is business rules to create a 'to-be' set of business rules?

  1. What tools will be used?
  • Office suite (e.g., Microsoft)

  • Specialized tool for business rules management

  • Enterprise architecture tool

  • Rules Engine

Business rules tend to multiply (seemingly on their own).  Early use of a tool is important.  There are pros and cons for each of the different types of tools.  Be aware of them and set up an infrastructure from the onset.

Just Remember…

Plainly speaking, here are the main things to remember:

  • How long your business rules harvesting takes depends on many things.  13 key factors are discussed above.

  • Base your estimate on sound assumptions.  Use the 13 questions to help you define your assumptions.

  • These questions are focused on estimating the harvesting effort, not the implementation effort.

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Gladys S.W. Lam, "Estimating the Time Required for Business Rules Harvesting — Part 1: Ask These 13 Questions" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, (Jan. 2013)

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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