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QI Games: The Red Bead Experiment

​Don Berwick, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow, IHI

W. Edwards Deming, one of the founders of modern quality improvement, invented the famous Red Bead Experiment to illustrate how typical managers try — and fail — to improve quality.

In this video, Dr. Don Berwick leads the demonstration in a class at the Harvard School of Public Health, showing what happens when a manager tries to improve quality by rewarding and punishing workers for organizational performance.

Part 1: The Red Bead Experiment Demonstration

Read the video transcript.

Part 2: The Red Bead Experiment Debrief

Read the video transcript.​

Learning Objectives: At the end of this activity, you will be able to:

  • Identify at least one similarity between the Red Bead Experiment and the manager-staff worker relationship in health care.
  • List at least two outdated management techniques highlighted in the Red Bead Experiment.
  • Discuss why the two techniques identified in Objective 2 are ineffective when trying to improve quality.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the management techniques Dr. Berwick uses to try to improve employee performance?
  2. Do you think these management techniques are effective? Why or why not?
  3. If you were the head of the Red Bead Company, what would you do to try to improve quality?
  4. Do you think the management style in the Red Bead Company has any similarities to the way health care is managed? Explain your thinking and give an example, if possible.
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