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The critical role of management science in marketing

The critical role of management science in marketing

The fiftieth anniversary of Montgomery & Urban’s manifesto

Giorgio Gandellini

Especially because I keep this book as a bible, on the shelves closest to my desk, I often come across David B. Montgomery & Glen L, Urban, Management Science in Marketing, Prentice-Hall, 1969 (exactly 50 years ago, now unfortunately out of print).

It wasn’t just a manifesto, but a real textbook, to be studied during the introductory course to operations research at Columbia Business School.

We also had an advanced course on the same topic, exactly what happens in most Italian business schools and in the departments of economics in most universities (joking!), since operations research (or management science) is probably the most important and useful subject for future managers.

But what is operations research (or its synonym management science)? It’s just the discipline directed at understanding and solving management problems through the adoption of systematic and (almost) scientific methods.

In practice, it’s something very close to decision-making, another topic normally ignored in the departments of economics of most universities in the less managerially developed countries like Italy, where we waste a lot of time studying abstract theories about monstrous systems, without looking at what happens in the competitive environments of real companies.

As a matter of fact, last week I came across a very good and intelligent candidate who’s graduating in economics at one of the most prestigious Italian universities and business schools (I won’t say its name, but you can guess it): she totally misinterpreted the reasons of a company’s problem, described in a very short case, suggesting exactly the worst possible way of solving it!

I can tell you that this was not her fault: she was the best in other very meaningful tests that didn’t imply previous technical knowledge about any subject.

And don’t worry if you, like me, think that you are not good enough in matematics! Operations research, management science and decision-making are more about philosophy, mental attitude, common sense, and way of thinking.

Obviously, quantification and measurements are always useful, as I often emphasize, but they are easier to learn if we really understand their philosophy and practical purpose.

Anyway, before discussing further David’s and Glen’s contributions in a coming post, let me copy, with very minor adjustments, their description of the steps that identify the scientific methodology behind management science:

  1. Formulation of a problem
  2. Development of a hypothesis for addressing and analyzing the problem
  3. Measurement or quantitative estimate of relevant phenomena
  4. Derivation of a solution or basis for understanding and solving the problem
  5. Testing results
  6. Revisions to reflect the test’s results
  7. Emergence of valid results.

We cannot always have the chance of reaching step 6, since we often don’t have the opportunity to start over again, but conducting at least the first four steps is better than flipping a coin or looking at the crystal ball.

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