Operational Research, also known as Operations Research in the United States, is a discipline of practice that emerged out of the organisation and management of military operations during World War II and was applied during the 1950s, 1960s and subsequent decades to industrial operations.
What is Operational Research?
In the "The Practice of Operational Research", Mitchell answers this question as follows:
"Most definitions of operational research are essentially of the form: Operational research is to do with helping to solve the problems of some organised group by applying the methods of science."
This can be paraphrased as "scientific organisational problem solving".
According to Harper and Lim's "Operational Research",
"Defining operational research itself is very difficult. Like many subjects that developed pragmatically and shade imperceptibly into adjoining subjects it is more easily recognised than defined; or, to be more accurate, can be defined in different ways to suit the context. Generally speaking operational research is an approach to the analysis of operations that to a greater or lesser extent adopts: a) scientific method (observation, hypothesis, deduction and experimentation); b) the explicit formulation of complex relationships; c) an inter-disciplinary nature d) a non-partisan attitude.
According to the Operational Research Society
"Operational Research (O.R.), is the discipline of applying appropriate analytical methods to help those who run organisations make better decisions. It's a 'real world' discipline with a focus on improving the complex systems and processes that underpin everybody’s daily lives - O.R. is the 'science of better'."
Within STREAMS Operational Research is acknowledged as a precursor discipline and signficant contributor to Real Enterprise Architecture and the STREAMS Confluence.
Hard Operational Research and Soft Operational Research
Hard OR is a well-recognised set of mathematical methods and techniques, such as Linear Programming and Network Analysis that are applied to managerial problems in organisations and enterprises. According to J.E. Bleasley, Hard OR methods / techniques are: a) tangible, b) easy to explain and c) easy to use. If there are any difficulties in applying Hard OR methods / techniques that difficulty lies in knowing which methods / techniques in an particular problem situation.
Soft OR, in contrast, is characterised by being a) somewhat intangible, b) not easy to explain, and c) not easy to use.