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Operational business decisions the Ron Ross way


I have been reading some of Ron Ross’ recent pieces on operational decisions. First there is a nice article called “Operational Business Decisions: Whose Decisions Are They Anyway” on BR Community. A short read this makes some great points that are worth re-iterating:

  • We need to focus on a decision “the way business people see it” not on some theoretical definition
  • Business rules are “not about mimicking .. intelligent behavior… they are about running a business”
  • An operational business decision occurs “only when a choice presents itself between alternatives in a day to day business activity”

Excellent points. I also liked his list of decision types (not the same as mine but a good list) and his emphasis that predictive analytics is another decisioning technology that also has a role to play in operational decisions. In fact Ron and I agree on almost everything when it comes to operational decisions. We do differ on a couple of things.

I like to say that you should “Begin with the decision in mind” while Ron feels that an exclusively decision-centric approach “throws business analysis badly off course”. This may simply come down to the difference between my focus on the automation of these decisions and Ron’s more holistic approach to business rules. I remain convinced that the power of business rules is in describing, understanding and managing decision-making. Ron I think believes business rules have value beyond that. A disagreement perhaps but one that does not matter when it comes to operational decision making.

Ron also does not like the condition-action form of rules – If this Then do that – and prefers to define business rules in terms of constraints like “an international flight must be taken in tourist class while on company business”. But even in this case I would focus on the business decision that is at issue – is this particular booking a valid one? In the context of that decision we could have  a condition-action rule that said “If the flyer is on company business and the class of travel is not economy then the booking is invalid”. Or perhaps we could allow anything to be booked and instead have a decision about claims expenses that included a rule like “If the class of travel is not economy and the flight is international then the expense is not valid”. With my focus on the enforcement of these rules in an operational decision I find the condition-action format a good one. I might use Ron’s approach as an analysis technique to capture the policies involved and then map it to the rule or rules needed to enforce it in the various operational business decisions that it constrains.

But these are minor differences compared with the basic principles we would both agree on – operational decisions matter and business rules are a great way to describe how to make them. Soon I hope to publish a review of his white paper – Decision Analysis Using Decision Tables and Business Rules


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