Randomization is essential for success with planned experimentation (DOE) to protect factor effects against bias by lurking variables. For example, consider the 8-run, two-level factorial design shown in Table 1. It lays out the low (−) and high (+) coded levels of each factor in standard, not random, order. Notice that factor C changes level only once throughout the experiment—first being set at the low (minus) level for four runs, followed by the remaining four runs set at the high (plus) level. Now, let’s say that the humidity in the room increases throughout the day—affecting the measured response. Since the DOE runs are not randomized, the change in humidity biases the calculated effect of the non-randomized factor C. Therefore, the effect of factor C includes the humidity change – it is no longer purely due to the change from low to high. This will cause analysis problems!
Table 1: Standard order of 8-run design
Randomization itself presents some problems. For example, one possible random order is the classic standard layout, which, as you now know, does not protect against time-related effects. If this unlikely pattern, or other non-desirable patterns are seen, then you should re-randomize the runs to reduce the possibility of bias from lurking variables.
Replicates, such as center points, are used to collect information on the pure error of the system. To optimize the validity of this information, center points should be spaced out over the experimental run order. Random order may inadvertently place replicates in sequential order. This requires manual intervention by the researcher to break up or separate the repeated runs so that each run is completed independently of the matching run.
In both Design-Expert® software and Stat-Ease 360 you can re-randomize by right-clicking on the Run column header and selecting Randomize, as shown in Figure 1. You can also simply edit the Run order and swap two runs by changing the run numbers manually. This is often the easiest method when you want to separate center points, for example.
Figure 1: Right-click to Randomize
While randomization is ideal statistically, sometimes it is cumbersome in practice. For instance, temperature can take a very long time to change, so completely randomizing the runs may cause the experiment to go way beyond the time budget. In this case, researchers look for ways to reduce the complete randomization of the design.
I want to highlight a common DOE mistake. An incorrect way to restrict the randomization is to use blocks. Blocking is a statistical technique that groups the experimental runs to eliminate a potential source of variation from the data analysis. A common blocking factor is “day”, setting the block groups to eliminate day-to-day variation. Although this is a form of restricting randomization, if you block on an experimental factor like temperature, then statistically the block (temperature) effect will be removed from the analysis. Any interaction effect with that block will also be removed. The removal of this key effect very likely destroys the entire analysis! Blocking is not a useful method for restricting the randomization of a factor that is being studied in the experiment. For more information on why you would block, see “Blocking: Mowing the Grass in Your Experimental Backyard”.
If factor changes need to be restricted (not fully randomized), then building a split-plot design is the best way to go. A split-plot design takes into account the hard-to-change versus easy-to-change factors in a restricted randomization test plan. Perfect! The associated analysis properly assesses the differences in variation between these two groups of factors and provides the correct effect evaluation. The statistical analysis is a bit more complex, but good DOE software will handle it easily. Split-plot designs are a more complex topic, but commonly used in today’s experimental practices. Learn more about split-plot designs in this YouTube video: Split Plot Pros and Cons – Dealing with a Hard-to-Change Factor.
Randomization is essential for valid and unbiased factor effect calculations, which is central to effective design of experiments analysis. It is up to the experimenter to ensure that the randomization of the experimental runs meets the DOE goals. Manual intervention may be required to separate any replicated points, such as center points. If complete randomization is not possible from a practical standpoint, build a split-plot design that statistically accounts for those restrictions.