Focus on What Makes Your Business Smart: From Interpretation to Implementation Step 1: Interpret from Sources

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

In this series, I will examine a case study and highlight important areas in capturing business concepts, business rules, and operational business decisions.  I selected a case study using immunization rules for children.  Almost certainly, none of your businesses is about immunization.  That is a major reason I picked this case study:  I would like you to see that the issues, challenges, and solutions are similar across all businesses.  You will also see how this approach can help you understand and handle the complexity of problems that you might not be familiar with.

The 7 steps to capture business concepts, business rules, and operational business decisions from source to implementation are

Step 1 — Interpret from sources

Step 2 — Structure decision logic

Step 3 — Analyze and refine

Step 4 — Develop scenarios

Step 5 — Map vocabulary to data

Step 6 — Invoke tools

Step 7 — Run scenarios

As mentioned in Part 1, the main focus for business analysts is steps 1 to 4.  I will demonstrate how analysis work done comprehensively up front can provide complete traceability and expedite technical activities (steps 5 to 7).  Here's how you can ensure you will reap a substantial business return on your system implementation.

Step 1 — Interpret From Sources

The rules of your organization are in the form of policies and business rules or constraints that can be found in physical documentation (regulations, agreements, websites, etc.), in people's heads, and in system code.  You will find that sources, no matter which form, are often imprecise, disjointed, and inconsistent.

The goals of this step

  1. Increase precision
  2. Eliminate inconsistency
  3. Drill down on decision logic
  4. Fill gaps

Responsible parties

  • Business Stakeholders — research and interpret business intent
  • Business Analysts — capture and document result

Techniques and methodology

  • Concept modeling
  • Business rules harvesting
  • Business rules specification
  • Decision modeling

Figure 1.  Excerpt from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Figure 1 shows an excerpt from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the authoritative guide for all immunization practices in North America.  This small passage illustrates how a well-written source document can still be imprecise.  At first reading, this passage might seem clear and easy to understand.  However, in order to enable compliance and ensure the precision required for business implementation, the following questions must be answered:

  • Is 'ages 2 and 4' in years or months?
  • Does this passage stipulate up to, or up to and including (through), 18 months and 6 years?
  • Does this passage stipulate vaccination at 2 months or at 4 months?  What about +/- 1 day? ... +/- 5 days? ... +/- 30 days?  What is the threshold?

One of the goals of this step is enabling business stakeholders to increase precision.  This will require research and deep analysis.

 In this example, we need to introduce new concepts such as the following:

  • Minimum Age
  • Maximum Age
  • Earliest Recommended Age
  • Latest Recommended Age

Business Stakeholders need to provide the business rules for each of these concepts in order to provide precision. 

Using industry best practices, business analysts play a vital role in guiding business stakeholders to structure their thinking to ensure precision, consistency, and completeness. 

Business stakeholders may have to do research or interpretation.  Business analysts may conduct facilitated sessions or one-on-one interviews to drive out the detail and precision.  In this example, our result for interpreting 'at ages 2 …' is the following:

  • Absolute minimum age is 6 weeks - 4 days.
  • Minimum age is 6 weeks.
  • Earliest recommended age is 2 months.
  • Latest recommended age is 3 months + 4 weeks.

The deliverables in this step might not be as structured as we will see in step 2; however, methods and techniques that will be used in step 2 can also be used in this step.  The right method and technique will aid business analysts in asking the right questions at the right time to develop the right content.  If applied correctly, the same techniques can be used to harvest business rules from documentation, people's heads, and system code. 

Just Remember…

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

  • Source documents are always imprecise, inconsistent, and disjointed.

  • Participation from knowledge workers is required to fill in the gaps.

  • Business analysts need to facilitate and use discipline and techniques that ask the right questions to guide knowledge workers through the thinking process.

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Gladys S.W. Lam, "Focus on What Makes Your Business Smart: From Interpretation to Implementation Step 1: Interpret from Sources " Business Rules Journal, Vol. 14, No. 10, (Oct. 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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