Thursday, November 10, 2011

Development burden on lone consultant

In a recent session of the INFORMS Rocky Mountain chapter, an OR/MS consultant was presenting on an implementation of vehicle routing problem using Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Mappoint and Microsoft Solver Foundation. He also had a slide on the key takeways from the project. I found the slide pretty interesting, and here are my comments on a few points mentioned there.

The Jack-of-all-trades aspect
I am not sure whether this consultant works completely alone or has a small team (like 2-3 people), but the diverse range of things he had to do for the project, like data cleaning (and writing VBA macros for that), OR modeling, OR software (he developed and solved a part of the problem using Excel and Microsoft Solver Foundation Express Edition, and a part of it using a custom heuristic program that uses Tabu search, developed in C#.NET), report generation (VBA Macros) etc., displays the versatility of this guy (or his small team). A large part of OR consultancy requires proficiency in various non-OR programming languages.

The OR/MS aspect of the project
The first few points on the slide was about comparing the time that was required to develop the solution (let's call this X - we love algebraic modeling, don't we?), and the amount of time that was actually put in OR stuff (let's call this Y). I was not surprised when he noted that:
X - Y ≥ 3*Y => X ≥ 4*Y
I have heard this premise before. In INFORMS Annual Meeting 2010, I was attending a panel discussion about  "OR/MS Consulting - The Challenges". The panelists were all consultants and a few were 2-3 person shops. Interestingly, the presenter of the talk I mentioned at the beginning of this post was among the panelists. This panel discussion, by the way, is one of my favorite session ever attended in an INFORMS annual conference - I wish somebody recorded a video of the session. Their consensus seemed to be that if one is the OR modeler in a small shop, the OR work is often less than 15% of the total development work. If one is part of a slightly larger organization, one would be lucky to have it near 25% mark.

Thoughts for would-be OR/MS consultants.

Update [12/22/2016]: Label consolidation.

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