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Selecting the Right People

Finding the right people for the key Six Sigma roles is another ingredient for success in the launch phase, and is part of the implementation process. Leadership is the key characteristic to keep in mind when selecting the people who are to be involved in Six Sigma.

Achieving the desired results will require changing the way you work, and that means changing how you think about your work. Leaders are required in order to move everyone successfully from the old way of working to making Six Sigma an integral part of your new way of working. Everyone involved in Six Sigma is a leader (Champions, MBBs, Black Belts, Green Belts). To be successful select your top talent—your best performers—those persons that are capable of providing the needed leadership. Deploying Six Sigma is not an easy task; breakthrough improvement is the goal. For the longer-term you will want Six Sigma to be the driver of your improvement process. You want your senior managers to be skilled in using Six Sigma to help run your business. It is a serious mistake to place only technical specialists (engineers, statisticians, quality professionals, and so on) in key Six Sigma roles. Such major culture change requires persons experienced and skilled in leadership.

The need for leadership is evident in the roles of corporate and unit leadership, Project Champion, Black Belt, and MBB, summarized in Table 4-2.

TABLE 4-2 Six Sigma Roles

Corporate Leadership

Unit Leadership

Project Champions

Black Belts

Master Black Belts

Functional Support Groups

Create and deploy strategy and goals

Establish project selection criteria

Facilitate project selection

Learn and use the Six Sigma methodology and tools

Develop and deliver Six Sigma training

Provide data and aid in data collection

Define boundaries—what's in and what's out

Approve projects—ensure linkage to strategy and key needs

Create project charter

Develop and maintain project work plan

Assist in the selection of projects

Provide team members

Communicate purpose and progress

Select Project Champions

Facilitate identification of resources— BB, team, $$, functional resources

Provide leadership for the team

Coach and council Black Belts

Support with expertise in the department such as financial value of projects

Provide resources—people, time, and $$

Provide needed resources and training

Remove barriers

Meet weekly with the Project Champion

Ensure the success of "mission critical" projects

Identify opportunities for Six Sigma projects

Ensure training plan is in place

Review Black Belt and Green Belt projects monthly

Review projects weekly

Communicate support needs to functional groups

Support the efforts of Champions and leadership team

Help with benchmarking

Ensure recognition plan is in place

Establish and use communication process

Verify project deliverables for each phase of DMAIC

Ensure that the right data are collected and properly analyzed


Set boundaries (legal, company policy, environmental)

Quarterly review of overall initiative

Review the entire process every 3-6 months

Communicate purpose and progress of projects

Identify and communicate barriers to Champion


Provide reality check, diversity of ideas, perspective

Periodic reviews of plant and business initiatives

Establish reward and recognition structure

Approve project closure

Provide monthly updates to Champion and Master Black Belt



Support initiative with rewards and recognition

Link rewards to performance

Identify next project for the BB/GB

Be responsible for delivering results ($$)



Publicly celebrate successes

Be accountable for the success of the effort

Celebrate, recognize, and reward BB and team






Be accountable for project results




The role of the leadership team depends on the size of the company. In large companies there should be a leadership team at the corporate level as well as a leadership team for each of the business units and functions. The key elements of the corporate leadership role are:

  • Providing strategy and direction

  • Communicating purpose and progress

  • Enabling and providing resources

  • Conducting reviews

  • Recognizing and reinforcing

Leadership Team

The role of the unit leadership team is also summarized in Table 4-2. We define the unit as the entity responsible for identifying the improvement opportunities and chartering the Six Sigma projects. This could be a division, a facility, or a function. The unit leadership team (often called the Six Sigma Council) leads the overall effort within the unit. In the case of a manufacturing facility, the leadership team is typically the Plant Manager and selected members of his or her staff. In the case of the finance function the leadership team might be the CFO and selected members of his or her staff. A key difference between the roles of the two leadership teams is that the unit-level team has responsibility for the projects.


