Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Clever user interfaces break business rules and processes

After a great vacation I caught up with James Taylor’s blog on ebizQ. In this post, he was writes about business rules, and the importance of making them agile, to match the objectives of a real business. Given the importance of rules and process to New Account Opening, I wanted to add a few of my own observations and experience.

I agree with James’ description of agility in business rules. Experience has taught me that if you do not pay attention to these from the initial definition of any business process system, you will end up with a high chance of failure.

The problem as I have seen it extends beyond the pure implementation of rules and processes. Typically organizations want a nice usable/pretty application user interface (UI) to sit over the top of their new workflow process, to appeal to vocal users and executive sponsors.

The problem with this is that unless carefully designed and implemented, this UI becomes a major factor in limiting the agility of a process: rules may be unexpectedly implemented internally by coders; user level decisions may be enforced by UI design rather than workflow; highly specific requirements for UI operation for different user groups may lead to agility limiting constraints.

As an example, I learnt a lot from being on a team implementing a large insurance company’s workflow system that almost failed after 9 months of system design and implementation effort. The requirements up front demanded fairly simple process management and rules. The problem was that the user facing application was initially designed displaying each step in the business process in a form too specific to the role of an end user to enable the process or rules to be changed by business analysts. Every change required significant effort from the programmers. After significant redesign, the application was simplified to include a more generic user interface, reusable across process steps without change, enabling rules and process to be enforced and changed within the workflow/rules engine. The resulting application was released within 4 months and the brains of the end-users were re-engaged, rather than placed into production-line mentality.

Best practice says ‘start simple’. For business processes, rules and the applications around them this is essential.

No comments: