Operations research

Operations research

Operations research (also referred to as decision science, or management science) is an interdisciplinary mathematical science that focuses on the effective use of technology by organizations. In contrast, many other science & engineering disciplines focus on technology giving secondary considerations to its use.

Employing techniques from other mathematical sciences — such as mathematical modeling, statistical analysis, and mathematical optimization — operations research arrives at optimal or near-optimal solutions to complex decision-making problems. Because of its emphasis on human-technology interaction and because of its focus on practical applications, operations research has overlap with other disciplines, notably industrial engineering and operations management, and draws on psychology and organization science. Operations Research is often concerned with determining the maximum (of profit, performance, or yield) or minimum (of loss, risk, or cost) of some real-world objective. Originating in military efforts before World War II, its techniques have grown to concern problems in a variety of industries.[1]



Operational research (OR) encompasses a wide range of problem-solving techniques and methods applied in the pursuit of improved decision-making and efficiency.[2] Some of the tools used by operational researchers are statistics, optimization, probability theory, queuing theory, game theory, graph theory, decision analysis, mathematical modeling and simulation. Because of the computational nature of these fields, OR also has strong ties to computer science and analytics. Operational researchers faced with a new problem must determine which of these techniques are most appropriate given the nature of the system, the goals for improvement, and constraints on time and computing power.

Work in operational research and management science may be characterized as one of three categories:[3]

  • Fundamental or foundational work takes place in three mathematical disciplines: probability theory, mathematical optimization, and dynamical systems theory.
  • Modeling work is concerned with the construction of models, analyzing them mathematically, implementing them on computers, solving them using software tools, and assessing their effectiveness with data. This level is mainly instrumental, and driven mainly by statistics and econometrics.
  • Application work in operational research, like other engineering and economics' disciplines, attempts to use models to make a practical impact on real-world problems.

The major subdisciplines in modern operational research, as identified by the journal Operations Research,[4] are:


As a formal discipline, operational research originated in the efforts of military planners during World War II. In the decades after the war, the techniques began to be applied more widely to problems in business, industry and society. Since that time, operational research has expanded into a field widely used in industries ranging from petrochemicals to airlines, finance, logistics, and government, moving to a focus on the development of mathematical models that can be used to analyze and optimize complex systems, and has become an area of active academic and industrial research.[1]

Historical origins

In the World War II era, operational research was defined as "a scientific method of providing executive departments with a quantitative basis for decisions regarding the operations under their control."[6] Other names for it included operational analysis (UK Ministry of Defence from 1962)[7] and quantitative management.[8]

Prior to the formal start of the field, early work in operational research was carried out by individuals such as Charles Babbage. His research into the cost of transportation and sorting of mail led to England's universal "Penny Post" in 1840, and studies into the dynamical behaviour of railway vehicles in defence of the GWR's broad gauge.[9] Percy Bridgman brought operational research to bear on problems in physics in the 1920s and would later attempt to extend these to the social sciences.[10] The modern field of operational research arose during World War II.

Modern operational research originated at the Bawdsey Research Station in the UK in 1937 and was the result of an initiative of the station's superintendent, A. P. Rowe. Rowe conceived the idea as a means to analyse and improve the working of the UK's early warning radar system, Chain Home (CH). Initially, he analyzed the operating of the radar equipment and its communication networks, expanding later to include the operating personnel's behaviour. This revealed unappreciated limitations of the CH network and allowed remedial action to be taken.[11]

Scientists in the United Kingdom including Patrick Blackett (later Lord Blackett OM PRS), Cecil Gordon, C. H. Waddington, Owen Wansbrough-Jones, Frank Yates, Jacob Bronowski and Freeman Dyson, and in the United States with George Dantzig looked for ways to make better decisions in such areas as logistics and training schedules. After the war it began to be applied to similar problems in industry.

Second World War

During the Second World War close to 1,000 men and women in Britain were engaged in operational research. About 200 operational research scientists worked for the British Army.[12]

Patrick Blackett worked for several different organizations during the war. Early in the war while working for the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) he set up a team known as the "Circus" which helped to reduce the number of anti-aircraft artillery rounds needed to shoot down an enemy aircraft from an average of over 20,000 at the start of the Battle of Britain to 4,000 in 1941.[13]

