Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos by Donald Wheeler is an excellent book on, not surprisingly, the topic of understanding variation.

image of book cover - Understanding Variation by Don Wheeler

Many people avoid understanding variation to the extent they can, worried about how challenging it will be to apply. This fear often results in people focusing on other areas of Deming’s message, while ignoring the impact of understanding variation.

Don Wheeler does a great job of illustrating what you need to know in a short book that is easy to read. I suggest starting with The Leader’s Handbook and then the The Improvement Guide, and then quickly moving on to Understanding Variation. The first two books give some context that help you appreciate the importance of the topic, and then Understanding Variation provides concrete details on what it means to apply the principles of understanding variation to your organization.

The power of control charts is in the insight into the processes and systems in your organization. With an appreciation for variation, the ability to understand what the data is, and is not, telling you is greatly increased. Without an understanding of variation, a huge amount of time and effort is wasted with confused and inaccurate conclusions drawn from data.

An appreciation for special and common causes is fundamental to applying Deming’s management ideas. Wheeler’s Understanding Variation does an excellent job of explaining this concept and helping you apply it to your own situation.

I enjoy working with data and seeking to understand what I can learn from the data. I know many people don’t enjoy that. This book is helpful to those who like working with data, but it is also useful and written to those that would rather avoid working with data if they could. It provides insight that will help you learn from data and make that effort much less stressful.

Understanding variation is too important to ignore. This book helps those that wish they could ignore it and also helps those that enjoy working with numbers.


Register Now for our next Deming seminar, “Leading With a Systems View: Deming Management Method for Owners and Executives.”

Related: 3rd Edition of The New EconomicsHow to Use Data and Avoid Being Mislead by DataProcess Behavior Charts are the Secret to Understanding the Organization as a SystemUsing Data to Seek Continual Improvement, Not Just Process Behavior (Monitoring)Shewhart’s Charts and The Probability ApproachKnowledge About Variation

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