Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Interview Prep experience: Weird Problem statements

Here is an instance of a case where problem definition is weird and we are essentially looking at solving these types of cases in pressure situations.

This case was discussed once in prep practice by group 5.

First the characters in the story:
Interviewer: Narayanan (aka Mama)
Interviewee: Venkat
Case fished out by: Guru (also the observer)

Case statement: A hamburger manufacturer in the US has acquired a meat processing facility. The cows can be made to walk into the processing machine or run into it. What should they do?

Interviewee’s approach:
1) Tried to define the problem. What exactly are we trying to do?
2) What exactly is the difference between walking and running? Understanding the process.
3) How does it effect the output? Are there quality issues?
4) What is the processing capacity?
5) How does walking over running impact the capacity? (Lame question. Of course make the cows run will increase the quantity of meat produced)
6) How does it impact the cost of processing?
7) Questions on various cost aspects (lot of hints were given by interviewer)
8) Conclusion: On a per unit level, Its cheaper to produce by making the cows run. So that’s should be the approach

Interviewer’s comments:
1) Structure could have been better
2) Too much time spent on walk vs run. Interviewee should straight jump to the real issue which is “How can we improve our profits by doing one over another”?
3) How is the facility being used? Captive consumption Vs Selling to outsiders as well. If only captive, overproduction of perishable item like meat would result in wastage losses. Also can we sell to outsiders?
4) How will a process improvement at the facility impact revenues of the burger chain? Can we translate the cost savings into lower prices and ultimately better margins?
5) Charts could ve been used to understand the process (Thinking aloud)

Key takeaways:
1) Structure-Structure-Structure---Ask the right questions
2) Don’t get overawed by the weirdness of the problem. Walk Vs Run doesn’t mean anything unless it impacts the bottom line. Ask intelligent questions to get out the real problem and define it to obtain the agreement of the interviewer.
3) Think about both cost and revenue aspects. Similarly from an operational output stand point match supply to demand.
4) Think aloud and try to present pictorially your understanding of the process. Interviewer may throw hints if there is something wrong.
5) Listen carefully. In case of weird problems like this, there are enough hints in the initial answers which would help a candidate to come up with a good problem definition and structure

(This case is adapted from the case given in Pg 40 of the Harvard MCC case interview prep guide. Those interested may go over the case for a better understanding and numerical details. This case was repeated in the mock interview session with Yashraj from BCG and his comments have been incorporated at appropriate places)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Keep this going guys. Need more momemtum. -- Yash