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Open Access Technical advance

Statistical process control for data without inherent order

Alan J Poots* and Thomas Woodcock

Author Affiliations

Imperial College, London and NIHR CLAHRC for NWL, Floor 4 Lift Bank D, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Road, London, SW10 9NH, UK

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:86  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-86

Published: 6 August 2012

Abstract

Background

The XmR chart is a powerful analytical tool in statistical process control (SPC) for detecting special causes of variation in a measure of quality. In this analysis a statistic called the average moving range is used as a measure of dispersion of the data. This approach is correct for data with natural underlying order, such as time series data. There is however conflict in the literature over the appropriateness of the XmR chart to analyse data without an inherent ordering.

Methods

We derive the maxima and minima for the average moving range in data without inherent ordering, and show how to calculate this for any data set. We permute a real world data set and calculate control limits based on these extrema.

Results

In the real world data set, permuting the order of the data affected an absolute difference of 109 percent in the width of the control limits.

Discussion

We prove quantitatively that XmR chart analysis is problematic for data without an inherent ordering, and using real-world data, demonstrate the problem this causes for calculating control limits. The resulting ambiguity in the analysis renders it unacceptable as an approach to making decisions based on data without inherent order.

Conclusion

The XmR chart should only be used for data endowed with an inherent ordering, such as a time series. To detect special causes of variation in data without an inherent ordering we suggest that one of the many well-established approaches to outlier analysis should be adopted. Furthermore we recommend that in all SPC analyses authors should consistently report the type of control chart used, including the measure of variation used in calculating control limits.

Keywords:
Statistical process control (SPC); Individual and moving range (XmR); Ordering of data