Each project has a Champion who serves as its business and political leader. Some organizations have used the term Champion to refer to the overall leader of the Six Sigma effort. The Project Champion is typically a member of the unit leadership team, has responsibility for the successful completion of projects, and is held accountable for the results of the projects. Key tasks for the Champion role are: facilitating the selection of the project; drafting the initial project charter; selecting the Black Belt and other resources; removing barriers to the successful completion of the project; and holding short weekly reviews with the Black Belt regarding the progress of the project.

The Champion has direct contact with and provides guidance and direction for the Black Belt. In some cases the Black Belt may be a direct report of the Project Champion. In other situations the Black Belt may also report to a MBB. As shown in Figure 4-2, a unit typically has more than one Project Champion, with each directing one to three Black Belts. The Project Champion role is usually part time but can be a full-time responsibility in some organizations. In most cases the part-time role works best because it involves more managers in the Six Sigma improvement process.

Figure 4-2FIGURE 4-2 Organization of Multiple Project Champions and Black Belts

Black Belt

The Black Belt leads the team that works on the project. A Black Belt should be—

  • A technical leader in the area of the project

  • Helpful for the first project

  • Less important for subsequent projects

  • Respected by the organization

  • Computer literate

  • An analytical thinker—not afraid of numbers

  • Skilled in basic statistics

  • A team leader—soft skills

  • Skilled in project management

  • A positive thinker—can-do attitude

These characteristics are clearly those of a leader and the people who possess them are the kinds you will want to lead your organizations in the future. In his latest book, Jack, Straight from the Gut (Welch [2001]), Jack Welch predicts that the person to follow Jeffrey Immelt as CEO of GE will be a former Black Belt.

Black Belts get things done. They are hands-on workers, work full time on their projects, and do much of the detailed work. They should be selected on the basis of what they can do, not on the basis of what they know (Hoerl [2001]). Black Belts also act as mentors for Green Belts, as do MBBs.

Green Belt

Green Belts may lead their own project under the direction of a Champion or MBB, or they may work on a portion of a Black Belt project under the direction of the Black Belt. Green Belts work part-time, devoting typically 25 percent of their time to the project. Green Belt projects are typically less strategic and more locally focused than are Black Belt projects. A Green Belt project is typically worth $50,000 to $75,000 per year to the bottom line and should be completed in less than four to six months. Since Green Belts work on improvement projects in addition to their existing job responsibilities, several companies (such as GE) have as an objective that eventually all professionals will be at least Green Belts. Some Green Belts will become Black Belts, so it is advisable for some of the Green Belts to have many of the Black Belt characteristics.

Master Black Belt

The MBB is the technical leader who enables the organization to integrate Six Sigma within its operations. The MBB should have strong leadership and technical skills and be politically savvy with a good understanding of the business, since he or she will work closely with Champions and the leadership team.

The MBB has typically completed several Black Belt projects and two to five weeks of training beyond the four weeks of Black Belt training. He or she helps the Champions select projects and reviews their progress. The MBB provides training and mentoring for Black Belts, and in some instances training for Green Belts. Like the Black Belts, the MBBs should be full-time.

MBBs play other roles as well. They should help lead mission-critical projects as needed. This work not only contributes to the success of the organization, but also enables the MBB to further develop process improvement skills. MBBs should also be responsible for ensuring that baseline and entitlement data are available and up-to-date for all key processes—important to effective project selection. MBBs are in an excellent position to identify and distribute best practices for process improvement and management and to distribute them around the organization. Many organizations develop a MBB network that meets periodically to share these best practices around the company.

In essence, MBBs are intended to combine technical skills beyond those of the Black Belt with managerial and leadership skills similar to those of a Champion. Most companies hire Six Sigma providers to deliver the initial Six Sigma training. It is the role of the MBB to gradually take over the responsibility for this training. Experience has shown that Six Sigma is internalized most quickly in those companies that develop their cadre of MBBs most rapidly.

