Taking business rules seriously
- By Ellen Gottesdiener
Mannatech Inc. takes its business rules seriously, according to Bill Councill,
systems and process engineering manager in the firm's IT department. The Coppell,
Texas-based nutraceuticals (products that are a cross between dietary supplements
and pharmaceuticals) firm not only builds applications that involve complex
business rules, but has adapted the IEEE requirements standard (830-1998) and
extended it to include business rules as a
Business rules are linked to other business rules, along with requirements
such as legal and functional requirements. These, in turn, are linked to use
cases. Business rules are also organized into types -- essentially sets of rules
around a business function or service (training, Web shipping charges, attendance)
-- that are grouped by project. Thus business rules are traced to all requirement
types. Mannatech manages these requirements with TBI's Caliber-RM requirements
management tool. Use cases are modeled in Select Enterprise, which is linked
By following the IEEE requirements standard, Manna-tech ensures the quality
of its business rules. The IEEE standard specifies eight characteristics of
quality requirements: complete, correct, consistent, unambiguous, ranked (for
importance and/or stability), modifiable, verifiable and traceable. Other important
characteristics that might be considered are if the requirement is feasible,
relevant, reusable and traced.
Take the characteristic of consistency. At Mannatech, a consistent style of
writing is used for all requirements, including business rules. This means that
a business rule such as "an Associate that previously held the position
of a Master Associate but renews at a lower level shall have the option to renew
at the master level to reinstate their previous status and once again become
eligible for applicable commissions" will have links to Caliber-RM's Glossary,
where each term ('associate,' 'master,' 'lower
level' and so on) is defined.
Following a rigorous requirements approach for business rules also means that
each business rule captured must have a means of being tested. "The person
who writes the requirements must write a validation script that is entered in
Caliber-RM," said Councill. From there, the tester writes a test script
and then tests the business-rule requirement in Visual Basic. Issues and testing
results are also traced using Caliber-RM's discussion feature.
"We are motivated to capture and trace business rules due to the regulatory
nature of the business, and because we recently become a public company,"
said Councill. "We have to elucidate our policies and rules."
The path is not easy. "Any level of the company can generate business
rules, and sometimes we don't find out about them until later. For example,
we may modify our Order Processing module and capture the rules," said
Councill. "But we may later find out we didn't get them all and have to
go back and [add them]. Tools and traceability help."
The bottom line to success goes beyond tools, however. "The organization
must be sensitized to the need to specify business rules early. Business-rule
capture needs to be conducted with senior business areas, as well as IT,"
-- Ellen Gottesdiener