Run charts could be a great tool to master if you are an aspiring project manager. One of the concepts to prepare for a PMP® exam is Quality Management Tool. While run char is just one of the 7 QC tools, this simple yet effective tool could be the way to start your project management exams preparations. 

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What is a Run Chart

A run chart is a graphical representation of trends and changes over time. The data plotted in the straight-line chart depicts the performance of an organization or project in time sequence. 

Unlike reading statistical summaries, run charts can help you get a clearer perspective. Much as the names trend chart or time series plot suggests, it assists you in detecting a pattern for failure or success of a product. Once you recognize it, you can easily distinguish the causes and make necessary changes. 

Unlike other QC tools, you do not need to be efficient in any special software to use a trend chart. It is an easy-to-use tool implemented globally by project managers for quality management. So, without any delay, let us discuss how you can learn this tool and the way it can benefit you. 

Run Chart vs. Control Chart 

Unlike run charts, a control chart has a defined control limit. Thus, it helps the user achieve a stable data chart that depicts acceptable limits. The upper and the lower limit in a control chart helps identify if the process falls within control limits. If a process falls at the center or within the lower and upper limit, it is considered stable. 

Creating a control chart is not trickier than a trend chart. However, its repeated analysis of control charts needs a good understanding of advanced tools and segregating cause variations. A control chart is typically used for drug tests or pharmaceutical companies to prevent accidental drug overdose. 

On the contrary, it does not take a genius to interpret a run chart. On top of that, you can convert a run chart into a control chart by adding upper and lower limits. It measures things such as the sale of a product or the temperature trend in a manufacturing company. 

When to Use a Run Chart 

Remember how you feel clueless at the start of a new project, not knowing what to do? 

How you wish you knew about the past and current data to have a basic overview of the situation. A trend chart does just that. 

It gives you a brief outlook on the current situation and trends to help you make an informed decision. That is why using run charts at the beginning of a project works the best. 

With the help of mathematical statistics of business intelligence, you can analyze the past and present data to predict future predicaments. While it helps you ensure if the product is in line with client requirements, it also delivers a quantitative analysis of data ensuring conformance of target measurement. Thus, it is easier to execute solutions when you add the tool in the evaluation process. 

How to Create a Run Chart 

Components of a Run Chart

Depending on the depth of analysis and amount of data, a run chart can typically have 5 to 6 parts. You are required to understand each section and its purpose so you can later interpret the chart. 

Title: It is written at the top of the chart and used to give a concise idea about it. 

Output (Y-Axis): Just like most graphs, the plotting in this axis shows the amplitude of the progression of data collected. 

Timeline (X-Axis): This depicts the time range of the chart and the time frame when the data was collected and plotted. 

Legend: The legend gives a brief description of each series and what each line stands for. Here, you can specify the placement and modify the text description according to the graph.  

Centerline: When there is a collection of consecutive points, the centerline identifies the underlying issue to see if it’s above or below the line. 

Data Table: The data table represents the data plotted in the chart. 

Interpret a Run Chart 

Every chart can be different from the other, so you must understand one to know what they represent.  

Shifts in Chart: Six or more consecutive data points on one side of the median are considered a shift in the chart. If the points are lying on either side of the centerline, then it is a shift. Otherwise, if the median and data points are aligned together, then it is not a shift. 

Runs in Chart: Data points fluctuate regularly on the chart, so there is a regular interval of data points on either side of the median. However, when there are many data points on one side of the median only, it is a run. Usually, when this happens, there is some factor influencing the data on the chart. Regardless, points on the centerline are not a run. 

Trends in Chart: When there are six or more data points on either side of the median, all moving on the same side of the median, it is a trend. Keeping in mind the basic thumb rule, and that is that the points need to be increasing or decreasing with each plotting. If two successive points look the same, it is not a trend. 

Outliers in Chart: Outliers are unusually small or large and lie on either side of the centerline. This data point stands out among other ones, as it shows an astronomical change in the chart. Besides, this value tends to be significantly outside the range of other data points.

Clustering Points in Chart: Often, when a sampling error or plotting or measurement error occurs, we see a cluster of data points in one place. This occurrence might happen at any part of the chart and mainly is a follow-up of an underlying issue. 

Mixtures in Chart: When data points are missing along the centerline or median, it is called a mixture. The data points are frequently crossing the median, indicating a data combination from two populations. 

Construct a Run Chart in Excel

Even though there are other statistical or software programs that you can use, excel is the easiest route for creating a run chart. 

First of all, you need to collect your data and type them down in separate columns. The first column should be the time range, and the second or third (depending on the number of data populations) should be the data points.

Secondly, use your mouse to select the entire data that you typed. Next, you need to calculate the median of the values that you inserted. The formula you need to use for calculating the median is =median(the cell range). Once you have calculated the median, you need to create another column for the median value. 

Now comes the easy part, where you will create the run chart. Select the entire data or the data for which you want to form the run chart. To do that, find the Insert option on the top section and select it. Subsequently, select Line and find your preferred graph design. 

Lastly, add title and other wordings and modify your graph as needed. 

Examples of a Run Chart 

Suppose you need statistical data on teenagers in a school partaking in a new TikTok trend.

First, you need to insert the data in separate columns. Then, you have to calculate the median using the formula and insert the median value. 

Next up, create the run chart and make modifications. 

Last but not least, interpret the run chart according to the data points scattered in the chart.

Pros and Cons 


Run charts focus on the change of the central tendency. While the benefits of a run chart are plenty, one of the main is the calculations in a run chart not being tedious. So, it is easier to make necessary edits along the way. 

It highlights any improvements as it occurs hence it is simpler to make initial modifications. Not just that, it helps you understand that the solutions you have executed are generating growth. 

Moreover, run charts offer a temporal view making it easier for us to interpret.  Anyone with minimum knowledge of specialized statistical software tools can adapt to this technique. Once you have mastered this tool, you can gradually learn other QC tools.


While using a run chart, you are devoid of the benefits of knowing the stability of the process. As it does not include a lower and upper limit, a run chart will only show you the process improvements. 

Apart from that, to interpret a trend chart, you would need to have a brief idea of the context. Otherwise, you would not be able to distinguish each process. 

One of the common mistakes made by many practicing this chart is that they cannot correctly identify or interpret. For example: identifying a normal process variation as a shift or trend. 

Run Chart for Project Managers 

A project management professional ought to be highly skilled with the ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. They are mainly responsible for operating plans and strategizing to reach goals while managing the executive teams.  

Maintaining consistency can be a challenge when you are responsible for so many tasks. So, to make their jobs simpler, project managers almost always take the help of different Quality Control tools. One of them being, the run chart. 

A project management job can be rewarding on its own. On top of that, an added certification such as  PMP® can increase the remuneration by 20%. One of the fundamental skills to learn for a PMP® certificate is Quality Control Tools.

Since you can transform it into a control chart, it would be ideal to start with this first. 

To learn how you can pass your PMP® certification exam in the next six weeks, sign up for a free class to get a study plan + valuable tips & tricks!

Final Words 

Project managers planning to sit for the PMP® exam can reap huge benefits from learning to use a run chart. As you do not need to use all seven quality control tools in each project, mastering a few essential ones can go a long way.

The key is to be able to interpret correctly. No matter what statistical tool you are using, you have to be the best at it. So you can be prepared for any sudden changes and execute solutions over time.

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