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OR – Operations Research

  • Most improvement projects do not need more than common business sense and elementary mathematical and statistical skills to find good solutions – but some do
  • OR aims to find optimal solutions to complex management problems where there’s a clear objective and a large number of variables and choices are involved – it’s the cream of management sciences, employing a mix of creative and analytical thinking, applied maths, statistics and computer modelling
  • OR has its roots in WW2 when Professors Patrick Blackett and Charles Goodeve helped design new bombing and depth-charge patterns to maximise the chances of destroying the enemy’s factories and U-boats
  • After WW2, OR was adopted first by the steel (BISRA) and coal (NCB) industries, and later by many other large organisations in most other sectors
  • Peace-time OR achieved considerable success in many areas including :
    • Production and inventory control to maximise output volumes, minimise cost, reduce queues and remove bottlenecks
    • Deciding when best to replace expensive capital equipment
    • Routing and scheduling of delivery vehicles to minimise costs and maximise service levels
    • Rostering staff, in retail stores and prisons for example, to reduce costs and accommodate the need to balance home versus working lives
    • Forecasting shipping freight markets to time when and for how long to charter very large iron ore carriers and so minimise transport costs – we saved ‘tens of millions’ for British Steel in the 70s doing just this
    • Optimising blast furnace burdens, using linear programming, to decide the best mix of various iron ores and coke to maximise output and minimise costs
    • Simulating the operation of major new capital investments – new steelworks, new ports to import iron ore or new warehouses and cold stores for instance – to determine best layouts and capacities of equipment before incurring any serious capital costs
  • OR still has much to offer but its focus on practical solutions to big management problems has become lost in an academic fog – it’s unappreciated by managers when it should be in the fast lane of the productivity improvement highway
  • This view will be disputed, especially by current OR bosses, but ask what OR is doing for national and organisational productivity, especially in these times of great need, and the answer you’ll get will soon make it obvious
  • What’s needed are some practical, clear-thinking young OR ‘Turks’ to climb over the current academic ramparts and restore OR to the position managers need



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