In 1941 Blackett moved from the RAE to the Navy, after first working with RAF Coastal Command, in 1941 and then early in 1942 to the Admiralty.[14] Blackett's team at Coastal Command's Operational Research Section (CC-ORS) included two future Nobel prize winners and many other people who went on to be preeminent in their fields.[15] They undertook a number of crucial analyses that aided the war effort. Britain introduced the convoy system to reduce shipping losses, but while the principle of using warships to accompany merchant ships was generally accepted, it was unclear whether it was better for convoys to be small or large. Convoys travel at the speed of the slowest member, so small convoys can travel faster. It was also argued that small convoys would be harder for German U-boats to detect. On the other hand, large convoys could deploy more warships against an attacker. Blackett's staff showed that the losses suffered by convoys depended largely on the number of escort vessels present, rather than on the overall size of the convoy. Their conclusion, therefore, was that a few large convoys are more defensible than many small ones.[16]

While performing an analysis of the methods used by RAF Coastal Command to hunt and destroy submarines, one of the analysts asked what colour the aircraft were. As most of them were from Bomber Command they were painted black for nighttime operations. At the suggestion of CC-ORS a test was run to see if that was the best colour to camouflage the aircraft for daytime operations in the grey North Atlantic skies. Tests showed that aircraft painted white were on average not spotted until they were 20% closer than those painted black. This change indicated that 30% more submarines would be attacked and sunk for the same number of sightings.[17]

Other work by the CC-ORS indicated that on average if the trigger depth of aerial delivered depth charges (DCs) was changed from 100 feet to 25 feet, the kill ratios would go up. The reason was that if a U-boat saw an aircraft only shortly before it arrived over the target then at 100 feet the charges would do no damage (because the U-boat wouldn't have time to descend as far as 100 feet), and if it saw the aircraft a long way from the target it had time to alter course under water so the chances of it being within the 20 feet kill zone of the charges was small. It was more efficient to attack those submarines close to the surface when these targets' locations were better known than to attempt their destruction at greater depths when their positions could only be guessed. Before the change of settings from 100 feet to 25 feet, 1% of submerged U-boats were sunk and 14% damaged. After the change, 7% were sunk and 11% damaged. (If submarines were caught on the surface, even if attacked shortly after submerging, the numbers rose to 11% sunk and 15% damaged). Blackett observed "there can be few cases where such a great operational gain had been obtained by such a small and simple change of tactics".[18]

Bomber Command's Operational Research Section (BC-ORS), analysed a report of a survey carried out by RAF Bomber Command.[citation needed] For the survey, Bomber Command inspected all bombers returning from bombing raids over Germany over a particular period. All damage inflicted by German air defences was noted and the recommendation was given that armour be added in the most heavily damaged areas. Their suggestion to remove some of the crew so that an aircraft loss would result in fewer personnel loss was rejected by RAF command. Blackett's team instead made the surprising and counter-intuitive recommendation that the armour be placed in the areas which were completely untouched by damage in the bombers which returned. They reasoned that the survey was biased, since it only included aircraft that returned to Britain. The untouched areas of returning aircraft were probably vital areas, which, if hit, would result in the loss of the aircraft.

(Info to help verify some/most of the above paragraph is found in "Dirty Little Secrets of the Twentieth Century" authored by James F. Dunnigan on pages 215-217

When Germany organised its air defences into the Kammhuber Line, it was realised that if the RAF bombers were to fly in a bomber stream they could overwhelm the night fighters who flew in individual cells directed to their targets by ground controllers. It was then a matter of calculating the statistical loss from collisions against the statistical loss from night fighters to calculate how close the bombers should fly to minimise RAF losses.[19]

The "exchange rate" ratio of output to input was a characteristic feature of operational research. By comparing the number of flying hours put in by Allied aircraft to the number of U-boat sightings in a given area, it was possible to redistribute aircraft to more productive patrol areas. Comparison of exchange rates established "effectiveness ratios" useful in planning. The ratio of 60 mines laid per ship sunk was common to several campaigns: German mines in British ports, British mines on German routes, and United States mines in Japanese routes.[20]

Operational research doubled the on-target bomb rate of B-29s bombing Japan from the Marianas Islands by increasing the training ratio from 4 to 10 percent of flying hours; revealed that wolf-packs of three United States submarines were the most effective number to enable all members of the pack to engage targets discovered on their individual patrol stations; revealed that glossy enamel paint was more effective camouflage for night fighters than traditional dull camouflage paint finish, and the smooth paint finish increased airspeed by reducing skin friction.[20]

On land, the operational research sections of the Army Operational Research Group (AORG) of the Ministry of Supply (MoS) were landed in Normandy in 1944, and they followed British forces in the advance across Europe. They analysed, among other topics, the effectiveness of artillery, aerial bombing, and anti-tank shooting.

