Qualifying a Worthy Problem

Great talk by Professor Gerald Brown on the last day of INFORMS. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, take it. Slides from his talk, which started with some motivating examples of military OR, are available here.

5 steps to qualifying a worthy problem to study/solve:
1. What is the problem?
If you can’t describe the problem, how do you know there is one? How would you ever solve it? The client never gives an unambiguous problem description, so work to get to the heart of the matter. If you can describe the problem, move to step 2.

2. Why is this problem important?
Don’t waste your time on trivialities. If the problem is important, move to step 3.

3. How is this problem now solved?
Few problems are entirely ignored, so be sure to understand how the problem is currently solved to ensure you are providing adequate improvement. If you can do significantly better, move to step 4.

4. How will you solve this problem?
Up until now, “solving the problem” has been agnostic toward the type of analysis. Now, choose an appropriate methodology and ensure the problem is tractable.

5. How will you know when you have succeeded?
Answer this before you start solving. It’s difficult/impossible to succeed if the goal is constantly moving, so hammer out what success looks like for this problem.

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