The Red Bead Experiment

This experiment is called the red bead
experiment and it was initially developed and promoted by Dr. Edwards
Deming in his business seminars and what he did was he wanted to show the
business executives who attended this seminar about how if you have a system
or process that’s very variable then it doesn’t matter what the workers are
doing you’re going to always have variation in your results. So what you’re
going to do is you have a bigger bin of beads here and you pour the beads slowly
into the smaller bin pour all the beads out and then you take the smaller bin
and pour it slowly into the bigger bin like so. Using only one hand it
doesn’t matter if you use your right or left hand but you can only use one hand.
Then you take the paddle like this put it in the beads. Make sure all of the
beads cover the paddle it’s very important that all the beads cover the
paddle. Lift the paddle up four inches from the beads tilt the paddle at a 34
degree angle like so, so make sure that there’s a bead in each one of the
holes. So once you have all of the beads in the paddle
walk slowly over to the inspectors. And you inspectors you need to count how many red beads there are because sometimes we have in this process red
beads that get into the production which are not good those are defects and so
the inspectors will notify us of the defects. So I am the manager and I will
be trying to coach you and give you encouragement throughout the day our
goal is to produce for every paddle no more than three red beads okay so we
have you each of you have a target no more than three red beads when
you do this. You can see from the experiment that when students in our case dip the paddle into the bin and pull out some beads they’re always
going to have some red beads and so when I am playing the managerial role and I’m
telling a student you’re not doing a good enough job or
praising a student for not getting very many red beads it really doesn’t have
any effect in terms of how they actually perform in that experiment because there
are so many red beads in the bin that they’re always gonna pull up some red
beads and what they’re doing actually doesn’t have any impact in terms of how
many red beads they’re pulling up it’s just a very variable process and so it
teaches the students to look for variation in the process and what you
really need to do is you need to fix the process or fix the system and it’s not
the blame or responsibility of an individual worker. I think this is a fun way to begin the class in IE 561: Total Quality Management because it gets the
students involved in an activity what they’re getting in their hands in it
involves a lot of students who get to participate and play different roles
they get to see me in a kind of fun way playing the bad manager so it’s a fun
activity that gets the students involved but I think it also shows an important
learning element that we continue to talk about during the class and that is
the importance of variation the importance of variability and the importance of
really understanding your process and the system as a whole rather than
focusing on specific individual components or in this case specific
individual workers so that’s a common theme that develops throughout the rest
of the course in this semester.


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