DESCRIPTION: This app is an iPad simulation of the game invented by quality expert W. Edwards Deming. Quality management gurus use The Red Bead Experiment to teach students about statistical process control and demonstrate the most common mistakes of quality managers.
THE EXPERIMENT: On the screen you will see red and white beads. Each bead represents a task. White beads are tasks done correctly; red beads represent errors. When you open the app, the beads will begin to move. You have about 15 seconds to tilt the iPad to guide the beads into 50 slots on the screen. When the time is up, the simulation stops. Playing one time represents one day of work.
WHAT IS THIS USED FOR?:
In any real work day, employees will make some errors. Naturally, the number of errors is not the same every day. On some days there are few; other days many. Humans naturally follow these daily ups and downs of work performance and ascribe reasons to the result each day. On a day when few errors occur, a manager might praise an employee for his good methods. But the next day, when errors are many, the employee finds himself feeling frustrated.
This app gives employees the feeling that they have some control over the number of red beads that fall into the slots. But it is also subject to random effects. Teachers can use this app to stimulate students to discuss the question: "How much control does the employee have over the number of errors on a day-to-day basis?"
In the developer's own project management class, some students estimated that the number of errors is 90% an effect of the skill of the person holding the iPad and 10% random chance. Others believed it was as much as 100% luck.
Obviously, if this were not a game, but a real work day, the question of whether the errors were caused by lack of skill or just by random processes would have to be answered definitively before the manager could make an intelligent decision about how to solve the problem.
W. Edwards Deming was appalled by the number of real-life managers who blamed the workers for errors that were actually the result of random processes. His own statistical analysis at companies in the U.S. and Japan revealed that in a typical working situation, only 6% of the errors were attributable to the workers. The rest were caused by poor materials, tools, lack of training, bad management, incomplete instructions, etc.
This app attempts to simulate that situation: The effect of the user strategically tilting the iPad accounts for much less than 6% of the errors. However, in a classroom setting, if the teacher plays on psychology, praising students who get lower number of errors and scolding those who have more, many students can be fooled into thinking that they are responsible for the results.
The question of how much control the user actually has over the number of red beads can be answered if we record the number of errors on a control chart. Simple statistics-based methods exist that can determine with better than 99% accuracy if there is a human influence on the system or if it is just operating randomly. See this page about the Western Electric Rules for details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Electric_rules
Video demonstration of the real Red Bead apparatus in use at a quality management workshop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtYTkGwW5RY
This website explains the experiment and sells plastic red bead sets for about $200 USD