The Impact of a Hidden Decision

Business rules are often hidden in processes as hidden decisions.  Once you discover that hidden decision, how do you communicate the impact of exposing and managing the decision?

Hidden Decision

In our previous article on hidden business rules and enterprise decision management, we looked at a process that had a hidden decision.

First, take a look at the process with the decision still hidden:

Here’s the process (with the decision exposed) from that article:

The decision that was hidden was an implicit decision – “Pick One?” – for which the answer was always “No.”  After making this discovery, and communicating with your team, you then have to decide if you are going to make the decision explicit.  Making the decision explicit will involve defining the business rules for how to make the decision, and (if done in software) implementing the decision, or the ability for a person to make the decision.

Impact of a Decision

The diagrams above allude to the fact that there is money to be made in the process, in the “Continue Automated Process” step.  We need to provide a better understanding of how / when money is made.  A slight expansion of the process flow above (replacing the “Continue Automated Process” with a couple steps, looks like the following:

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The last step introduces a real-world decision: “Sell products?” and only when the answer is yes does the process “Earn Revenue.”

If you’re analytically minded, you can apply percentages to each branch of each decision, and add everything up to figure out an answer.  That might be reasonable for a simple example like this one, but it can become too complex with a more complicated process.

There’s an easier way.  And since the goal is to communicate the impact to someone, you want an easier way.

Truth Tables and Decisions

A truth tables is a tried and true artifact for describing combined sets of decisions.  You can use it effectively to extract information from a decision-heavy process diagram.  Consider the following application of a truth table to the process above:

[larger version]

Each of the decisions in the process flow has a column.  Each row represents a unique path through the flow.  Each cell contains the result of the decision, for that path.  Note that when a path does not involve a decision, there is no value in the cell.

That provides a comprehensive view of the process, which you could build upon.  However, in this case, you are focusing on the impact of the hidden decision (“Pick One”).  The following paths, from the truth table, involve that decision:

[larger version]

Ignoring the other paths, and re-organizing, you find the following:

[larger version]

50% of the time, when “Many” results are found in the first decision in the process, if you pick one of the results, you will earn revenue.

[larger version]

When you do not pick one, 20% of the time, the customer (or user) abandons the process.  For the users that do not abandon the process, you earn revenue 50% of the time.  Taking both into account, you earn revenue only 40% of the time.

Adding Up the Impacts

When there are “Many” results from search, you can improve the performance of this part of your process by 20% – specifically, you increase revenue by 20%.  But only if you always “Pick One” of the many results. You can extend this analysis to determine the percentage of None/One/Many outputs from the search at the start of the process, and determine an overall impact on the process.  If search returned many results 10% of the time, you can increase revenue (overall) by 1% by always picking one of those results.  That gives you the business justification to calculate ROI on exposing the hidden decision.

The end result is that you have a simple way to communicate the impacts (truth table) in the language of stakeholders (ROI).

3 thoughts on “The Impact of a Hidden Decision

  1. Not bad, what you have so elegantly described is also a great way to develop a complete set of test cases. One would hope that if the hidden decision was not explicitly revealed in the original requirements, then it would come to light in the testing.

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog
    “Learn How Product Managers Can Be Successful And Get The Respect That They Deserve”

  2. The real gem of this article is being aware of the impact and consequences to the business organization for explicit and implicit rules (and communicating same back to the business). Without awareness of metagoals, we lose the ultimate objectives in the background noise. Thanks for this reminder.

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