A Lego Game for Choosing a Summer Student

Joe Sutton October 24, 2018

The University of Canterbury in Christchurch has a strong software engineering and computer science program. It’s the perfect place to find and hire a summer engineer to work at Trineo’s nearby headquarters. The lucky student will build and deliver some much-needed features and functionality while gaining experience in Salesforce.com.

Trineo’s headquarters in downtown Christchurch
Trineo’s headquarters in downtown Christchurch

The Lego exercise

To watch how the students work and interact in natural situations, we gave them a Lego exercise. Our objective: put them in a pressured situation that was fun and not too intense. We knew that they didn't have much real-world experience, so this was a way for us to test their soft skills. Here’s how it worked.

The six candidates drew numbers to form two teams. Then we set them up at our boardroom table with each team on one end. Mark Donaghy, Trineo Salesforce Practice Manager, played the role of product owner. Their task: to build a Lego vehicle that adhered to a specific set of requirements. For example, the vehicle:

  • Must transport 10 Lego figures in seated positions
  • Must be movable across the boardroom table from end to end
  • Must have 20% red bricks
Mark, serving as product owner, explains the requirements.
Mark, serving as product owner, explains the requirements.

An abbreviated agile sprint

We ran the project in an agile way. The teams had:

  • 1 minute to plan and discuss the project
  • 2 minutes to conduct the sprint
  • 2 minutes to demo their work
  • 2 minutes to retro

After the first sprint, Mark, as product owners sometimes do, changed the requirements. He introduced the need for the vehicle to fly. Then we repeated this process for one additional sprint.

Observing the candidates

As each team worked, I observed one team, and Trineo engineer Matt Wratt observed the other. We wanted to see how the team members interacted. For example, did they balance the workload? Who took which role?

Building the vehicle
Building the vehicle

We were curious to see if the candidates would question the requirements or ask for clarification. When Mark said the vehicle had to fly, would they ask, “Does it have to be thrown across the room? Can it hover? Does it need to have wings?” We left it up to them to work out.

Mark tests a vehicle to make sure it flies.
Mark tests a vehicle to make sure it flies.

Choosing the hire

Ultimately, this exercise wasn’t the deciding factor in who received the summer job. We were able to learn more about the candidates, and get a flavour of how they work in teams.

If you are looking to run this exercise for your own hiring process and you don’t have access to Legos, then you could run a paper plane challenge instead. I have seen this work just as well. If you don’t have access to a large table, you could also set up your teams on the floor. There is plenty of room for flexibility. Just remember to offer plenty of snacks.

Joe Sutton

Joe Sutton