After World War II

With expanded techniques and growing awareness of the field at the close of the war, operational research was no longer limited to only operational, but was extended to encompass equipment procurement, training, logistics and infrastructure.

Problems addressed with operational research

  • critical path analysis or project planning: identifying those processes in a complex project which affect the overall duration of the project
  • floorplanning: designing the layout of equipment in a factory or components on a computer chip to reduce manufacturing time (therefore reducing cost)
  • network optimization: for instance, setup of telecommunications networks to maintain quality of service during outages
  • Allocation problems
  • Facility location
  • Assignment Problems:
  • Bayesian search theory : looking for a target
  • optimal search
  • routing, such as determining the routes of buses so that as few buses are needed as possible
  • supply chain management: managing the flow of raw materials and products based on uncertain demand for the finished products
  • efficient messaging and customer response tactics
  • automation: automating or integrating robotic systems in human-driven operations processes
  • globalization: globalizing operations processes in order to take advantage of cheaper materials, labor, land or other productivity inputs
  • transportation: managing freight transportation and delivery systems (Examples: LTL Shipping, intermodal freight transport)
  • scheduling:
    • personnel staffing
    • manufacturing steps
    • project tasks
    • network data traffic: these are known as queueing models or queueing systems.
    • sports events and their television coverage
  • blending of raw materials in oil refineries
  • determining optimal prices, in many retail and B2B settings, within the disciplines of pricing science

Operational research is also used extensively in government where evidence-based policy is used.

Management science

In 1967 Stafford Beer characterized the field of management science as "the business use of operations research".[21] However, in modern times the term management science may also be used to refer to the separate fields of organizational studies or corporate strategy.[citation needed] Like operational research itself, management science (MS), is an interdisciplinary branch of applied mathematics devoted to optimal decision planning, with strong links with economics, business, engineering, and other sciences. It uses various scientific research-based principles, strategies, and analytical methods including mathematical modeling, statistics and numerical algorithms to improve an organization's ability to enact rational and meaningful management decisions by arriving at optimal or near optimal solutions to complex decision problems. In short, management sciences help businesses to achieve their goals using the scientific methods of operational research.

The management scientist's mandate is to use rational, systematic, science-based techniques to inform and improve decisions of all kinds. Of course, the techniques of management science are not restricted to business applications but may be applied to military, medical, public administration, charitable groups, political groups or community groups.

Management science is concerned with developing and applying models and concepts that may prove useful in helping to illuminate management issues and solve managerial problems, as well as designing and developing new and better models of organizational excellence.[22]

The application of these models within the corporate sector became known as Management science.[23]


Some of the fields that have considerable overlap with Management Science include:

Applications of management science

Applications of management science are abundant in industry as airlines, manufacturing companies, service organizations, military branches, and in government. The range of problems and issues to which management science has contributed insights and solutions is vast. It includes:[22]

  • scheduling airlines, including both planes and crew,
  • deciding the appropriate place to site new facilities such as a warehouse, factory or fire station,
  • managing the flow of water from reservoirs,
  • identifying possible future development paths for parts of the telecommunications industry,
  • establishing the information needs and appropriate systems to supply them within the health service, and
  • identifying and understanding the strategies adopted by companies for their information systems

Management science is also concerned with so-called ”soft-operational analysis”, which concerns methods for strategic planning, strategic decision support, and Problem Structuring Methods (PSM). In dealing with these sorts of challenges mathematical modeling and simulation are not appropriate or will not suffice. Therefore, during the past 30 years, a number of non-quantified modeling methods have been developed. These include:

Societies and journals


The International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS)[24] is an umbrella organization for operational research societies worldwide, representing approximately 50 national societies including those in the US,[25] UK,[26] France,[27] Germany, Canada,[28] Australia,[29] New Zealand,[30] Philippines,[31] India,[32] Japan and South Africa (ORSSA).[33] The constituent members of IFORS form regional groups, such as that in Europe.[34] Other important operational research organizations are Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization (SISO)[35] and Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC)[36]

In 2004 the US-based organization INFORMS began an initiative to market the OR profession better, including a website entitled The Science of Better[37] which provides an introduction to OR and examples of successful applications of OR to industrial problems. This initiative has been adopted by the Operational Research Society in the UK, including a website entitled Learn about OR,.[38]


INFORMS publishes twelve scholarly journals about operations research, including the top two journals in their class, according to 2005 Journal Citation Reports.[39] They are:

