Freddie Mercury, former member of the 1970s British rock group Queen, may not have been the most appropriate and politically correct when he wrote these song lyrics, “No time for losers, ’cause we are the champions….” However, fans understood the meaning and the excitement generated by being a champion. The same should hold true for a Six Sigma project Champion.

First of all, it is important to clarify which Champion is being referred to. In the Six Sigma methodology there are typically two – the deployment Champion and the project Champion. Here, the focus is on the project Champion, However, to make the difference clear, a quick overview of the roles of the deployment Champion must be provided.

Roles of a Deployment Champion

A deployment Champion supports the deployment strategy within a line of business, customer segment or core process teams. Depending on the size of the company, there may be only one deployment Champion or a senior deployment Champion with multiple deployment Champions reporting to that senior person.

A deployment Champion’s roles and responsibilities usually include:

  • Deploy Six Sigma within the organization or division.
  • Work with the leaders of the organization or division to determine their goals and objectives and align the Six Sigma deployment with those goals and objectives.
  • Facilitate the identification and prioritization of projects.
  • Establish and execute training plans.
  • Develop a communication plan for the organization or division.
  • Report the deployment status to upper management.
  • Select the project Champions.
  • Remove barriers for the team.
  • Assist with DMAIC tollgates.

Roles of a Project Champion

Project Champions are chosen from managerial leadership and will ensure that organizational systems are in place to support the Six Sigma initiative(s). Project Champions should be strong, vocal advocates of the Six Sigma program. Because of their managerial role in the organization, they provide critical exposure of the program to their functional reports and endorsement of the program as a management initiative.

Champions are change agents and managerial leaders. Whenever there is a change effort, there will be resistance. Resistance is energy. As leaders, project Champions must convert negative energy into positive energy.

The project Champion’s roles may include:

  • Lead or assist the deployment Champion in identifying and prioritizing projects, as well as defining project scope.
  • Remove barriers for Green Belts and Black Belts, and align resources.
  • Work with deployment Champions to implement the Six Sigma infrastructure.
  • Communicate progress of Six Sigma projects to the deployment Champion and process owners.
  • Articulate the vision through the organization.
  • Identify, prioritize and define projects that are aligned with the organization’s strategies, goals and business objectives.
  • Assist with identification of Belt candidates and team members.
  • Partner with finance to valuate Six Sigma projects.
  • Attend tollgate reviews to evaluate progress.
  • Remove obstacles to drive timely completion of projects.
  • Drive and communicate results.
  • Look for, communicate and leverage opportunities, and share best practices.
  • Coach Belts.
  • Reward and recognize Belts and teams.
  • Along with Master Black Belts, ensure that the realized benefits are sustained.

Best Project Champion Traits/Behaviors

The traits or behaviors a project Champion needs to have can be summarized as:

  • Relates Six Sigma to customer requirements/satisfaction and bottom line.
  • Understands technical as well as financial aspects of Six Sigma.
  • Delivers results that affect bottom line and company strategies.
  • Displays energy and passion for the job.
  • Excites and mobilizes others.

The last two traits/behaviors are inherent to an individual’s personality. A person may have these attributes but they are dormant from lack of use. In that case, the individual can be coached so that these qualities surface. It must be remembered that Six Sigma is most effective when there is strong upper management commitment and support for the Six Sigma initiative. If support from above is lacking or declining, then the excitement expected from project Champions will be either short-lived or unaccepted by the masses.

If project Champions are chosen from a management pool, they are empowered to bestow authority on the Six Sigma project teams. Working with the deployment Champion and assisting with project selection and resource allocation, project Champions ensure that the organizational ground is fertile for project growth and success. Through continuous involvement in the Six Sigma initiative, project Champions send a clear signal to the organizational masses that management’s commitment is continuous. Dispelling the notion that the program is the “flavor of the month” is an ongoing, but necessary, challenge in order to overcome unproductive sub-cultures that may exist. Project Champion training provides an awareness of these roles, responsibilities and challenges.

What Project Champion Training Includes

Six Sigma project Champions also are taught the basic techniques used by Six Sigma teams. The goal of this training is to foster an awareness of the tools and techniques, so that project Champions know the tools’ limitations, as well as their strengths. This keeps project Champions from pushing for the impossible, while also encouraging them to strive for new possibilities from the teams. Project Champions who are familiar with the techniques can ensure that project teams maintain rigor in their analysis. This serves as a useful checkpoint for sustainability of project successes.

There are many versions of project Champion training. Some programs are intense two-day sessions where project Champions go through a business simulation of the DMAIC improvement cycle. Other programs have week-long agendas where the project Champions learn and utilize the primary Six Sigma tools on which they coach Belts during the project’s life cycle. Whatever the length of the sessions, training project Champions prior to process improvement projects is a critical factor in the overall success of an organization’s Six Sigma efforts. Guiding a team through the steps of either process improvement or process design is not instinctual. It takes preparation, training, communication and most of all, execution.

Conclusion: A Lot Is Required of a Champion

Project Champions need to assemble and train the right people, to have committed leadership from the top down, to select viable and fruitful projects, and to integrate metrics for feedback into the organization. The project Champion role requires determination, patience and persuasiveness. And, they should make sure that they have a little fun while implementing a project. Good project Champions should give their team a kick-off that it will not soon forget and then continue the motivation through the Control phase.

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