Taking business rules seriously

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
requirements type.

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 to Caliber-RM.

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," advises Councill.

-- Ellen Gottesdiener