Using simple run charts

Run charts are really useful in quality improvement.  Whatever it is that we are trying to improve, the process of measuring and reviewing data is essential and a run chart is the best way we have found of doing this in a way that is simple to understand and share with others.

runchart2A run chart can be used to plot data you are collecting to try to understand variation in a process, or to monitor the impact you are making throughout a PDSA cycle.  Whatever you are using the chart for, our main recommendation (as ever) is keep-it-simple.

There are some tips below for anyone who is looking to get started, firstly on the subject on identifying what you want to measure.

Measuring for improvement

Measuring and sharing data is vital part of being successful in QI.  Data is required to understand our current performance, develop ideas as well as to help test changes and to see if they lead to improvement.

Measuring to establish if we are making an improvement is also a key part of the ‘Model for Improvement

Some tips for establishing your measures:

  1. Limit the number of measures and keep it simple
  2. Remember that measurement is not the goal and the measure doesn’t have to be perfect; we just need to know ‘are we making an improvement?’
  3. Audit and sampling is ok if you are dealing with large volumes of activity
  4. Try to make data collection part of the daily routine and try not to rely on information systems or external teams (by keeping it simple)
  5. Use a run chart to track and share your measures in a simple way

How to create a run chart

Creating a simple line chart will leave you with two axis to work with:

– On the X axis we plot time using what intervals are useful to you (days, weeks, months, etc)

– On the Y axis we plot whatever we are measuring in whatever unit is useful to you (count, percentage, etc)

Collect the data in a table and then turn it into a chart, using a line to connect the dots.

You can annotate the chart to show where you have made changes in practice or started a PDSA cycle, which will make it easier to see if a specific change has made a difference.


You can add a horizontal line through the centre of you chart to show the (median) average of your measure.  You should then be able to see how you are doing over time.  It is as simple as that.

Getting started

We have created a really simple template for a run chart which you can read about and download here.

There is a lot of science associated with the use of run charts and statistical process control, but my advice (as ever) is to keep-it-simple at least when you are first starting out.  When we are collecting and presenting our data in the first instance all we are really trying to answer is ‘are we making an improvement?’

If you want to learn more about run charts and understanding variation, I recommend starting with this whiteboard video from the IHI.

We hope this is helpful and please get in touch with your comments.


Mark – @MarkH_Work

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