Operations research (OR) is the quantitative investigation of how humans
make decisions, with a particular focus on how analytical methodology can be
applied to making better choices. Tangentially, operations management (OM) is a
field of research that utilizes the same study of OR and applies it to the
managerial strategies of running an institution. Finally, decision science (DS)
is the study of how humans make choices, utilizing similar quantitative
techniques to advise upon good choices. You’re probably wondering why I’m
listing these definitions off to you- I promise there’s a good reason why! These
three fields, while similar, are inherently different. They’re all academically
studied in different ways around the world. However, for clarity’s sake, I will
be referring to them communally under the moniker of “operations” on this blog.
Sure, we’ll do some deep dives on each topic. But for now, operations refers to
this collection of disciplines!
These fields of study are relatively new in the grand scheme of history.
Many American scholars attribute the rise of operations to have come from the
use of game theory during the Cold War. However, detailed analysis of decisions
have existed for centuries, particularly in the world of defense. In only a few
examples, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the Napoleon’s1 usage
of triage both isolate human choice in such a near-quantitative manner that it
seems too impractical to simply assume the field began without deeply
historical roots (plus, we wouldn’t want to erase the foundations of what
brought these disciplines into existence!). The study of operations has
allowed scientists and mathematicians alike to cultivate better decisions in a
vast variety of fields for many years.
(1) Triage was more distinctly coined as a strategy (and a term) by
Napoleon’s surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey. It comes from the verb trier, which
translates to separating, categorizing, or selecting!