Red Bead Experiment: Part 1

The Red Bead Experiment is a metaphor for problems, where the red beads represent “bad” and white represent “good”. It is a teaching tool mostly used in manufacturing or instruction in quality management. The Red Bead Experiment was created by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the person who influenced Toyota who, later, would develop The Toyota Production System.

This post explains how to play the Red Bead Experiment, the Lessons Learned from the Red Bead Experiment, and how to facilitate the Red Bead Experiment. This post also contains a video tutorial of the Red Bead Experiment. This is Part 1 of 6 of the Red Bead Experiment.

How To Play The Red Bead Experiment

The Red Bead Experiment consist of a large bowl with white beads and red beads and a paddle. Each player draws the paddle full of beads. Here are the specific rules for the game:

  • Objective: Produce white beads and avoid producing red beads (defects).
  • Instructor: Plays the role of the manager.
  • Quality Manager: This person counts the number of red beads after each draw.
  • Controller: This person records the number of red beads as relayed by the Quality Manager.
  • Workers: Have as many workers as you desire, but aim to keep the game to ~40 minutes.
  • Rounds: Try to have several rounds, where a round is defined as each worker has had a turn to scoop the paddle into the bowl of beads. In each round, as the manager, play the following roles:
    • Round 1: Manager sets target for no more than 5 red beads. If violated, worker will have to work 2 hours overtime without pay.
    • Round 2: Manager introduces a bonus program where the worker that produces below 5 red beads will receive a $500.00 bonus.
    • Round 3: Manager is mean – yells, belittles, threatens, compares workers to each other, and has a big temper.
  • Why the Rounds: The rounds are meant to show the futility of such management approaches of bonuses, threats, and other incentives. No matter what the motivational approach, producing fewer than 5 red beads is futile.

Red Bead Experiment – Data Analysis

After several rounds, the Controller should have a table that looks like the following:

data analysis, excel, red bead experiment

The bottom row shows the average of red beads per worker per day.

The instructor can then use this data set to introduce the class to statistical process control, variation, common cause variation, special cause variation, and upper limits and lower limits.

Red Bead Experiment Video Tutorial

Below is a video tutorial of the Red Bead Experiment. This video is Part 1 of 6.
buy red bead experiment

Red Bead Experiment – Lessons Learned

  1. All variation comes from the process.
  2. There was no evidence than any worker was better than the other.
  3. The workers were doing their best, yet they were not improving – could not improve.
  4. Intimidation, bullying, did not help the workers improve.
  5. Monetary incentives did not help the workers improve.
  6. All processes have natural variation.

example video of red bead game

Go To Part 2


  1. leansimulations says

    Excellent description of the red bead game. Although the video is dated and the sound is a bit off, it’s an awesome example of a good facilitator!

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