One of the more memorable events I’ve ever attended was a demonstration of Dr. Edward Deming’s red bead experiment. As you may know, Deming is an icon in management, keeping companies lean and improving quality development. If you’ve never seen the demonstration, you can do so at the bottom of this blog.

The nine minutes you spend watching this video is well worth the time, and I suggest you re-watch it after a few hours. You’ll notice that Deming uses many of the common phrases that are used in management even today, 30 years later.

In fact, you can buy the same props in this video from Amazon and Deming’s Out of the Crisis book for more of this wisdom.

Although the video and production shows its age (as does Deming), the important lesson is that variation and defects are built into all systems, and blaming workers for the defects is in itself a waste of time.

One of my takeaways from the event was that it is the job of the innovator to “get the red out” of this process. Innovative products and processes should have built-in defect eliminators. Most of you will agree that this is an honorable goal, but how can this be accomplished? My short list of suggestions to innovate the process is as follows:

  • Fully plan your product assembly process using visualization tools and eliminate steps;
  • Plan your production line layouts with great detail to eliminate waste and invest at least one hour of analysis for every unit of daily production (300 units = 300 hours, or 20 hours each by 15 people);
  • Innovate constantly to eliminate possible assembly errors, and be determined to make the assembly as simple as possible;
  • Eliminate fasteners at all costs. Consider that the innovation of welded vinyl assembly methods have done more for productivity and quality than most other window innovations; and
  • Make it impossible to install components in the wrong place or in the wrong orientation by using tabs, fit snaps and clearances.

This list is just a start, and there are many more resources to help you in this quest. If you become a student of innovation to eliminate defects, you’ll discover multiple methodologies to educate your team. Research them well, but use as your base the key teaching in Deming’s work.

As time passes, key things endure in my mind as foundational. Deming’s teaching is one of those foundations. You can learn more about him by clicking here.

“It is not enough to do your best, you must know what to do, then do your best!” – Dr. Edward Deming

View the Red Bead Experiment here:

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