Tip of the Week #36                     Tip Index

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Soft vs. Hard Problems

Problems often range on a continuum between:

"Hard" Problems

"Soft" Problems

Many problems fall between the extremes: Organization reengineering, policy, compensation, and quality.+

Some problems that appear to be "hard" have many "soft" elements.  Consider a competitive bid to supply a computer component.  Costing the design and production is an engineering function.  However, in pricing the component, one would consider:

The challenge for both the analyst and client is to incorporate everything that is important to the problem into the analysis.

Highly subjective beliefs can be modeled or quantified as part of a numerical assault on the problem.  Quantification allows elements of the problem to be kept in perspective.  This is better than relying upon our intuitions alone.

Inspired by remarks in "Creativity in OR/MS: From Technique to Epistemology" by Haridimos Tsoukas and Demetrios B. Papoulias, Interfaces, 26: 2 Mar-Apr 96, pp. 73-79.

—John Schuyler, March 1998.

Copyright 1998 by John R. Schuyler. All rights reserved. Permission to copy with reproduction of this notice.