Business Rules – November 2010

Essence DefinitionsA central idea in business rules is that any aspect of business guidance or know-how that might change should be treated as rules. In forming definitions for business concepts, the practitioner should always focus what is unlikely to ever change – that is, on fundamental essence. Our approach therefore emphasizes essence definitions as a best practice.

For example, consider the definition of “customer” proposed by a practitioner in a recent real-life project:

Customer: An organization or individual person that has placed at least one paid order during the previous two years

Consider the areas of business practice that might change over time:

  • That a customer may be either an organization or an individual person.
  • That placing orders is the core criterion for being a customer.
  • That a minimum of exactly one order is a criterion for being a customer.
  • That an order having been paid is a criterion for being a customer.
  • That the timeframe of exactly two years is a criterion for being a customer.

Now consider definition (2a) of “customer” from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary:

Customer: one that purchases some commodity or service; especially, one that purchases systematically or frequently

The Webster’s version is clearly better. The embedded business practices of the practitioner’s version should be treated as elements of guidance, as follows.

Rule: A customer always places at least one paid order during the previous two years.

Permission: A customer may be an organization or individual person.

Is the Webster’s definition exclusively “essence”? Almost, but not quite. Note the word “purchases” in the 2a definition. Having to purchase something to be a customer is a necessity. Many people (especially some in marketing) would probably not want to place that constraint on being a “customer.”

So we might go the Webster’s definition one better by relaxing the embedded “purchases” necessity, as follows:

Customer: one that purchases or that might purchase some commodity or service

This revised version is about as close to pure essence as a definition for this concept could possibly become. Incidentally, the definition builds on the sense of Webster’s definition 4 [emphasis added]:

Customer: an individual usually having some specified distinctive trait or traits that one has or may have some dealing, encounter, or relationship with

So the revised essence definition has not really strayed too far from Webster’s. In defining business vocabulary, straying from the dictionary for meanings should always be a last resort.

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Ronald Ross

Ronald Ross

Ronald G. Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994. With BRS’s client roster of Fortune 500 companies and governments, Ron consults,speaks and teaches worldwide. He has served as the chair of the International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference. Ron is also the author of 10 professional books, as well as the executive editor of the Business Rules Journal. Through these publications, as well as on the online forum BRCommunity and his blog, Ron enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience in consulting and business rules. Outside of work, Ron enjoys walking his dogs, travelling with his three children, and tweeting. For fresh nuggets of information, follow him @Ronald_G_Ross!

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