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Roles of Six Sigma Leaders

Six Sigma has well-defined leadership roles, and success depends on each of the roles fulfilling its unique responsibilities. Some of the key players involved in a Six Sigma initiative are shown in Figure 1.5. The lines in Figure 1.5 show the key linkages between the roles. For this discussion, we define the organization as the unit that has responsibility for identifying the improvement opportunities and chartering the Six Sigma projects. This could be a corporation, a division, a facility, or a function. The leadership team (often called the Six Sigma Council) leads the overall effort and has responsibility for approving the projects undertaken by the BBs. In the case of a finance function, the leadership team might be the chief financial officer (CFO) and selected members of his or her staff.

Figure 1.5Figure 1.5 Roles of leaders.

Each project has a Champion who serves as its business and political leader. (Some organizations use the term Champion to refer to the overall leader of the Six Sigma effort.) The project Champion is typically a member of the leadership team and has the following responsibilities:

  • Facilitating the selection of projects

  • Drafting the initial project charters

  • Selecting BBs and other resources needed to conduct the project

  • Removing barriers to the successful completion of the project

  • Holding short weekly progress reviews with the BBs

The BBs lead the team that does the actual work on the project. BBs are hands-on workers who are assigned to work full time on their projects and do much of the detailed work. The BB also leads the team, acts as project manager, and assigns work (for example, data collection) to the team members as appropriate. See Hoerl (2001) for a more detailed discussion of the BB role and the key skills required to perform it.

BB projects are typically defined so that they can be completed in 4 to 6 months, are focused on high-priority business issues, and are targeted to produce $175,000 to $250,000 per year to the bottom line. The team that works with the BB is typically comprised of 4 to 6 members who may spend as much as 25% of their time on the project. The amount of time spent by each team member will vary depending on the person's role. The team may also include consultants and specialists as well as suppliers and customers. BBs also act as mentors for GBs, as do MBBs.

GBs may lead a project under the direction of a Champion or MBB, or they may work on a portion of a BB project under the direction of the BB. GB projects are typically less strategic and more locally focused than are BB projects. A GB project is typically worth $50,000 to $75,000 per year to the bottom line and should be completed in 4 to 6 months. GBs do not work full time on improvement projects and typically have less-intensive training. GBs work on improvement projects in addition to their existing job responsibilities. As noted earlier, several companies have recognized the value of Six Sigma as a leadership development tool and have the objective of all members of the professional staff being at least a GB.

The MBB is the technical leader and enables the organization to integrate Six Sigma within its operations. The MBB has typically completed several BB projects and 2 to 5 weeks of training beyond the 4 weeks of BB training. The MBB helps the Champions select projects and review their progress. The MBB provides training and mentoring for BBs and, in some instances, training for GBs. The MBB is also responsible for leading mission-critical projects as needed, and sharing project learning and best practices across the organization. In essence, these resources are intended to combine technical skills beyond that of a BB with managerial and leadership skills similar to a Champion.

The functional support groups, such as human resources, finance, IT, and legal, assist the Six Sigma effort in four key ways, beyond improving their own processes through Six Sigma projects:

  1. They provide specialized data as needed by BBs, GBs, and teams outside their function.

  2. They provide expertise associated with their functional responsibilities.

  3. They provide members for the BB and GB project teams when appropriate.

  4. They help identify improvement opportunities for the organization to pursue.

Functional support groups (Enterprise Processes in Figure 1.1) are typically involved in more aspects of the organization's work than other groups, such as manufacturing. They interact across the organization, and as a result they see where improvements are needed in cross-functional processes operated by the organization. In a hospital, for example, the finance organization interacts with procurement, operations management, marketing, legal, IT, and external insurance agencies, and therefore can more easily pinpoint cross-functional issues that require attention.

There are two other types of Champions in addition to the Project Champion. As noted earlier, an organization typically names a Corporate Six Sigma Champion who reports to the president or CEO and has overall responsibility for developing the Six Sigma infrastructure. In large organizations, it is not unusual for each business and each functional unit (human resources, finance, IT, etc.) to name what they will call a Business or Functional Champion. Different organizations have used different titles for such roles, such as Quality Leader, Six Sigma Leader, and Six Sigma Champion. The role is basically the same: to oversee the implementation of Six Sigma in that unit. It is more prudent to focus on the actual role, and not get hung up on the title.

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