Functional Support Groups

The functional support groups, such as HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Engineering, Quality Assurance, and so on assist the Six Sigma effort in four key ways. They:

  • Provide data as needed by the Black Belt

  • Provide expertise

  • Provide members for the Black Belt project team

  • Help identify improvement opportunities

The functional groups are typically involved in more aspects of the organization's work than are other groups and, as a result, they see where improvements are needed in cross-functional processes. For example, the finance organization interacts with Procurement, Manufacturing, Marketing, Logistics, Sales, and R&D, and therefore can more easily pinpoint cross-functional issues that need to be addressed.

Many companies overlook the role of the functional support groups and as a result slow the progress of the Six Sigma initiative. Sometimes Black Belts can't get the expertise and team members when they need them; worse yet, poor planning results in no resources to implement improvements. Careful planning and attention to the availability of functional resources as early as possible are time and effort well spent

Forming Teams

A key question is "How do I form the team that will work with the Black Belt or Green Belt?" The short answer is appoint no more than six people who are familiar with the process and will be involved with implementing the Six Sigma solution.

The team should not have more than 4-6 persons. Larger teams are generally ineffective because they have trouble finding a meeting time when all can attend. Large teams also often have trouble reaching consensus, and responsibility may be diluted. If it seems that the task is too great to be done by four to six people, the project is probably too large, and should be split into two or more smaller projects. These smaller projects can still be coordinated at periodic coordination meetings between the Project Champions.

The team needs to include people who are familiar with the process, can contribute to identifying the solution, and will be involved in its implementation. Experts and consultants, even internal or external customers and suppliers, can also be ad hoc members of the team, participating when needed. The core members of the team should be available 25% of the time to work on the project. The team receives any needed training delivered just in time by the Black Belt or MBB as appropriate.

The best approach to forming the team is for the Black Belt to create it in consultation with the Project Champion and the managers to whom the prospective team members report. The process might look like the following:

  1. Black Belt and Champion discuss potential team members.

  2. Black Belt or Champion gets the approval of the team members' management for them to be on the team.

  3. Champion addresses any barriers identified, getting higher management involved as needed.

  4. Black Belt and the team work on the project.

As in any partnership, the Black Belt and Champion work out who will do what in the team-forming process. A MBB may become involved if needed. It is important that both the Black Belt and Champion build support for the project with all the involved stakeholders. People are more likely to support a project when the purpose and value is understood, their role in the project is clear, and they see how they will benefit from the successful completion of the project. The Project Champion has the responsibility to see that any problems or barriers identified are resolved.

Where Do I Find the Resources?

This is the question most commonly asked when managers first hear about Six Sigma and every Six Sigma leader should have a ready answer. Help can come from reevaluating employees' responsibilities and from hiring from outside.

Some companies, to increase their capabilities and to move up the learning curve more quickly, may hire a MBB or a Vice President of Six Sigma to lead the implementation effort. Some will hire experienced Black Belts from other companies to lead projects, or new employees to backfill for Black Belts and MBBs.

Far and away the most popular resource strategy for companies deploying Six Sigma is to reevaluate existing work programs, and to reprioritize how they utilize their resources. As a result, Six Sigma is deployed using existing resources. This strategy is used most often, but is not initially the favorite of managers who must rethink priorities and deal with personnel changes. Fortunately, this stress decreases as managers learn to deploy Six Sigma and see it improve the performance of their organization.

Over time managers find many different ways to backfill for the employees that have become Black Belts or MBBs. Some projects will already be in the Black Belt's assigned area of responsibility, so even without Six Sigma they would likely have worked on this problem. If necessary, the Black Belt's previous responsibilities can be assigned to other employees and contractors; some work can be postponed; some work is non-value-added and can be eliminated. Resource sharing, while hard for some to do, is an effective way to create resources.

In short, look for two things—underutilized capacity and unrecognized capability. Some employees are not working to their full potential. Some employees can handle bigger workloads. Some are doing tactical work that could be better done by others, freeing these employees to do more strategic work, including Six Sigma. Many times engineers are seen creating budgets, writing talks for others, or doing paperwork rather than improving processes. We met one overworked and highly stressed vice president of sales who was reviewing every sales contract obtained by the company. Clearly a lot of time could be freed by delegating the review of smaller contracts to subordinates.

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