What charting software should you use?

in Measurement

By David M. Williams, PhD

Understanding variation is an essential part of improvement work. Using run charts and Shewhart control charts to track measures and learn about processes is key. So, a common question I get is: What software should I use? Here are three recommendations for most users.

1) Microsoft Office Excel (or equivalent) (Mac & Windows)

While there are a lot of expensive platforms out there, if you are mainly using line (less than 12 data points) or run charts (12 to 20 data points), you can do this quite easily in any spreadsheet platform (Numbers, Excel, Google Spreadsheet, etc). All have a line chart feature and it’s not hard to create a column and calculate the median for run charts. I do recommend you develop a standard formatting method to change the line color and size and data points to enable preferred data display (see Health Care Data Guide p. 60-61)


excel run chart


If you have more than 20 data points and want to use Shewhart Control Charts, it’s possible to do it in Excel, but not fun for the average user.

2) QI Charts (Windows Only, Mac sort of)

QI Charts is a Macro that works with Microsoft Excel. It enables building run and Shewhart control charts. It does require that the user knows what SPC chart type is appropriate for the data they are charting. The charts are produced using good display standards. The following is an example of a chart created in QI Charts.


Source: PIP Products


One limitation of QI Charts is it only works on the Windows operating system. Mac OS users can run it if the have the Windows Operating System and a Windows version of Microsoft Excel on their Mac.

3) QI Macros for Excel (Mac & Windows)

Jay Arthur created QI Macros many years ago. Like QI Charts, it too is a Macro to Excel. QI Macros supports building run and Shewhart control charts. It also includes a robust list of other templates and tools to support a whole host of commonly used improvement methods. Arthur is quick to point out that his product offers what other very pricey platforms do at a fraction of the price. I agree. An added bonus is Jay Arthur who provides personal and timely support.


Source: QI Macros for Excel


QI Macros works great on Macs and PCs and is easy to work with. You also can update your data as you need to. The one critique I have with QI Macros is the data display Arthur has built into the basic run and Shewhart control charts don’t match the display rules referenced earlier. I find I almost always have to reformat the lines and data points to match my preference. This is a minor criticism considering the quality and robustness of the product.

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