A part of my usual routine is a daily “game of ball” with my dogs, Ben and Finn. Recently, I was ruminating on a project at work while throwing the ball and letting them retrieve it, it became apparent that the success of something as simple as playing fetch with my dogs relies on both human and dog to abide by an agreed-upon set of rules: I throw the ball, they scrap for it, the victor returns it to me, and repeat. The more I paid attention, the more I observed that both the dogs and I were actively following, either consciously or unconsciously, the business rules for the game of fetch.

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Business rules are the specific guidelines—unique to each company, agency, department, or even teams within a department—that affect decision making, govern behavior and mold judgments. Fundamentally, whether you are playing fetch with your dogs, or supporting complex IT work, the presence of business rules is universal. Just like with fetch, business rules for any team are ubiquitous, inherent, deeply engrained in day-to-day activities, and not always acknowledged or written down. Whether they are directives passed down by superiors, or organically grown out of necessity due to the workflow or the environment, the success or failure of every project relies on business rules to sustain work activities.

Business Rules are Critical for Efficiency

Whether you are playing fetch with your dog, or your team is turning out deliverables on schedule, business rules are vital for yielding quick results without having to ask, “what’s next?” every step of the way. It would be exhausting and unproductive if, before every game of ball, you had to re-train your dog how to play fetch, and likewise, it would be exhausting to re-work processes with your team every day to complete a workflow. Rules make projects successful and working with specific tools or systems (or balls) possible. Sometimes they’re written in stone and sometimes they’re unspoken, but they create a sense of order, keep the parties in line, and allow for everyone to be on the same page of what can and cannot be done in business.

Business Rules and Change Management

For business rules to be effective, individuals on a team or in a company must be following the same set to achieve effective productivity. Thus, if a new system is put in place, that has a different set of business processes behind it, everyone needs to be aware of what is and is not a rule anymore. If the dogs were to start a game of ball with a new set of rules, and they did not inform you of the rule change (granted in this specific case communication would be difficult at best), then the game would be impossible. For example, one time, when Ben decided he was taking a rest break (see Rule #5) with the ball, I grabbed another ball (see Rule #3) and threw it to Finn, expecting Finn to be delighted to keep playing. Instead, Finn just looked at me quizzically, and Ben sat up and just stared at me.

When introducing new rules, it is essential to keep in mind previous ones and the expectations that the team who used the old rules have going into the game. If the dogs go into the game expecting they are entitled to potty breaks (see rule #4), they will not only be confused when that is no longer the case, but it could also diminish the likelihood that they will continue playing. If company policy is that new proposals are normally shown to one supervisor first, but instead are being brought to the attention of higher management, then the original supervisor will be left not knowing his role and feeling like someone went over his head. It is vital that the perspective for all parties involved be respected and considered.

Ensuring Adaptability

Another matter to consider is how much of an effect a change to the rules would have on the existing processes and procedures. Even changes deemed to be minor can affect a broad scope of company practices and sometimes at deep levels with unforeseen consequences. Enforcing adaptability as a key capability within your organization is crucial to any company, as business rules are always liable to change, whether it’s a shift in company culture or a whole new industry regulation.

The path to achieving this swift adaptability within a business is through understanding its processes and procedures. The financial and time investment into business analysis and the documentation of both methods and rules might seem substantial. Still, it is a necessary step to take in making the workflow efficient. Whether you’re preparing for a new regulation, a new technology released, or any change that affects your company, the long-term rewards that will come from knowing your business rules will prove to be worth the investment.