Friday, February 18, 2011

Not New News - When All Else Fails - Fudge the Data

Deming’s Famous Red Bead Experiment With A Twist

Improve the system, distort the system, or distort the data

n 1991, I had the privilege of attending one of W. Edwards Deming’s four-day seminars and I still proudly display the certificate of completion in my office. One of the highlights of the seminar, of course, was Deming’s famous red bead experiment. I had read about the red bead experiment, but this was the first time I saw it up close and personal. It truly was a profound moment in my professional education.
At the risk of being labeled “heretic” or “blasphemer,” my aim is to offer an improvement to the red bead experiment—or perhaps “twist” is a better word. I believe Deming would approve of my effort of continual improvement. I first thought of this enhancement while attending a workshop given by the W. Edwards Deming Institute in 2009, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In attendance was Kevin Cahill, vice president of the Deming Institute and Deming’s grandson. I shared my thoughts with Cahill and he approved of the idea. Since then, I have conducted the red bead experiment with the twist about 20 times.
The additional lessons learned include the fact that willing workers, when faced with the need to preserve their business and livelihood, have three choices: improve the system, distort the system, or distort the data. Because the willing workers are not able to improve the system, they distort the system or the data (or both). Again, this is no new revelation to the willing workers.


Steve Moore is the director of business improvement systems at Wausau Paper Corp. He holds a master's degree from the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin, and has held various research and development, technical, engineering, and manufacturing positions in the paper industry for the past 35 years. He has been a student, teacher, and practitioner of statistical methods applied to real-world processes for the past 25 years.


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