The roots of Operations Research (OR) are as old as science itself. The science of OR came into existence in connection with the war operations, to decide the strategy by which the enemy could be harmed to the maximum possible extent with the help of the available warfare. It was in 1885 that Frederick W. Taylor first emphasized the application of scientific analysis to methods of production. He conducted an experiment with a shovel trying to find out the weight load of ore moved by the shovel that would result to a maximum ore moved with minimum fatigue. The experiment yielded optimum weight load which provided maximum ore movement. Productivity rose substantially after this change. Other early researchers that improved scientific management are Henry Gantt with the job-scheduling improvement, A. K Erlang with his work on telephone traffic decongestion in 1917, and so many others. The field of OR continued to grow with industrial revolutions. Today, the impact of OR can be felt in so many areas. Of late, OR activities have spread to diverse fields such as hospitals, libraries, city planning, transportation systems, crime investigation, energy conservation, environmental pollution, etc.



Many definitions of operations research have been suggested from time to time and it is difficult to define due to its wide scope of application. Firstly, an operation is a set of actions required for the achievement of a desired outcome. The inter-related acts can be performed by man, machine, and man-machine units. One of the most comprehensive definitions of OR given by J. O .R Society, UK states that O. R is the application of modern methods of mathematical science to complex problems involving management of large systems of men, machines, materials and money in industry, business, government and defence. The distinctive approach is to develop a scientific model of the system incorporating measurement of factors such as chance and risk to predict and compare the outcomes of alternative decisions, strategies or controls.

 Characteristics of Operations Research

1.      It has a system orientation or holistic approach - This means that any activity by any part of an organization has some effect on the activity of every other part. Therefore to evaluate any decision, one has to identify all possible interactions and determine their impact on the organization as a whole. It is necessary that the problem be analyzed with painstaking care and all parts of the organization affected be thoroughly examined. When all factors affecting the system or organization are known, a mathematical model can be prepared. A solution to the model will now optimize the profits to the system as a whole.

2.      The use of interdisciplinary teams – The OR study is performed by a team of scientists whose individual members have been drawn from various scientific and engineering disciplines. for example, one may find a mathematician, statistician, physicist, psychologist, economist and an engineer working on a particular OR problem. This will make the solution more unique and have a greater probability of success.

3.      Use of a computer – OR often requires a computer to solve complex mathematical model or to manipulate a large amount of data and for other computations

4.      Use of a scientific method – OR uses scientific method to solve problems. The representation of the system and its operations is constructed with a model for the study or research.

5.      Improvement in quality of decisions taken – OR gives bad answers to problems, to which, otherwise, worse answers are given. This implies that the application of OR can only improve the quality of the solution gotten from the model but it cannot give a perfect solution.

6.      Quantitative solutions – The use OR in management provides a quantitative basis for decision making.


There are three main phases of the scientific methods employed in operations research;

        i.The judgment phase

      ii.The research phase

    iii.The action phase

Judgment phase – This consists of;

a)      Determination of the operation: Any operation, which is a combination of actions that utilizes resources (e.g., man and machines) to complete an aim will always be associated with problems before a successful completion.

b)      Determination of objectives and values of the operation: In this phase, considerable effort is put in place to find the type of situation involved (engineering, manufacturing, tactical, etc). The amount of risks involved, other areas affected by solution, objectives and values must be carefully determined so as to have a clear approach to the solution of the problem.

c)      Determination of effectiveness measure: There should be an effective way of knowing how successful the model is in representing the problem and providing a solution. These measures form the link between the objectives and the analysis required for corrective action. It tests the correctness of the solution and determines if there is a need for improving the method. Measures of effectiveness are usually expressed in terms of ratio or rate (e.g. number of cars per accident in traffic studies).

d)     Formulation of the problem relative to the objectives: the operations analyst must determine the type of problem (prediction type e.g. forecasting problems that will be associated with future development, remedial type e.g. plane crash where the origin is in actual or threatened accidents, optimization type, etc), its origin and causes. Before selecting a problem for investigation, careful thought must be given to find whether the problem actually exists as hasty selection of problems often leads to wastage of time.

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