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The Red Bead Experiment

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Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
JSW05 said:
I've found them to be especially useful to companies that aren't interested in staying in business. The problem is, they almost always have enough of their own red beads, and aren't likely to be interested in yours.
I was reviewing the videotape of a 4 day seminar of Dr. Deming's and I did pick up on he does make the point that perhaps we could try to sell the red beads. We don't know what the customer uses them for, and perhaps to another customer red may be what they are looking for.

For example, I have pointed out that maybe the beads are used as ball bearings. As a process fix, one audience member once said "get a can of white spray paint". Now, I love that idea. But if you think about it - if the purpose of the beads was to be ball bearings, overspraying all the beads with white spray paint would ruin all of them!

There are hazards to not knowing what the customer will do with your product.


Red Beads Everywhere

I responded, but apparently it got lost!! I don't know if I can remember what I wrote, but here it goes. I see remnants of the Red Bead expirement in our organization, especially in areas that are very number driven. Traditionally you might think of widgets, but in this case we are talking about miles of road sweept, number of construction stakes marked, etc. We will be conducting the Red Bead Expirement in our organization and I think it will be the beginning of an awareness that we need to lead, not micromanage our staff. We can all stop and learn more about ourselves through this excercise. Hopefully the awareness creates a big "Ah Ha!". I loved the expirement. Every supervisor and manager should go through it!!

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
terryw said:
I responded, but apparently it got lost!!!!
We're now on the third page of this topic. Your previous response is on the bottom of the second page. Yes, I am looking forward to doing the beads for your group, it is always fun.

By the way, Fluor just signed a contract with Los Alamos National Lab for me to go down there to provide two days of training, and within that training will be the Red Bead Experiment.


Red Bead

This experiment reinforces that no matter how hard an employee tries to do their best-it can be the system that is too blame. After the first paddle I knew that I had no control over the amount of red beads. I wanted to prove that I could only pick up 3-but the system was against me. Management praised the best employees-but this only leads to resentment. Employees need to be involved with the decisions on how to better the system-because it is them that is working it.


Another Suggestion!!!

To non-believers of the red bead experiment, i would suggest another way of proving that the system controls everything, not individuals.

GO TO THE LAS VEGAS AND TRY YOUR LUCK for few days, not just few hours!!!!

No matter how hard you try, you will not win unless you are one lucky sob!..but that luck won't last long!!!


red bead experiment

I really enjoyed the red bead experiment. I would like to say that it was a revelation, but it really just confirmed what most reasonable people already know, managers focus on symptoms without ever looking at real problems. After the experiment I thought a lot about how my management would react to the red beads. Unfortunately, I have to conclude that it would not make much of a difference in how they act. The two main reasons I arrive at this conclusion are corporate culture and lack of process knowledge. Where I work, the flavor of the day programs always rule. Whatever a senior manager read about that has worked somewhere else is what we decide to do without understanding why it worked at the other company. A program may be widely successful at one company and a complete failure at another. We never ask the all important question "why" did it work at this company. what did they do, how did they implement, what is the overall state of their corporate culture and given that knowledge, will this work for us. We also have a predisposition towards hiring consultants and then changing or ignoring anything they tell us to fit what "we" want. This mindset is not the type that would be open to the obvious truth that is clearly demonstrated in the red bead experiment. With regard to process knowledge, if you do not clearly understand your workplace and how work gets done, it is difficult to understand how to fix real problems. With a management team that respects and trusts its workforce it can be done, unfortunately all too many of us work in companies where that relationship just doesnt exist.

Jamie Morris

Chris, I would have to agree with your assessment of our company's current organizational mindset. However, keep the faith because I have seen encouraging signs of change. This past week, I attended an 8-hour Human Performance Improvement training class that is sanctioned by very high levels of management in our company and the Department of Energy. Do not be fooled by the title. The course is based mostly on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and focuses on the fact that event reduction can be brought about only by changing the systems and processes in which workers interact. The course stresses that humans make errors (an average of 5 per hour), but punishing the errors or rewarding folks who average less errors will not reduce significant events. Sound familiar - ah yes - the red bead experiment! The course also stresses that management must be willing the change their paridigm and think in terms of system improvement not individual improvement. We will see where this goes, but it certainly is encouraging.

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
The presentation of the Red Beads to an ASQ conference in Juarez Mexico went extremely well. Even though I had to work through a translator, and was dealing with a very different culture, the message rang true with the audience. They loved it. The biggest lament expressed was that they "wished their managers were there" to see it.

Lori Beeler

Red Bead Response

I love reading all your responses to the red bead experiment. I was a "willling worker" and like Shari felt frustration at not being able to control my matter how slowly I dipped the paddle, no matter how carefully I tipped it to 45 degrees, I still exceeded the goal of three red beads everytime. I wanted to try and try and try until I could do it but I would be there for days!!

The experiment reminded me of a past job at a now non-existent contractor that hired a new CEO to take us through a re-bid only to alienate the majority of the staff with their approach to fixing the "system" and increasing production. The reward and production efforts, re-organization and new and "improved" job descriptions only proved to breed discontent through secrecy, deceit and injustice. There was no input from the masses and no constructive two way communication without consequences. I saw good managers suddenly "retire", positive workers become discontent and outspoken adversaries disappear. Their "plan" handsomely rewarded those that would do anything to hang on to their jobs and ultimately was their undoing.

Lori Beeler
MBA Student
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