I am trying to solve this problem:

  1. There are $N$ workers and $T$ tasks.
  2. Each task can be assigned to at most one worker.
  3. Each worker can be assigned any number of tasks.
  4. The profit obtained by assigning worker $i$ to task $j$ is $P_{ij}\geq 0$.
  5. At most $k$ out of the $N$ workers can be chosen to complete the $T$ tasks, where $1\leq k\leq N$.

The problem is a special case of the one discussed here. Here the budget is $k$ and cost of every worker is 1.

What I have tried: Let $S\subseteq [N]$ be the set of chosen workers such that $|S|\leq k$. For every task $t\in[T]$, to maximise profit, assign it to the worker in $S$ who can bring in the maximum profit. So, the problem becomes:

$$\max_{S\subseteq[N]:|S|\leq k}\sum_{t=1}^T\max_{j\in S}P_{jt}$$.

The objective function becomes an instance of monotone, submodular set function maximization with cardinality constraints, so greedy algorithm yields a $1-e^{-1}$-approximation. I also have a simple counter example to show that greedy algorithm need not give the optimal solution for some instances.

Is this problem NP-hard? I have an intuition it might be, but I am not able to prove it yet. If it is NP-hard, does it admit a better approximation ratio than $1-e^{-1}$? Any hints or references would be really helpful. Thanks in advance.

  • $\begingroup$ NP-Hard on which parameter? $k$? $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2023 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ @user3508551 yes. $\endgroup$
    – Michael C.
    Dec 27, 2023 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. Sorry, I was not sure which SE was more suited for the question. I asked the question there and as I could not get an answer, I posted it here. Anyways, this version contains more information than the one in cs.stackexchange.com, so I deleted the other. $\endgroup$
    – Michael C.
    Dec 27, 2023 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


OP's problem generalizes the maximum coverage problem, a well-studied problem for which the best poly-time approximation ratio possibly is $1-1/e$, unless P=NP. So achieving a better ratio for OP's problem would imply P=NP.

Lemma 1. If OP's problem admits an approximation ratio better than $1-1/e$, then P=NP.

Proof. Given a collection $S$ of sets and an integer $k$, the maximum-coverage problem is to choose a collection $C$ of $k$ of the given sets so as to maximize the size of the union of the chosen sets.

This reduces to OP's problem by taking each set in $S$ to be a worker and each element $i$ to be a task, and letting the profit of assigning a task $i$ to a worker $S$ to be $1$ if $i\in S$ and zero otherwise. Then the profit of a given collection of sets equals the size of the union. This gives an approximation-preserving reduction from maximum coverage to OP's problem.

So any poly-time $c$-approximation algorithm for OP's problem would also be a poly-time $c$-approximation algorithm for maximum coverage. As observed in the Wikipedia entry for maximum coverage, Feige has shown that if there is such an algorithm with $c < 1 - 1/e$, then P=NP. $~~~\Box$


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