Business rule complexity will constrain your process agility

prisoner to process

Rules are everywhere. Literally. You can observe them in everyday life all around you whether you’re in the office or not.

I see people standing on empty streets waiting to cross the road and blindly obeying the crossing sign in absence of common sense. I watch people automatically line up to fob their ID badge for access into office spaces and then again to leave because at one point there was a rule that Facilities set that you had to, but the rule has become outdated and yet people still follow it by reflex and without question.

And it’s the same for business rules within processes.

Jim Sinur has said at the Gartner BPM conference that the Business Rules Engine business will explode because, among other things, advanced processes will need constraints but I have to add a note of caution here. They are guidelines, a means to allow the business to define a loose path for a process to take before a decision needs to be made. Where constraint and auto-reflex starts to appear is when an organization hardcodes business rules into process and workflow applications ad nauseum.

It will be very easy for an organisation to become that person on the street, forgoing common sense and blindly accepting what the rules tell us.

It will be very easy for an organization to become that person standing in line to flash his ID badge because of some long forgotten reason without questioning why.

Business rules are also set in place to protect and guide the consumer but are more often than not interpreted as a set of immoveable goals to achieve and therefore organizations design processes around them, not be guided by them. And because of this common sense and business intuition becomes removed as automated black and white reasoning takes over.

There is an inverse law that needs to be applied for advanced processes.

In order to be adaptive and agile, processes require little constraint otherwise they become just as hard and fast as their older cousins built on ageing BPM solutions. Not only this, but the effort and expense required to maintain and update complex rules outweighs the benefits of the agility touted. It’s a specific skillset that not everyone can fulfil and potentially puts business’rules out of the reach of the business itself if the rules engine is a beast to wrestle.

It also means that you’ll never reach that rung on the Maturity Model because you’re constantly chasing your tail.

Business rules aren’t mean to be hard and fast. They aren’t meant to constrict decision making, process efficiency and set a workforce to automatic. They aren’t meant to cement an agile organization with concrete boots.

Don’t let complex business rules become the prison for your processes.


2 responses to “Business rule complexity will constrain your process agility

  1. This is a great article about how complex business processes can lead to inefficiency and constrict decision making capabilities. In fact, let’s use the Claims Processing business process in a health plan organization as an example.
    For many Health Plan organizations, the Claims processing business process should be a relatively simple process. However, organizations tend to overcomplicate the process with unnecessary steps. In addition, back office activities of a health plan organization require intensive coordination, and the administrative costs of a health plan significantly cut into the bottom line. In addition to plan costs, customer service is also a vital metric of plan success and a primary responsibility of the organization. In fact, a Health Plan organization which embraces a culture of business process improvement can generate significant benefits – streamlined business process flows, higher quality external and internal customer service, reduced costs, and improved claims processing.
    Improved Claims processing can help to reduce the amount of low-value work done and lead to higher customer satisfaction. Modest initiatives, however, can still encounter stumbling blocks and almost no one provides effective resources for business process improvement for free. These resources can include end-to-end business value stream map templates, KPIs, best practices and other improvement opportunities.
    Most health plan employees who want end-to-end business process flows will have to convince a C-level executive to hire an expensive consulting firm to come in and make business process maps of their processes, with no guarantee that any real improvements will be made. Since the data contained in the maps is so valuable, no consulting firm will make that data available for even the client to use if they tried to replicate the work themselves. However, for employees who can’t make executive level decisions, there are some resources available. This free online source provides health plan business process flow map templates, KPIs, best practices and other improvement opportunities:

  2. Theo
    You make a good point – any rules embedded in a process become as part of that process. They will only change when the process changes and any change to them becomes a process change, constraining an organization’s willingness to change them. I find it most effective to differentiate between the rules of a process and the rules that go into a decision (that is in the process) – check out this blog post for instance:
    In your security example, for instance, I would argue that the process needs a decision in it “Is this person cleared for entry” or something. This decision is always made and as far as the process is concerned it always returns the same answer. Of course by being externalized from the process I can change the rules without changing the process, as long as I keep to the decisions “signature.” This ability to change decision-making independently of process improves agility and makes for simpler processes (see for more on this). I can make this decision as automated as I like, handling 100% of transactions (as I have to in an automated scenario) or just the simple ones. I can learn what works and as my human decision-makers formulate new guidelines, add them to the decision without impacting my process. I can clearly see where I have to use a BRMS (decisions involving lots of rules or rules that change often for instance) and separate my process and decision concerns.

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