Leader: What I’ll take with me. A layperson’s reflection on working with OR people

May 2022 brought to an end my nine years at The OR Society. Having spent almost half of my career at the Society, I have learnt a lot and have many fond memories.

I started at the Society quite by chance, having (probably unsurprisingly) never heard of operational research or The OR Society. My career at the Society started as the Pro Bono OR Manager. My first day on the job was at OR55 (the annual conference in Exeter). This was a fantastic opportunity to immerse myself into the new, unknown world of all things OR. I spent most of my time sitting in on the third sector stream, trying to make sense of all the new terminology and at the same time amazed by all the different applications of OR (and that was just in the one stream!)

I had the pleasure of working with the Pro Bono OR steering group which at the time consisted of Ruth Kaufman, Jane Parkin, Graham Rand, Ian Seath, Huw Evans and Sam MacKay. What a fantastic group that was! The Pro Bono OR scheme matches volunteer analysts with third sector organisations. The wide skill set of the volunteers (both members and non- members) was immensely varied.

During my first few months, I set about learning the third sector, The OR Society and began scratching the surface of what OR was. I learnt that the answer to that question varied depending on who you asked, but the general agreement was that people working in OR used skills and techniques to improve decision making and the result was driving better outcomes. I was amazed to find that this almost unknown discipline was at work in most areas of life: supermarkets, airlines, healthcare, sport, defence, finance, retail... the list goes on. OR is used by organisations of all sizes across industry, government and public sectors. A few example case studies can be seen on The OR Society website.


Felicity McLeister

I found it interesting that some people working in the field wouldn’t have even classed themselves an ‘OR person’ and hadn’t heard of The OR Society. 50 years or so ago, companies would have had OR departments but now people applying the methods and skills that we would attribute to OR have multiple job titles. This has been a challenge the Society has faced for many years and continues to do so.

When working to get the Pro Bono scheme up and running,
the biggest hurdle I encountered was explaining to charities
what OR was (an answer that got refined over the years). There was no doubt that any organisation would benefit from an OR person working with them, the challenge was helping them to understand what benefit an OR person could bring.

Working on the Pro Bono scheme was certainly one of my highlights as I got to see many examples of how OR could be applied to bring about improvements. A variety of examples can be seen here but some that stand out to me are:

Crimestoppers – using a simulation model to significantly improve shift patterns, resulting in improved customer service levels.

Dachshund Breed Council – creating a tool to help predict the probability of breeding puppies with Lafora Disease (a form of epilepsy).

Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service – developing a strategy map and balanced scorecard that could be used to develop and monitor the service in the future.

Hearing of the different methods and techniques that could be used to approach different problems and help organisations to bring clarity and change brought immense job satisfaction.

I’ve been fortunate enough to move from Pro Bono Manager
to Strategic Project Manager and then finally Deputy Executive Director. In my nine years I’ve worked with a variety of people, including staff and volunteers. The OR Society is fortunate to have a huge number of volunteers who support the Society, from outreach with Pro Bono OR and OR in Education, to serving on committees and support with our many events. What a rich and diverse set of people that encompasses.

I have had the pleasure of being involved in many Society events including the Analytics Summit, Careers Open Day and the Annual Conference. The events provided a great opportunity to meet many of our members (and future members) at different career stages from those just starting out or considering a career in OR, through to those who have dedicated their life to the profession and are advocates for the Society and the profession. One thing

I will take away is how passionate those who work in OR are for their discipline. Unsurprisingly to me, now I have had the chance to witness the difference it can make.

In the last couple of years, I’ve seen the Society rapidly adapting its services in light of the pandemic, shifting most of its services online. The credit goes to the hardworking and dedicated OR Society team who have been a pleasure to work with and who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep everything running.

Thank you to all the staff and ORS members that I have worked with over the last nine years. The experience I have gained working at the Society and working alongside so many great professionals has been invaluable and has shaped the person

I am today. I am grateful for all your support and input over the years.