Operations Analysis is the study of operational systems with the aim of identifying opportunities for improvement. It has many guises and is sometimes called Operational Research or Industrial Engineering. The discipline dates back to the Second World War.
The Battle of the North Atlantic
Shipping too and from the United States to Britain was hugely important for the war effort. As an island nation Britain was dependent on shipping and the North Atlantic became a critical battlefield as U Boats hunted down and sank merchant vessels.
The solution was obvious, create convoys and protect the merchant ships with warships but the optimum solution was not nearly so clear:
- Large convoys could be heavily defended with multiple battleships but they were slow moving (only going as fast as the slowest ship) and represented a jackpot target when U boat wolf packs found them.
- Small convoys were fast moving, more difficult to see and were a much smaller loss if sunk, but only relatively few protecting vessels could accompany them.
A long (and unproductive) debate ensued
Early researchers demonstrated that the number of losses a convoy received depended largely on the number of escort vessels present, rather than the size of the convoy and that multiple small convoys had a far bigger visible foot print than few small ones.
The British Navy moved to a strategy of few large convoys saving numerous lives at sea and significantly increasing the Allies chances of success and the study of operations analysis was born.
Operations Analysis and the Modern World
Luckily today the use of operations analysis is a little more prosaic. Some of the problems the techniques are applied to include:
- What is the best way to schedule a railway?
- Where is the best location to build an ambulance station?
- How do you best manage queuing in a supermarket?
- Managing the flow of electricity through the national grid?
- What is the most efficient call routing system for a contact centre?
What are the Analytical Tricks?
No two problems are the same, but the method for stepping through them is constant:
1. Frame the problem well:
2. Understand what data you do (or don’t) have
- Measure anything the Sesame Street way
- How to benchmark
- How to estimate, and why you really should know
3. Look for patterns
- The Pareto principle and a highly sexist observation
- Obvious with hindsight
- Visual analysis – it would be a crime not to try
- Process noise and coffee sticks
- There is always a bottleneck
4. Create solutions
- Brainstorm like a like a erh professional brainstormer
- How to build a better mouse trap (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive)
- How to use logic trees and the power of leverage
5. Test your ideas
6. Avoid jumping to conclusions:
Read Another Opinion
Some other sites on the web that also discuss operations analysis are worth a further look, I’d recommend you try:
Read About the Other Big Ideas
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