Breaking the Rules: Breach Questions


Three questions regarding breaches of business rules should be addressed by Business Analysts: enforcement level, guidance message, and breach response. The goal is context-dependent, pinpoint reaction to breaches in real-time. Addressing breaches intelligently is key to creating friendly, agile, secure business solutions, ones that can evolve rapidly in day-to-day operation.

Preview from the new 2013 4th edition of Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge by Ronald G. Ross 

Fundamental to business analysis with business rules is the assumption that breaches of business rules can be detected. If you can’t detect breaches, how can you run the business?! To say it differently, if you can’t detect breaches of a business rule, but you can still run the business, perhaps you don’t need the business rule at all(!).

Breaking the Rules:  Breach QuestionsWhat should happen when a breach of a business rule is detected? Business Analysts need to answer three basic questions in that regard:

1. How strictly should the business rule be enforced?
2. What message is appropriate?
3. What response is needed?

Simple defaults can be assumed for these three questions (see Table 1), but these answers will never be adequate for all business rules. Developing a friendly, secure business solution requires more selective answers for many business rules. It should also be possible to easily change or evolve the answers (including defaults) after deployment of the business rules, thus permitting the business capability to become incrementally smarter.

Table 1. Defaults for the Breach Questions

enforcement level strictly enforced
guidance message the business rule statement itself
breach response none


Breach Question 1. Enforcement Level

How strictly should a behavioral rule be enforced?

Example …

Business Rule: A service representative must not be assigned to good customers in more than 3 states or provinces.

Ask: How strictly should this business rule be enforced?

Enforcement Level: Override by pre-authorized actor

Table 2 lists the most common enforcement levels for behavioral rules.[2]

Table 2. Common Enforcement Levels for Behavioral Rules

Enforcement Level Description
strictly enforced Violations are disallowed in all cases – achieving some new state successfully is always prevented.
override by pre-authorized actor The behavioral rule is enforced, but an actor with proper before-the-fact authorization may override it.
override with explanation The behavioral rule may be overridden simply by providing an explanation.
guideline Suggested, but not enforced.

Be sure not to overlook the last enforcement level Table 2. A business rule that is actively evaluated, but not enforced, is (literally) a guideline. Guidelines are business rules too!

Breach Question 2. Guidance Message

What message should be returned when a breach of a business rule occurs?

When a business rule is breached, somebody, often a business actor directly engaged in a business process, needs to know about it. The breach means the work being conducted has strayed outside the boundaries of what the business deems acceptable or desirable. From a business perspective an error has been made, so some error message should go out. What should that error message say?

As a default, we like to say that the business rule statement is the error message. From a business point of view, that equivalence must always be true – what else are business rules about?! Rather than saying ‘error message’ (which sounds technical) or ‘violation message’ (which sounds harsh, especially for guidelines), we say guidance message.

Generally, guidance messages should be as friendly and as helpful as possible. For example, guidance messages can be written in a more personal, informative style. More explanation or suggestions can be appended or substituted as desired. Perhaps a link to other media (e.g., a how-to video) can be provided. Sometimes the best guidance message takes the form of some icon or signal (e.g., a warning light turning to yellow or red).

Guidance messages frequently need to be specific to the circumstances in which a breach occurs (e.g., what role or user produced it). In all cases, guidance messages should be made available only to people who are qualified and capable.

Breach Question 3. Breach Response

Does the breach response for a business rule need to be more selective, rigorous, or comprehensive than simply a message?

Example …

Business Rule: A cursory review of a received engineering design must be conducted within 5 business days from the date received.

Ask: What breach response is appropriate for this business rule?

Breach Response: The received engineering design must be brought to the attention of the manager of the department by the morning of the next business day.

Breach responses can take any of the following forms:

• business rule (as illustrated above), or set of business rules
• processes or procedures
• sanctions or penalties
• operational business decisions
• special notifications, displays or instructions

Multiple breach responses might be desirable for a business rule. They might also need to be specific to the circumstances in which a breach occurs (e.g., what particular part of a process is being performed). Usually, breach responses serve to increase user-friendliness. In cases of potential fraud or malicious business behavior, however, breach responses should be much more aggressive.

Author: Ronald G. Ross is recognized internationally as the ‘father of business rules.’ He is Co-founder and Principal of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he is active in consulting services, publications, the Proteus® methodology, and RuleSpeak®. Mr. Ross serves as Executive Editor of and as Chair of the Business Rules Forum Conference. He is the author of nine professional books, including his latest, Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules with Gladys S.W. Lam (2011,, and the authoritative Business Rule Concepts, now in its third edition (2009, Mr. Ross speaks and gives popular public seminars across the globe. His blog: . Twitter: Ronald_G_Ross

[1] This breach question applies only to behavioral rules. Since definitional rules must always be true, they are in essence strictly enforced.
[2] Table 12-1 in the 2013 4th edition of Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge discusses additional enforcement levels. It also provides tips for designing procedures with business rules.

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