Occam’s Razor and Business Rules

Are your staff and members being strangled by the complex tangle of your business rules? The principle "Occam's razor" states that one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything. Or put another way, all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one. Are your business rules simple, or complex? Your business rules dictate how you do business. By business rules I mean things like your membership categories, your rules for how people can register for your meetings (e.g., early-bird, member/nonmember, etc.), and how individuals participate in your certification program.

When it comes to defining (or redefining) your business rules, there are three reasons why you should keep in mind Occam's razor. It's easier:

  • for staff to manage. The more complex your business rules, the more trouble your staff will have managing to the business rules.
  • for your customers to understand. And when it's easier to understand, it's easier to buy, easier to participate, and easier to contribute.
  • to program your database and your website. The simpler the business rules, the simpler the required programming.

Let's compare two associations (these are actual examples, with identifying details changed to protect the guilty):

Trade Association X has two member categories, active and associate. Active membership dues are based on the company's sales volume. If the company does not qualify for active membership, its only alternative is associate member.

Trade Association Y has four primary membership categories, including a category for individual membership. Within the individual membership are two subcategories of membership, and within the affiliate membership class are four subcategories of membership.

Which association do you think will have an easier time managing their members, communicating to potential members their membership choices, and providing a pleasing online experience?

If you're trying to determine how well you've applied Occam's razor to your business rules, here is a simple test: Ask yourself, "How many questions does it take to get to the answer?" For example, how many questions must we ask to determine the correct membership category? Using Trade Association X above, we start with this question: "In which of the two membership classes do I fall?" If the company doesn't qualify for active membership, then the only choice is associate membership. If the answer is the active membership class, then I have to ask a second question: "What is my organization's revenue?" Done. So the longest trip is two questions.

Compare that to the questions you would ask for Trade Association Y membership, where the longest trip is six questions. You can see how "simple" results in an easier buying decision.

Occam's razor can be applied to all functional areas of your association: events registration, publication sales, certification, and so on. Look at each of your processes and ask "How many questions does it take to get to the answer?" and you'll begin to get a sense of how simple or complicated you've made things for your staff, your members, and your customers.

This article originally appeared in Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.


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