Monday, 25 May 2009

Does Operations Research sell?

No, it does not; nobody is looking for an Operations Research specialist. What companies seek is a solution, not a tool or skill. We will have to convince them that Operations Research can lead them to a solution. In the current climate of economic downturn companies seek strategies to survive. They have many questions like how to cut costs, improve profitability or want to review their total supply chain. Questions that require the support of Operations Research to solve them. Although companies need support, it does not imply that it is easy to get a new project. There is no standard “algorithm” that gives you a new project every time you run it. Acquiring a new project can be hard and it requires skill that can not be learned form a textbook. Here are some of my experiences.

Create Some Buzz
First step in acquiring a new project obviously is to get an appointment. When you are very lucky you get a call and are invited to have a talk about the questions that need to be addressed. But unfortunately this is often not the case. Before you are invited to have a talk and possibly acquire a new project, you need to get yourself noticed or get introduced. To accomplish that you need to make some buzz about your work and achievements in the media that your customers are most likely to read. Think about business magazines, blogs, websites, speeches at conferences, etc. The most effective way is to ask your customers to make the buzz. For example by means of a short statement on the project you performed for them and what you have achieved. Do not forget to let them include a statement on the project cost and the cost reduction or increased revenue you have accomplished. Getting noticed also requires you to build up a network, which enables you to get introduced to the right people. Moreover since your customers are happy with the result of the project, you can ask them to help you find new projects.

Golden Nuggets
Operations Research is a relative young area of expertise. Although it has been around for over 60 years now, we as OR professionals still need to carefully explain what OR has to offer. Managers many times mistake OR for some kind of application of IT. Operations Research requires IT as an enabler very often, like in Advanced Planning Software or as part of a larger ERP system like SAP, but it surely is not the same. It is far more than that. During the acquisition phase of the project we therefore have to explain in non technical terms what can be achieved with OR, preferably in terms used by the potential customer and with examples from the business area of the potential customer. The examples should come from your own (or your colleagues) experience, like the testimonials from your customers. These golden nuggets will provide you with some ease of mind during your conversation, while the potential customer will be amazed by the things that can be achieved with OR.

Cherish your customer
So creating Buzz and some nuggets is enough? No, but they help a lot. The far easiest way to get a new project is at your current customers. It is a rule that applies to any business; it sure does apply to ours. Your current customer knows you and knows what you can achieve for him. So make sure to do your best during your current projects. If it is successful, acquiring the next project will be as easy as picking up the phone. Operations Research sells after all!

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