The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Exploring Measurement, Presentation by Ian Bradbury

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Ian Bradbury presented on Exploring Measurement at our 2016 annual conference. As usual his presentation is packed with great information. I strongly recommend watching (also see links to more presentations by him below).

At the very beginning of his talk, Ian says

Stuff happens a lot and nothing results from that. But sometimes stuff happens and there is a perceptive observer, combined with the stuff that happens, and out of that comes inventions, discoveries and so one.

The idea of the importance of a perceptive observer intentionally paying attention to the process and results of the process is captured extremely well in a presentation by George Box: Quality and the Art of Discovery.

This idea ties directly to the importance of creating an organizational culture that values everyone’s brain and creates systems to allow everyone to act based on what they learn and discover. That includes training and educating people to gain the understanding and ability to do this successfully.

George Box also created a helicopter experiment: Teaching Engineers Experimental Design with a Paper Helicopter. The exercise Ian used in the session is not the same as the one George created. But Ian references Box’s experiment later (on his slide) and Box’s paper provides detail on the topic at the end of Ian’s talk: design of experiments and interactions.

Ian also echoed the importance of simply plotting data over time as Lynda Finn discussed in a previous Deming Institute Podcast with Lynda Finn: The Value of the Simple Run Chart.

In the presentation, Ian provides a good overview of understanding how to manage using control charts to understand processes. The value of control charts to organization is not about the math or even the chart but in how the organization uses the knowledge they can gain from using control charts to understand and to manage the process.


Too often people focus on the calculations used to create a control chart when learning about control charts. That math is an extremely minor detail. What matters is how the organization manages differently due to an understanding of variation possible with the proper use of control chart. That requires people with the knowledge (provided by education, training and experience) to use the information provided by control charts to manage differently. And it requires a management system that supports evidence based management practices.

In my opinion there is far too little discussion of the management thinking needed to use control charts well. When using control charts and explaining why they should be used to improve we need to give much more focus on how an organization uses control charts (which has nothing to do with how you calculate them).

Control charts are a powerful tool to improvement the management of organizations. The power comes from changing management thinking with an understanding of variation and process performance gained through the use of control charts. The power is not from creating control charts. It is from changing how the organization is managed with an understanding enhanced by the use of control charts to improve decision making.

Related: Deming 101 with Ian BradburyKnowledge About VariationWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage EffectivelyLearning Design of Experiments with Paper Helicopters


Categorised as: data, management systems, respect for people, systems thinking


One Comment

  1. Scott Hindle says:

    Good discussion.
    When it comes to understanding what an understanding of variation and control charts can be all about, at least in a manufacturing setting, the video ‘A Japanese Control Chart‘ by Don Wheeler does a great job.
    Through this video we see how the chart could easily be called a process learning chart.

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