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Friday, September 30, 2011

Problem Solving Exercise

The following is a fact finding problem solving puzzle.  This could be used as an ice breaker or an introduction for a problem solving class. 

Key Learning Point:
The objective of the exercise is for the team to work together, not to solve the puzzle correctly!


  • Distribute the cards as evenly as possible among the team members.  For a greater challenge, give the card with the question to a quiet or passive team member.
  • Tell the team, “The instructions are very simple…solve the problem.”  That’s it!
  • The rules are simple…each team member can only look at his/her card(s).  No peeking at anyone else’s cards or passing the cards around.  No writing on the cards.  They can use anything in the room to help them (flipcharts, equipment, etc.).
  • The time limit is up to you.  It’s a tough puzzle, so I recommend about 30 minutes.  The shorter the timeframe you allow, the more tension you create for the team!
Facilitator Observation Questions:
  • What method are they using to communicate and organize the information?
  • Did they define the problem (question)?
  • Are the communication lines open?
  • Is anyone trying to dominate the team?
  • Is anyone hiding?
  • Are they organized?
  • Is anyone taking the lead?
  • Are they using the flipchart board or any other tool in the room?
  • Are they moving the info from the cards onto something visible to the whole team (flipchart)?
  • How much confusion is there?
  • Is anyone getting angry?
  • Are they working together?
Exercise De-Brief Questions:
  • Did you like this exercise?
  • Did you arrive at a solution?
  • Did everyone agree to the solution?
  • How did you arrive at your solution?
  • Did the time factor affect the team?  How?
  • Did you work together?  How?
  • What went well?  What didn’t go well? Why?
Misc. Facilitator Notes:
  • Don’t give them any hints or clues during the exercise!  It’s okay to laugh with them, but not at them.
  • Whether or not you give them the solution is up to you.  Remember, the key learning point of the exercise is for the team to work together, not to solve the puzzle correctly.  If you decide to show them the solution matrix, don’t give it to them until the last possible moment (when all debriefing is complete).
  • If they insist on knowing “how they did,” just ask them right back “how do you think you did?”
With respect to performance on the puzzle:
  • 90% of the teams are able to define the problem “What is the salesperson’s last name?”
  • 75% of the teams setup the info matrix in some format or another
  • 50% of the teams get all the hints correctly entered in the matrix
  • Less than 10% of the teams arrive at the conclusion using the correct logic & deductive reasoning
  • Nearly all the teams end up guessing when the time deadline is reached

Fact Finding Problem and Rationale

Turney is the salesman!

  1. Turney drives an American-made vehicle (card 8).  Since it can’t be the Toyota van or Honda sports coupe, it must be the Plymouth coupe.
  2. Harlow borrows a vehicle from the Manufacturing Manager that can hold his five family members and their camping gear (card 5).  Since it can’t be the Honda or Plymouth coupe, the Manufacturing Manager must drive the Toyota van.
  3. Therefore, because Turney drives a Plymouth (#1) and the Manufacturing Manager drives a Toyota van (#2),  Turney can’t be the Manufacturing Manager
  4. Harlow can’t be the Manufacturing Manager since he borrows the Manufacturing Manager’s vehicle (card 5).
  5. Because Turney and Harlow can’t be the Manufacturing Manager (#’s 3&4), Benson must be the Manufacturing Manager and drive the Toyota van.
  6. Because Turney drives a Plymouth (#1), and Benson drives the Toyota van (#5), Harlow must drive the Honda sports coupe.
  7. Since Carroll knows nothing about music (card 3) and Trent is the Political Science major (card 6), Brown must be the customer with the music major from the Julliard School of Music.
  8. Therefore, the customer who drives the Honda sport coupe and needs a larger car for the cello (card 7) must be Brown.
  9. Because the Julliard School of Music graduate (Brown #7) drives the same car (Honda #8) as the engineer (card 1), and since Harlow drives a Honda sport coupe (#6), Harlow must be the engineer.
  10. Since Benson is the Manufacturing Manager (#5) and Harlow is the Engineer (#9), Turney must be the Salesman.

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