Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Red Bead Experiment

Recently on shmula.com, there was a series of posts on Dr. Deming's Red Bead Experiment. Dr. Deming was extremely influential in bringing statistical process control to industry. His Red Bead experiment is a game that shows how natural variation is inherent in every process and cannot be eliminated by motivating workers, only by focusing on the process.

At it's simplest level, the red bead experiment has participants scooping beads out of a mixture of red and white beads with a paddle. The red beads are counted as defects and recorded over time to create a control chart. Voila! That is the experiment. However, and this is why you need to watch the video, a good facilitator will create magic with this game. By dividing it into rounds and enticing workers to improve there performance with witty banter, the game shines. Since it is clear that the workers have no control over the process (they're just scooping beads out), the whole group is in on the "joke", especially when management attempts to improve with fancy programs and slogans.


At first I hesitated to link to this, since there are red bead packages available for sale to play this game, so it is not exactly free and open. However, the video shows the game in action with an excellent facilitator. It shows the experiment in such great detail, it is an excellent resource on how to play this game. And it is an excellent example of how to run any kind of lean simulation or game. As well, I am convinced that one could quite easily fabricate a kit to play this game with your group. There are many resources out there including LinkedIn and facebook groups!

A few things to note: 

The video is circa 1989 so there is some ancient technology like overhead projectors and movie cameras (like with film, yikes!) and some great costumes. As well, the sound is delayed by 2-3 seconds, which is very annoying. If you are interested at all in the red bead experiment and how to facilitate a game well, then it's worth it.

By the way, there are six parts to this video. (part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6)

Here's a great script for running the red bead game and the materials you'd need to make it yourself.

See many more games and simulations in my list of Lean Games!

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  1. Here's another great video of someone running the red bead experiment:

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