Define Your Business Rules, Define Your Business Systems

You are in a requirements gathering session. Trying to nail down business rules to help define infrastructure…and getting responses that do not offer definition. Frustration begins to set in as the responses go from bad to worse.

“Let’s just do what’s best practice”

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel”

“It’s OK to replicate what Company X is doing”


Business rules support business policies or goals and inform the technical tools used to execute day-to-day tasks. If they take on a vague or malformed shape in an internal visioning or project discovery process, the result will be an opaque and difficult to implement set of requirements.

The process of defining business rules is hard work. They are atomized subsets of business rule statements, define business requirements, and must be create a clear roadmap to technical systems. Vision and define business rules appropriately and the system you design to execute them will hum along smoothly, enable staff, and always be ready to scale. Take shortcuts and make assumptions and you will be left with a system that cannot support your business goals, extensive technical shortcomings, and frustrated teams across the organization.

Moving Toward Business Rule Definition

If you take a look at the example responses at the beginning of the article, you’ll see that, while vague, the last response gets closer to a concrete business rule, but is still light years away from something substantive. In each case you have non-answers doing offering zero contribution to tangibly characterize a business. It’s critical to arrest and reassess those responses and move toward yielding a singular, solid concept that supports your business and convert to a technical requirement.

To help reorient uncertainty, try responding with questions such as:

  • What is best practice and which ‘practice’ are you referring to?
  • Is there a particular wheel are you referring to?
  • (in the case of Amazon or Zappos) Are you a marketplace? Were last year’s revenues $22 billion?

Depending on the strength and experience of the team, the degree of difficulty with leading groups down the path of business rule specificity will vary widely and wildly.

Lets look at an example case of defining business rules.

Example Business Rule Exercise

Lets use an eCommerce subscription service (e.g., get your Progenex Protein Bars monthly) to walk through defining a business rule so that the technical team can identify and implement the appropriate technical system.

A business goal could be to “Offer customers more channels to purchase product” in an effort to increase revenue while making the forecast more predictable. Enter Supply Chain, Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. Each will have breakout cross functional and independent meetings to support the overall business goal.

In a follow-up meeting, the Marketing team creatively decides that a supportive business statement is “We will offer customers an option to purchase product via subscription”.

The supporting business rules might be:

  • we will only offer replenishable/consumable products to be purchased via subscription
  • the customer will
    • be able to purchase in intervals of 1, 2, or 3 months
      • get a 12% discount on all products
  • manage subscriptions in their customer portal

So there we go: well-defined, executable rules that IT leadership, Project Managers, and Developers can take and run with. They will be able to easily map these to an existing software offering or a create something custom.

Business Rules and the Law

There are a number of ways to determine business rules, and in one case, the law does it for you. This will make it easier to define your company’s rules as the government or a regulatory body has already decided them for you. For instance, medical devices are some of the most highly regulated products on the market. Taking a risk based approach when defining business processes for medical devices is required. Understanding the complexities set forth but the FDA will not just help you sort through developing business rules, but define them.

You have a concrete list of requirements to vet your internal process against:

  • Only certain logistics carriers can transport devices
  • Distribution centers must follow FDA regulations
  • Post sale monitoring of goods
  • …and so on

Business Rule Success

The processes of hammering out business rules is complex and pivotal in a successful system lifecycle. Turning abstract and visionary business goals, into a set of specific, practical actions that creates a highly functional system benefits everyone.

If you can manage the project well, ensure the teams understand their roles and requirements in the process, and make it a cross functional exercise, you’ll be sure to have a successful, supportive business system that will support those business goals.

Also published on Medium.

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