Requirements are Rules: True or False?

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross
Excerpted with permission from Building Business Solutions:  Business Analysis with Business Rules, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, An IIBA® Sponsored Handbook, Business Rule Solutions, LLC, October 2011, 304 pp.  URL:

"Requirements are rules."  Perhaps you've heard the argument.  Maybe you've even made it yourself.  Are they?  No!  Basic reasons why requirements are not rules:

Business people don't naturally think of a 'requirement' as a 'rule'.  To ensure the best possible communication with business people, use of 'rule' should remain consistent with the real-world understanding of 'rule'.  Say 'rule' to business people and they will naturally think "guide for conduct or action" or "criteria for making judgments or business decisions."  If a business person says 'rule' he/she almost certainly means a rule for the business (e.g., no shirt, no service), not 'requirement for a software system'.

Many 'requirements' never become rules.  The "no shirt, no service" rule doesn't happen to be automatable (at least, not easily).  Many other rules of the business are — e.g., no credit card, no sale.  When interpreted into an implementation form, the business rules ideally should still be recognizable as a form of rule.  The same cannot be said, however, for other aspects of a business model (say, processes).  In designing a business process for implementation, why would you ever say, "Now it represents rules."?!

Rules are rules, processes are processes, locations are locations, people are people.  Each can be cast into some design-level counterpart (e.g., GUIs can substitute for face-to-face communication between people.)  Nonetheless, each retains some sense or reflection of what it was originally (or should anyway).  Looking at operational business design any other way inevitably leads to a breakdown in communication and needless complexity.

Avoid confusing business people or IT professionals — or yourself — by calling requirements 'rules'.  Requirements are not rules!

But Are Business Rules 'Requirements'??

Clearly, requirements are not rules.  What about the reverse question?  Can it be helpful to think of business rules as requirements?

To answer it's essential to keep in mind what business rules are about.  In plain English, business rules are about guiding and shaping day-to-day operations of the business.  Business people would need business rules to operate the business even if there were no systems.  The business rules just are what they are.  And if well-specified, they essentially speak for themselves.

All the following, though, are certainly true about business rules:

  • They should arise from, or at least be approved by, business people.

  • They should be considered very carefully in designing a system.

  • They should be automated whenever possible.

All said and done, whether business rules are a form of requirement is really a judgment call.  The best answer is whichever is likely to prove most productive for your work.

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Requirements are Rules: True or False?" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, (Mar. 2013)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

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