Project Practitioners > Standards Only Go So Far

Standards Only Go So Far

By Kent McDonald

The other day I ran into a co-worker who seemed a bit preoccupied.

"Hi Pat, how's it going?" I asked seeking to distract her from her preoccupation.

"Oh, they could be better." replied Patricia, obviously irritated, although I couldn't tell if it was at me or what ever preoccupation I was distracting her from. "My project is just irritating me. We just started a month or so, and I'm not sure we're going to make the deadline."

"Really?" I asked in that leading tone that was really attempting to say oh, this sounds good, do tell me more, without actually saying that. Luckily Patricia was not too distracted, or preoccupied to pick up that I was curious.

“Yeah, you know the purpose of this project was to introduce new decision logic for our new loan product, and we wanted to start selling it by July. Well Steve, the BA, has been spending the last two weeks trying to define business rules.”

“Well defining business rules certainly seems like a key part of establishing decision logic.” I said a little puzzled, trying not to sound like the 1000 piece jigsaw variety.

“No, not identifying the business rules, identifying what a business rule is – it's definition. He's very insistent that we completely understand the definition of business rules before moving forward. Trouble is he's suggesting a definition that is utterly confusing to the stakeholders, and really doesn't contribute much to the understanding of what we are trying to do. He says it needs to conform to that definition so it will meet industry standards... something about the BABOK.” She stressed the last part of this with a bit of exasperation.

“I see” I nodded sympathetically.

Steve ( not the BA's real name) had lost sight of what his role really was on the project – to help the rest of the team understand what value the project was delivering, what problems the project was trying to solve, and the constraints on the solution that the project faced. Instead, he was focused on applying very specific standards that he expected to apply to every situation, all the time. We was getting wrapped up in the form of business analysis over the function. In knowledge work, standards are helpful to provide a tool kit from which to pick based on the situation, but they should never be interpreted as always required, all the time. In fact, the only standard that I have found to be universally applicable is the standard answer “it depends.”

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating a willy-nilly approach to project work, certainly apply standards where they make sense, but take a minute to understand why the standards are in place, and make sure you are at least delivering on the intent behind the standard if the situation you are experiencing does not lend itself to directly following the standard to the letter.

So in Steve's example, he would be much better off talking with the project team about what they are trying to accomplish (identify decision logic for a new loan product) and then find out the best way to describe that logic so that the people who have to implement it would understand what they have to implement, and the people providing the logic could confirm what the team was identifying was correct. In my experience, this can simply be stated as IF X then Y. Where X are a set of conditions that when True, some set of actions Y is taken. Aside from the intricacies of And/Or logic, it's really that straight forward. Certainly no need to wrestle over the definition of a business rule

I shared that thought with Patricia and she pondered it for a minute or so. “That certainly makes sense. I'll talk to Steve and the rest of the team about that.” I could see the preoccupation leaving her, if only momentarily... “Now if I could only figure out how to make sure we're getting the right business rules identified...”

A topic for another day...

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