Management Lessons: Deming’s Red Bead Experiment

Deming’s Red Bead Experiment demonstrates a few important lessons on management and quality-improvement techniques.

The experiment involves using a paddle that can hold up to 50 colored beads as well as white and red colored beads in a large bowl. The white beads represent the good aspects or acceptable products, while the red beads represent the problems or defective products experienced in the work day.

You use the paddle to pick up 50 beads, which has a combination of the red and white beads and do this several times. Each time you pick up a paddle full of beads, the number of white and red beads will always be different.

This demonstrates a few important lessons:

– Each day at work, you experience variation, as represented by the different number of red and white beads that changes with each paddle draw.
– You cannot control all the problems at work – many of those problems are created by the system.
– The success and limitations of a worker is related to the working system.
– Management has to improve the system to address the problems (red beads) found every day.
– Management should create an environment where workers can voice their concerns and assist with system improvements.

The red bead experiment is a useful tool to facilitate the discussion of addressing problems at work. It also highlights the interactive role between management and workers that involves trust in order to problem solve.

You can read more about the experiment in depth and watch a video of the red bead experiment here.

Elaine Nghiem  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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