Other journals
  • 4OR-A Quarterly Journal of Operations Research: jointly published the Belgian, French and Italian Operations Research Societies (Springer);
  • Decision Sciences published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Decision Sciences Institute
  • European Journal of Operational Research (EJOR): Founded in 1975 and is presently by far the largest operational research journal in the world, with its around 9,000 pages of published papers per year. In 2004, its total number of citations was the second largest amongst Operational Research and Management Science journals;
  • INFOR Journal: published and sponsored by the Canadian Operational Research Society;
  • International Journal of Operations Research and Information Systems (IJORIS)": an official publication of the Information Resources Management Association, published quarterly by IGI Global;[42]
  • Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation (JDMS): Applications, Methodology, Technology: a quarterly journal devoted to advancing the science of modeling and simulation as it relates to the military and defense.[43]
  • Journal of the Operational Research Society (JORS): an official journal of The OR Society; this is the oldest continuously published journal of OR in the world, published by Palgrave;[44]
  • Journal of Simulation (JOS): an official journal of The OR Society, published by Palgrave;[44]
  • Mathematical Methods of Operations Research (MMOR): the journal of the German and Dutch OR Societies, published by Springer;[45]
  • Military Operations Research (MOR): published by the Military Operations Research Society;
  • Opsearch: official journal of the Operational Research Society of India;
  • OR Insight: a quarterly journal of The OR Society, published by Palgrave;[44]
  • Production and Operations Management, the official journal of the Production and Operations Management Society
  • TOP: the official journal of the Spanish Society of Statistics and Operations Research.[46]

See also


  1. ^ a b http://www.hsor.org/what_is_or.cfm
  2. ^ http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos044.htm
  3. ^ What is Management Science Research? University of Cambridge 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  4. ^ http://www3.informs.org/site/OperationsResearch/index.php?c=10&kat=Forthcoming+Papers
  5. ^ http://www.decisionpro.biz
  6. ^ "Operational Research in the British Army 1939–1945, October 1947, Report C67/3/4/48, UK National Archives file WO291/1301
    Quoted on the dust-jacket of: Morse, Philip M, and Kimball, George E, Methods of Operations Research, 1st Edition Revised, pub MIT Press & J Wiley, 5th printing, 1954.
  7. ^ UK National Archives Catalogue for WO291 lists a War Office organisation called Army Operational Research Group (AORG) that existed from 1946 to 1962. "In January 1962 the name was changed to Army Operational Research Establishment (AORE). Following the creation of a unified Ministry of Defence, a tri-service operational research organisation was established: the Defence Operational Research Establishment (DOAE) which was formed in 1965, and it absorbed the Army Operational Research Establishment based at West Byfleet."
  8. ^ http://brochure.unisa.ac.za/myunisa/data/subjects/Quantitative%20Management.pdf
  9. ^ M.S. Sodhi, "What about the 'O' in O.R.?" OR/MS Today, December, 2007, p. 12, http://www.lionhrtpub.com/orms/orms-12-07/frqed.html
  10. ^ P. W. Bridgman, The Logic of Modern Physics, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1927
  11. ^ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/682073/operations-research/68171/History#ref22348
  12. ^ Kirby, p. 117
  13. ^ Kirby, pp. 91–94
  14. ^ Kirby, p. 96,109
  15. ^ Kirby, p. 96
  16. ^ "Numbers are Essential": Victory in the North Atlantic Reconsidered, March–May 1943
  17. ^ Kirby, p. 101
  18. ^ (Kirby, pp. 102,103)
  19. ^ http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/thousands.html
  20. ^ a b Milkman, Raymond H. (May 1968). Operations Research in World War II. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. 
  21. ^ Stafford Beer (1967) Management Science: The Business Use of Operations Research
  22. ^ a b What is Management Science? Lancaster University, 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  23. ^ What is Management Science? The University of Tennessee, 2006. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  24. ^ IFORS
  25. ^ INFORMS
  26. ^ The OR Society
  27. ^ http://www.roadef.org/content/index.htm
  28. ^ CORS
  29. ^ ASOR
  30. ^ ORSNZ
  31. ^ ORSP
  32. ^ ORSI
  33. ^ ORSSA
  34. ^ EURO
  35. ^ SISO
  36. ^ I/ITSEC
  37. ^ The Science of Better
  38. ^ Learn about OR
  39. ^ INFORMS Journals
  40. ^ Decision Analysis
  41. ^ INFORMS Transactions on Education
  42. ^ http://www.igi-global.com/Bookstore/TitleDetails.aspx?TitleId=1141
  43. ^ JDMS
  44. ^ a b c The OR Society;
  45. ^ Mathematical Methods of Operations Research website
  46. ^ TOP


  • Kirby, M. W. (Operational Research Society (Great Britain)). Operational Research in War and Peace: The British Experience from the 1930s to 1970, Imperial College Press, 2003. ISBN 1860943667, 9781860943669

