It seems logical that you should capture business rules as part of your project elicitation. But beware of the business rule that is hiding under the covers. This is the deadly conflicting business rule that lurks beneath the project surface. If you don’t uncover it, it could could swell up and attack the project, your business, and your customers.

Case in point. I arrived at the car rental counter and requested my vehicle. After providing them my confirmation number since they could not find it in their system, they went through the process of updating my phone numbers and email addresses. Well, this all went fine until they requested a home phone number. I stated my mobile phone IS my home phone, to which the counter clerk said they needed another phone number to complete the reservation, another family member, my mom or dad’s phone number (keep in mind I’m 45, so it’s not like I go around giving out my mom and dad’s phone number anyway, nor do I live with them).

So, under full-disclosure, I am a business analysis, so I questioned why they needed a second phone number if I do all my business with one phone number. Their response was just that they needed it in order to be able to release a car. Here’s where the attack happened. It was so quiet and happened so suddenly that a non-BA may have missed it. The BA in me kicked in and I asked, “When has this policy changed?” and a second counter–agent replied, “that has ALWAYS been our policy.” My response, “I have rented from you for years, and I have never had to supply a second phone number.” The second agent’s reply, “Not at ***** you haven’t.” So I walked away, knowing I have done just that for years and thousands of dollars worth of business. The counter clerks were stunned as I walked away to a competitor’s rental counter. “Over a phone number?” was their question. But it wasn’t a phone number. It was an inconsistently applied business policy.

A call to customer service later, and I find out there IS NO POLICY at this car rental agency that states two phone numbers MUST be on file to release the car. So, I had uncovered a business rule operating differently in two different business domains. On the internet and the 1-800 line, one can reserve and check out a car with only one phone number. At this particular airport, the counter agents can not reserve or check out a car without two phone numbers on file, even for a loyal customer who has given them all his rental car business over the  years. It may have been a local policy in Des Moines, Iowa, but it conflicted with the national policy and 1-800 customer support agent.

Final point is this – know your stakeholders when you are assigned a project. Just because one group says they follow a particular policy doesn’t mean all groups follow that policy. With every touchpoint you have with the customer and the process, understand how the business rules are being applied. You may find them being applied slightly differently in the best of times, and completely opposite in the worst of times. The end result is based on the way they are applied, you may lose a valuable customer. That’s the attack of the conflicting business rule.

Can you think of any situations in which you have encountered conflicting business rules, and they have caused you to discontinue doing business with a company? Worse yet, were they in your own business and you lost customers and did not even realize it was due to the organizations’ handling of the situation?

What conflicting business rules have you uncovered as part of your projects that could have caused a major problem if they were implemented without careful analysis?

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