I watched with a sinking sensation as a group of business analysts, developers, architects and business owners sat in a room for hours trying to work out all of the business rules for part of a new system. Everyone had a thousand great ideas about the various conditions that might exist, the errors that could arise and the outcomes that might resolve them, but after two hours the group had still not found a way to sort, filter, validate and document the collection of rules.
So, because I have limited capacity to process complexity, I came up with a way of helping them to help me understand the problem sort through their mountain of data. I’ll try and describe how you can use this technique to help a group to define business rules. I found that this technique works for both technical and non-technical people.
I’m just going to use a made-up example about the rules for a rule set for a paving contractor, but try to project your own situation onto this.
1. Define the objects
Create a post-it for each thing in the system. This could be a person, a document, a data packet, etc. In this example, we have bricks, sand and cement.
2. Define the conditions for each thing
For each thing, what are the important states of the object that will make up our rules. Here we have the things that could go wrong when starting a paving project. When the group agree on these, duplicate each one several times.
3. Define the outcomes
Without trying to explore every scenario yet, ask the group what all the possible remedies for our paving problem might be? Again, create multiple copies of each outcome.
4. Draw up our matrix
On your whiteboard (it helps if you have a really big whiteboard) draw up a matrix for conditions and outcomes.
5. Try combinations
Now start working through each condition individually, asking what the outcome will be. Try out combinations of conditions. Allow for multiple outcomes. Ignore combinations that can’t exist or have no outcome. The colour coded notes help you keep order and repeat the story back to the group easily – “When we have a broken brick, washed out sand bed and the cement is too wet we need to call the supervisor.”
As you start to work through this exercise, new objects, conditions and outcomes will always come up. Just add them to the pile above and start walking through them.
I’ve had some success with this technique – it has allowed everyone to participate in a complex rules discussion in an accessible way. I’d love to hear from anyone who has done something similar, or try this out and let me know how you refined it.