The Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming

The Red Bead Experiment is an activity Dr. Deming included in his 4 day seminars. The webcast shows excerpts of Dr. Deming carry out the Red Bead Experiment with participants from the audience.

Dr. Deming used the Red Bead Experiment to clearly and dramatically illustrate several points about poor management practices. This includes the fallacy of rating people and ranking them in order of performance for next year, based on pervious performance.

The Red Bead Experiment uses statistical theory to show that even though a “willing worker” wants to do a good job, their success is directly tied to and limited by the nature of the system they are working within. Real and sustainable improvement on the part of the willing worker is achieved only when management is able to improve the system.

As with any model it oversimplifies reality but the experiment drives home lessons very powerfully. It is hard to appreciate this without experiencing this directly yourself but the webcast gives a glimpse of what is involved.

The discussion in his sessions of understanding of psychology and the misuse and misunderstanding of data and variation are dramatic for many people. Many presenters continue to use the Red Bead Experiment in seminars today, including The W. Edward Deming Institute (in our 2 1/2 day seminars).

This webcast includes excerpt from the Deming Library Red Bead Experiment videos. The Deming Library was a collaboration between producer Clare Crawford-Mason and Dr. Deming created from 1986 to 1993. Those videos are now available from The W. Edward Deming Institute.

We will post a new post new week looking at some of the lessons managers can learn from thinking about the Red Bead Experiment.

Related: Attributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the SystemThe Idea of Performance Rating to Capture Merit is AlluringUnderstanding Data

Other webcasts of the red bead experiment: David JoyceMayo ClinicJoakim SundénSteve Prevette

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for including a link to my version of the red beads. I am honored to be listed on this blog and hope that more folks will be willing to carry on the tradition of the red beads.

    You may want to include a link to an article I recently wrote at

    – Steve

  1. March 10, 2014

    […] lessons that can be illustrated using the Red Bead experiment are too many to include in this post. But we can touch on a few of the ideas. The value of the Red […]

  2. October 6, 2018

    […] designed the Red Bead Experiment to illustrate these very points, in a way that most people can directly relate […]

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