Tag Archives: Deming

The Red Bead Experiment

On Tuesday, June 9th, Michigan Tech had the privilege of experiencing Dr. W. Edward Deming’s Red Bead Experiment which was presented by Michigan State University’s Jim Manley. Jim is the Managing Director of the Demmer Center for Business Transformation at Michigan State and was able to experience the Red Bead Experiment delivered by Dr. Deming himself in the 1980’s. The Red Bead Experiment is a training tool that Dr. Deming used to teach his 14 Obligations of Management. The exercise is used as a tool to bring people together and to get past the emotional aspects of discussing problems.

Jim began the exercise by asking for four Willing Workers. He then asked for two Quality Assurance workers, one Quality Assurance Supervisor, and one Recorder. (I was lucky enough to be chosen as a Willing Worker.) Once all roles had been assigned, Jim gave everyone their tasks. The Willing Workers were to scoop up white beads from a box using a specialized, custom bead paddle (see the picture below). They were to scoop one time and must try to fill all the holes in the paddle with white beads. Once they have scooped and filled the paddle completely, they were to bring the full paddle to the Quality Assurance workers. The goal is for each Willing Worker to fill  the paddle completely with only white beads (zero defects). The Quality Assurance workers then counted the number of defects (red beads) and recorded them on a pad of paper. The Quality Assurance Supervisor announced the number of defects loudly so that all employees could hear. The Recorder wrote down the number of defects for each worker on a white board. Simple right? Well, not so much.

red_bead_experimentWhat Jim failed to tell the Willing Workers was the box was full of not only white beads, but also red beads (it appeared to be a 50/50 split of red and white beads). So while the Willing Workers tried their best to only scoop out white beads, it was nearly impossible to have zero defects. It didn’t help that the CEO (Jim) didn’t know any of the Willing Workers names (he referred to us as numbers) or ask us how things were going. All he cared about was results. Jim tried to improve things by implementing a “Worker of the Week” certificate. He also began an incentive program where the worker who was able to meet the zero defect goal would win a cash prize and a Starbucks gift card. He even increased the goal of zero defects to 1 defect. Do you think any of these changes helped? Not a chance!

After several rounds of the Willing Workers attempting to scoop only white beads, Jim had some bad news. Due to the Willing Workers creating so many defects and not enough of the finished product, he had to let two Willing Workers go. Now there were only two Willing Workers left, which meant they had to pick up all the slack. As you can imagine, the last two Willing Workers weren’t able to meet the zero defect goal, causing the company to go belly up.

So what was the point of the exercise? The biggest take away for me was the fact that leaders need to understand the system before making any changes. Meaning Jim needed to go to the Gemba, talk to the Willing Workers, and find out from them what the problem was. If he did this, he would have found out that it is impossible to scoop only white beads when the box is half full of red beads. He would have received suggestions for improvement from the Willing Workers and would have been able to generate the results he was after. When a leader shows the employees he/she cares about what the employee has to say, it can make all the difference in the world.

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I thought the Red Bead Experiment was a fabulous exercise. I would recommend it to anyone regardless of how familiar they are with Continuous Improvement topics. If you have any questions or would like to know more about the Red Bead Experiment, email us at improvement@mtu.edu.


Create Constancy of Purpose

W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming

William Edwards Deming, a statistician and professor, developed a theory of management based on fourteen points that he considered critical for management to become transformational and thus lead their business to greater success. He published his ideas in a book titled “Out of the Crisis” and I recommend you get a copy for reference. His thoughts and published works have led to the development of systems like Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, and Lean. Deming’s work is not a blueprint for success, ready to be copied, but his fourteen points are a starting point for discussion, consideration and contemplation when it comes time for you to begin your journey of management transformation and improvement.

Let’s start this journey together, now, as we discuss Deming’s points and see how they may relate to you and your leadership style and business goals.

Point One: Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Seems pretty simple right? Well, this one little sentence is packed with complexity just waiting for us to unravel. This point squarely puts the onus on Management to make looking out for our employees the number one job, while the responsibility of the employee is to improve their product or service. The focus is not on the product or service; rather, the focus is on choosing to dependably improve our product or service. Acknowledge that what you offer isn’t perfect and can be done better. And if it isn’t done better by you, reliably, your competition will do it for you and put you out of business.

Deming also advocates that you focus your business on being competitive and providing jobs. To truly improve our competitiveness, I feel we must recognize the value our staff bring to our business, and concentrate on allowing them to self-improve. People—not the thing we produce or the service we provide—are at the core of our operation. Without our employees, nothing is made, nothing is sold, and no amount of marketing nor motivational speeches will change that – our staff make our business. Empower them.

The secret to success...
Benjamin Disraeli said it succinctly

Benjamin Disraeli said it most succinctly – and I believe Deming would agree – that to truly succeed in your business Management must fully embrace continuous improvement as a living element in our operations, making it the basis of the corporate culture. Staff should be 100% supported by the the company and the management. Staff should be empowered to make positive changes to improve their working environment and better their product or service.  And there should never be any doubt that the company fully supports continuous improvement efforts.

As we continue this journey through Deming’s fourteen points, we’ll see how each point can easily stand on its own, while at the same time often reinforcing one another—much like management and staff have their own jobs to do but must work together to keep driving improvement forward to increase productivity.

Next Article: Point Two – Adopt the new philosophy


PDCA vs. PDSA

PDCA is a common term used when practicing lean. The acronym stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act and is also known as the Deming wheel. PDCA is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products.

While many people have heard of or practiced PDCA, far less have heard of PDSA, Plan-Do-Study-Act. By replacing the Check with Study, we can better understand that we should study the results of one’s experiment and then make adjustments based on the results from the countermeasure(s) put in place to test the hypothesis. According to Karen Martin, people often mistake check for making sure that everyone is following the new process rather than checking the results of the experiment and adjusting the countermeasures accordingly. To read why Karen prefers PDSA check out her guest blog post from Mark Graban’s blog on lean.

Which cycle do you prefer?