Handbook of Decision Analysis: An interview with lead author Dr Gregory Parnell


  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 14 Aug 2013
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Dr Parnell

Earlier this year, Wiley was proud to publish the Handbook of Decision Analysis by authors Gregory S. Parnell, PhD, Terry Bresnick, MBA, Steven N. Tani, PhD, Eric R. Johnson, PhD.

Decision analysis provides powerful tools for addressing complex decisions that involve uncertainty and multiple objectives, yet most training materials on the subject overlook the soft skills that are essential for success in the field. This unique resource fills this gap in the decision analysis literature and features both soft personal/interpersonal skills and the hard technical skills involving mathematics and modeling.

Readers will learn how to identify and overcome the numerous challenges of decision making, choose the appropriate decision process, lead and manage teams, and create value for their organization. Performing modeling analysis, assessing risk, and implementing decisions are also addressed throughout. Additional features include:

• Key insights gleaned from decision analysis applications and behavioural decision analysis research
• Integrated coverage of the techniques of single- and multiple-objective decision analysis
• Multiple qualitative and quantitative techniques presented for each key decision analysis task
• Three substantive real-world case studies illustrating diverse strategies for dealing with the challenges of decision making
• Extensive references for mathematical proofs and advanced topics

thumbnail image: Handbook of Decision Analysis: An interview with lead author Dr Gregory Parnell

The Handbook of Decision Analysis is an essential reference for academics and practitioners in various fields including business, operations research, engineering, and science. The book also serves as a supplement for courses at the upper-undergraduate and graduate levels.

Here Statistics Views interviews Dr Parnell, Visiting Professor at the Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Kansas about writing this one of a kind guide to the best practices in decision analysis and how statistics has contributed to his career in business and teaching.

1. Congratulations to you and your co-authors on the publication of The Handbook of Decision Analysis, a ‘one of a kind guide to the best practices in decision analysis.’ How did the writing process begin? What was it that brought you all to work together on a new project?

The Wiley series editor told me about the Wiley OR/MS Handbook series and asked me to consider authoring the handbook. I consulted with colleagues on the board of the Society for Decision Professionals who believed that there was a need for the handbook. I then recruited three colleagues to help me with the project.

2. What were your main objectives during the writing process? What did you set out to achieve in reaching your readers?

We had four objectives:

• Provide a balanced presentation of technical skills (decision analysis concepts, mathematics, and modelling) and of soft skills (strategic thinking. leading teams, managing teams, researching, interviewing individuals, facilitating groups, and communicating).
• Integrate the techniques of single and multiple objective decision analysis instead of presenting them in separate sections of the book.
• Use substantive illustrative examples for the key decision analysis concepts and techniques; show the diversity of applications, and demonstrate how the techniques are tailored to different decision problems.
• Present multiple qualitative and quantitative techniques for each key decision analysis task as opposed to presenting one technique for all problems.

3. Were there areas that you found more challenging and if so, why?

The major challenge was deciding what to include and how to best organize the material. Each of the authors had strong views based on our experience. We actually reorganized the book and added a new chapter after we had completed a full draft of the book!

4. How does decision analysis apply to every-day life?

Decision analysis is a decision philosophy that integrates our values (what we want), our knowledge (what we know), and our alternatives (what we can do). Decision analysis applies to both our professional and personal decisions. Examples of personal decisions could be a career change, the next job, or the next vacation.

I think that operations research has a bright future. Public and private organizations will always face very difficult problems that require systematic thinking and analysis to develop improved solutions.

5. Do you have any plans on writing together with any of your co-authors in the future? What will be your next book-length undertaking?

Possibly a decision analysis textbook.

6. How did you begin to pursue a career in engineering and what was it that brought you to recognise operations research as a discipline in the first place?

In high school I liked science and mathematics. Engineering appealed to me as the application of science and mathematics to develop technology solutions to business and public problems. As a young engineer, I found that I most enjoyed the framing and analysis of major decisions. I studied operations research to learn the mathematical techniques to provide decision support to senior decision makers.

7. You are formerly the Professor of Systems Engineering at the United States Military Academy of West Point where you taught decision analysis, as well as systems engineering and operations research. This month, you have joined the faculty of the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Arkansas. As a professor, how do you view the future of teaching operations research? What do you think will be the upcoming challenges in engaging students?

I think that operations research has a bright future. Public and private organizations will always face very difficult problems that require systematic thinking and analysis to develop improved solutions.

8. You have also served as President of the Decision Analysis Society of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS). What were your main priorities/ objectives whilst President?

My main priorities were to increase the knowledge and awareness of decision analysis as a major operations research discipline. We established decision analysis tracks at all major operations research conferences and enhanced our society webpage to provide more information.

Dr Gregory Parnell

9. How do you think INFORMS has evolved during your time there overall and adapted to the changing needs of the community?

Yes. I think a good example is the recent focus on analytics and the development of the certification program.

10. Over the years, how has your teaching, consulting, and research motivated and influenced each other? Do you get research ideas and incorporate your ideas into your teaching?

They are very synergistic. I use my research ideas in my consulting and teaching. I also incorporate problems I work on in consulting, in my courses. Many of my publications came from research motivated by my consulting projects.

11. What do you think the most important recent developments in the field have been? What do you think will be the most exciting and productive areas of research in systems engineering, decision analysis and operations research during the next few years?

The basic mathematics of decision analysis was developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Significant research has been performed on value functions and uncertainty. The behavioural decision analysis work of Kahneman and Tversky and the Value-Focused Thinking book by Keeney have been very important to me. I think a productive area of research will be the modelling of uncertainty.

12. What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the profession of operations research in the coming years?

The greatest challenge is communicating to decision makers and stakeholders the potential value of the applying decision analysis to their hardest problems. The second challenge is developing sound, effective, and efficient decision analysis techniques that can be used with the available time and resources.

13. Are there people or events that have been influential in your career?

The professor that most impacted me is Professor Ronald Howard at Stanford University. The event that had the biggest impact on my professional work was 9/11. I have been greatly influenced by my colleagues at the Air Force Institute of Technology, West Point, and Innovative Decisions Inc.

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