Further reading

  • C. West Churchman, Russell L. Ackoff & E. L. Arnoff, Introduction to Operations Research, New York: J. Wiley and Sons, 1957
  • Joseph G. Ecker & Michael Kupferschmid, Introduction to Operations Research, Krieger Publishing Co.
  • Frederick S. Hillier & Gerald J. Lieberman, Introduction to Operations Research, McGraw-Hill: Boston MA; 8th. (International) Edition, 2005
  • Michael Pidd, Tools for Thinking: Modelling in Management Science, J. Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester; 2nd. Edition, 2003
  • Hamdy A. Taha, Operations Research: An Introduction, Prentice Hall; 9th. Edition, 2011
  • Wayne Winston, Operations Research: Applications and Algorithms, Duxbury Press; 4th. Edition, 2003
  • Kenneth R. Baker, Dean H. Kropp (1985). Management Science: An Introduction to the Use of Decision Models
  • David Charles Heinze (1982). Management Science: Introductory Concepts and Applications
  • Lee J. Krajewski, Howard E. Thompson (1981). "Management Science: Quantitative Methods in Context"
  • Thomas W. Knowles (1989). Management science: Building and Using Models
  • Kamlesh Mathur, Daniel Solow (1994). Management Science: The Art of Decision Making
  • Laurence J. Moore, Sang M. Lee, Bernard W. Taylor (1993). Management Science
  • William Thomas Morris (1968). Management Science: A Bayesian Introduction.
  • William E. Pinney, Donald B. McWilliams (1987). Management Science: An Introduction to Quantitative Analysis for Management
  • Shrader, Charles R. (2006). History of Operations Research in the United States Army, Volume 1:1942-1962. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 70-102-1. http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/hist_op_research/index.html. 
  • Gerald E. Thompson (1982). Management Science: An Introduction to Modern Quantitative Analysis and Decision Making. New York : McGraw-Hill Publishing Co.
  • Saul I. Gass & Arjang A. Assad (2005). An Annotated Timeline of Operations Research: An Informal History. New York : Kluwer Academic Publishers.

External links

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  • Operations-Research —   [ɔpə reɪʃnzrɪ səːtʃ, englisch] das auch die, , Abkürzung OR, Operationsresearch, Unternehmensforschung, Systemforschung, Teilgebiet der Wirtschaftswissenschaften, kennzeichnet eine spezielle Vorgehensweise zur Auffindung und Begründung… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Operations-Research — (auch operational research, kurz OR) bzw. Unternehmensforschung (Unternehmen im Sinne von operation) ist ein Teilgebiet der Angewandten Mathematik, das sich mit der Optimierung bestimmter Prozesse oder Verfahren beschäftigt. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • operations research — ➔ research * * * operations research UK US noun [U] (also operational research, abbreviation OR) ► MANAGEMENT work that is done to find out ways of making the main activities of a company more efficient: »Our operations research is concerned with …   Financial and business terms

  • Operations Research —  das, auch die (Unternehmensforschung, Systemforschung), Teilgebiet der Wirtschaftswissenschaften, das eine spezielle Vorgehensweise zur Auffindung und Begründung optimaler Handlungsalternativen in Wirtschaft und Verwaltung sowie bei politischen… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • operations research — n. the systematic and scientific analysis and evaluation of problems, as in government, military, or business operations: also operations analysis …   English World dictionary

  • operations research — the analysis, usually involving mathematical treatment, of a process, problem, or operation to determine its purpose and effectiveness and to gain maximum efficiency. [1940 45, Amer.] * * * Application of scientific methods to management and… …   Universalium

  • Operations Research — Unter Operations Research (OR) wird allgemein die Entwicklung und der Einsatz quantitativer Modelle und Methoden zur Entscheidungsunterstützung verstanden. Operations Research ist geprägt durch die Zusammenarbeit von Angewandter Mathematik,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Operations Research (OR) — Operational Research, Unternehmensforschung. 1. Begriff: Die Zielsetzung des OR ist die Entwicklung und der Einsatz von mathematischen Verfahren zur Unterstützung von Entscheidungsprozessen. Im Rahmen eines Entscheidungsprozesses kann auf die… …   Lexikon der Economics

  • operations research — noun research designed to determine most efficient way to do something • Hypernyms: ↑research * * * ˌoperational ˈresearch f38 [operational research] (also ˈoperation …   Useful english dictionary

  • Operations Research (journal) — Operations Research   Former name(s) Journal of the Operations …   Wikipedia

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