|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
Case Western Reserve University
|Known for||Little's law|
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth (Betty) Alden|
|Thesis||Use of Storage Water in a Hydroelectric System (1955)|
|Doctoral advisor||Philip M. Morse|
Born in Boston, he earned a S.B. in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1948) and worked at General Electric (1948–50). His Ph.D. on Use of Storage Water in a Hydroelectric System used dynamic programming, and advised by Philip M. Morse, was the first ever awarded in operations research (1955). Next, he taught at the Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve) from 1957 to 1962, before joining the faculty at MIT in 1962 where he since has worked. He was visiting professor at INSEAD (1988).
His earlier research in operations research involved traffic signal control, and gave him fame as he formed the Little's law in 1961. It states: "The average number of customers in a stable system (over some interval) is equal to their average arrival rate, multiplied by their average time in the system." A corollary has been added: "The average time in the system is equal to the average time in queue plus the average time it takes to receive service." Little is considered to be a founder of marketing science, having conducted fundamental research in models of individual choice behavior, adaptive control of promotional spending, and marketing mix models for consumer packaged goods. He has also started companies such as Management Decisions Systems and Kana Software. The John D. C. Little Award is awarded annually by INFORMS. He is the father of John N. Little.
Little was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1989) for outstanding contributions to operational systems engineering including research, education, and applications in industry and leadership.