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Chapter 1: Methodology

Sample examination questions


Below are sample questions, and guidance on answering the
questions, for the material considered in chapter 1 of the subject
guide. You are advised only to attempt these questions once you
feel you have mastered the material presented in the chapter.
In general, the questions below are equivalent to a full examination
question. However it may be that, in some cases, the question as
seen below would only constitute part of a full examination
question. Such multi-topic examination questions might have one
part drawing on one topic from one chapter of the subject guide,
and another part drawing on a different topic from a different
chapter of the subject guide.

Question 1
What are the key assumptions made in using optimisation in
Operational Research and how can the undesirable effects of some
of these assumptions be circumvented by alternative approaches?
Illustrate your answer by reference to two problems of which you
are aware.

Guidance on answering question 1


The assumptions are:
the model accurately represents the system, and therefore the
optimal solution for the model is also the optimal solution for
the system
there is one objective or, where there is more than one
objective, they can be translated into a common unit
there is consensus over what the objective of the system is
the problem will not change over time (at least in the
short-term) and therefore one optimal solution can be found
all data can be quantified.
To circumvent some of these we can mention:
option listing
sensitivity analysis
robustness.
For each example problem you need to include:
a clear definition of the problem they are considering
a relevant discussion relating to optimisation for the problem,
in the light of the general points above.
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Question 2
Describe the phases associated with an Operational Research
project.
Illustrate your answer by reference to one problem of which you
are aware.

Guidance on answering question 2


The phases are:
Phase 1: Problem identification
diagnosis of the problem from its symptoms if not obvious
delineation of the subproblem to be studied
establishment of objectives, limitations and requirements.
Phase 2: Formulation as a mathematical model
choice of the appropriate model may be crucial to success
data barrier and data-rich/data-poor environments.
Phase 3: Model validation (or algorithm validation)
model validation: running the algorithm for the model on the
computer in order to ensure:

the input data/computer program is free from errors

the computer program correctly represents the model

the results from the algorithm seem reasonable.

Phase 4: Solution of the model


use of a standard computer package, or specially developed
algorithm
different numeric scenarios to establish sensitivity
speed of processing (turn-around time) and the
interactive/user-friendly nature of many pc software packages.
Phase 5: Implementation
implementation of the results of the study; or
implementation of the algorithm for solving the model as an
operational tool.
For the second part of the question, the problem part, we need:
problem they are considering to be clearly defined
a discussion of the five phases as applied to the problem.

Question 3
One methodological issue that arises in Operational Research work
relates to cost versus decision quality. What do you understand by
this issue within the context of Operational Research/Management
Science?
Illustrate your answer by reference to one or more problems of
which you are aware.

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Chapter 1: Sample examination questions

Guidance on answering question 3


Points that could be made include:
OR projects use resources the consultants, the clients, other
staff and there is always a tension between minimising the
cost and time taken to reach a decision and making the perfect
decision
in terms of OR, this issue often relates to models
representations of the system under investigation, but
simplified representations
the tradeoff between an accurate model and the cost and time
involved in building the model.
Any problems discussed need to be related to the above material
from the subject guide.

Question 4
One methodological issue that arises in Operational Research work
relates to consultancy. What do you understand by consultancy
within the context of Operational Research/Management Science?
Illustrate your answer by reference to two practical problems of
which you are aware.

Guidance on answering question 4


We would expect mention of:
consultancy involves a client (problem owner)
close contact between the client and the consultant
problems have a number of characteristics, e.g. things are not
as they should be, or understanding is incomplete
consultant needs to acquire an understanding of the context in
which the problem is set.
An organisation or individual may employ consultants because:
they lack the skills within the organisation to find a resolution
to the problem: the consultant as the expert
they lack the time/resources to find a resolution to the
problem: the consultant as a hired body or temporary
employee
they need an independent person to help resolve the problem:
either to act as an arbitrator between two or more groups, or
to provide external justification for a decision, or to audit
recommendations of an internal project
they need to be seen to be doing something and employing a
consultant/firm of consultants will provide a positive image
they need a scapegoat, someone else to blame if things go
badly.
Practical problems - for each problem you need to include:
a clear statement of the problem
a discussion of issues such as those above in relation to this
problem.

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Question 5
Two methodological issues that arise in Operational Research work
are:
Implementation
Optimisation.
Discuss what you understand by these issues within the context of
Operational Research/Management Science. Illustrate your answer
by reference to one or more problems of which you are aware.

Guidance on answering question 5


With respect to Implementation, points that could be made are:
typically dealing here with work undertaken by a consultant for
a client
gaining the commitment of the person(s) with the power to
implement the solution using such approaches as:

regular and good communication with the client and


continually involving them during the project

giving the solution, and justification for the solution, in


laypersons terms

ensuring that the action recommended in the solution is


within the power of the client

With respect to Optimisation, points that could be made are:


the model accurately represents the system, and therefore the
optimal solution for the model is also the optimal solution for
the system
there is one objective or, where there is more than one
objective, they can be translated into a common unit
there is consensus over what the objective of the system is
the problem will not change over time (at least in the
short-term) and therefore one optimal solution can be found
all data can be quantified
mention of sensitivity analysis
robustness.
Any problems discussed need to be related to the above material
from the subject guide.

University of London External System