Define a “Thing”

Define a “Thing”

Trends towards integration in our organizations naturally lead to more abstract concepts. It is not uncommon for example, to have a data warehouse data model containing entities with names such as Party and Classification. The more such generic terms proliferate however, the more important it is for us to have clear definitions of what these terms mean so we are speaking the same language. It is always fun to debate what a “thing” means, and even more enjoyable (in a masochistic sort of way) to try to get everyone to agree on one definition.

So for this design challenge, please submit how you or your organization define any of the following generic terms. If you have more than one definition for a term, please submit all of them. For example, if project XYZ in your organization defines Classification slightly differently than the rest of your organization, we’d be interested in reading both definitions.


In this design challenge we shared definitions of some of the most common generic concepts. I extracted information from the definitions submitted (including my own) and summarized them below. Feel free to use these definitions…I know I will!

Thanks to the following folks for submitting definitions:

  • Andrew Davis
  • Chid Kollengode
  • Frank L. Palmeri
  • Terry Pence
  • Larry Weismantel
  • Thomas Zarinac

And the moment you’ve been waiting for! Whose name was on the piece of paper Sadie picked? Chid Kollengode. Congratulations Chid! Send me your address and I will send you the prize!


Party is a person or organization of interest to the business. Party is the “who”, that is, who an organization interacts with as part of doing business.


Employee, Customer, Contact, Vendor

Other names for Party

Involved Party, Legal Entity, Business Partner


A document is any physical or electronic intellectual item of record of significance to the business. It is a representation of information content used to describe something of interest.  It is important to distinguish Document from Document Category. Document is the actual piece of physical or virtual paper (e.g. Invoice Number 1223), as opposed to Document Category which describes the contents of the generic invoice.


A physical invoice is a document, but an electronic one may be as well

Other names for Document

Contract, Agreement


Classification is an ordered arrangement that enables grouping of events/activities/things of interest to the business. A method of further describing and grouping an entity or attribute.


All departments within a division, the list of salary grades


The representation of a relationship between two or more things of interest to the business.


A classic example would be teachers and students, where the class is an association between them.

Other names for Association


Important point

The concept of association should be used with care. It is a very vague term and really only makes sense to use when connected to other generic concepts, such as Party.


Any business event that needs to be recorded. When something happens that brings about change to the environment (and by which business objectives may be achieved). A granular, atomic event deemed worthy of capturing and recording.


A deal, a cash transfer, a transfer of goods

An orderly exchange of goods or services based on pre-defined rules of engagement

Other names for Transaction

Business Event, Activity

1 Comment

  1. Mike 7 years ago

    Bit surprised by the word “relation” as an alternative to “association” – seems a bit ambiguous in a relational context, and an unlikely business term. Should that be “relationship” or have I been reading too much Chris Date recently?!

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