Project Team Assemble!
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

OK, so it’s not as glamorous as Avengers Assemble, and there certainly aren’t going to be any expensive special effects. However, the composition of a Lean Six Sigma Project Team is important for the mission of Improving Processes. These are some of the roles we commonly find in project teams.

The Champion is the person who, well, champions the project to others. That means looking after funding, resource allocation and the vague but sometimes critical “removing barriers.” Ideally this person would either align exactly with the “Accountable” role in the RACI or would be on a direct supervisory line above that role. You want the Champion to be fully committed to the effort, kept well informed by the team, and enthusiastically lending support. However, the Champion isn’t involved in day to day project work.

The Sponsor is closer to the action. This person receives frequent updates, provides some level of direction to the team, and is on point to ensure that the project moves forward. If the Champion isn’t the Accountable role in the RACI, then the Sponsor ought to be. I have led projects with Co-Sponsors, but in general I don’t recommend it unless the project spans multiple departments.

The Lean Six Sigma Practitioner is the one who’s going to lead the project. Depending on the size, scope and complexity of the effort, this could be a Green Belt, Black Belt or Master Black Belt. Multiple Belts can be involved but exactly one needs to be the leader. (Flip a coin if you have to.) Note that “lead” does not equate to “do all the work”—that quickly leads to the “pair of hands” issue which is not a good use of a Lean Six Sigma resource. However, the Belt will guide the effort, decide what tools to use and when, and often prepare stakeholder presentations.

The project team needs to have one or more Process Participants. These are the people who execute the scope of what’s being improved, and as such know the most about the process. Having the right people for the project is critical. Unfortunately, I’ve run into cases where only the least qualified staff is assigned, which has made me wonder whether this “project” is just a “check the box” to make leadership happy. A mixture of experiences and skills is fine, though, and may help with fresher thinking and better understanding of how the processes actually work, or don’t work.

Supplementing the main team are Subject Matter Experts, who are called upon as needed to add knowledge or provide advice and counsel. This could be with regard to the process in scope or ancillary functions like Finance (to help build cost-benefit models) or Training (for new process collaterals).

A question I’m often asked is how large a project team should be. Most of my projects have had six to ten members including me, the Champion and Sponsor, plus a variety of SMEs. Larger scopes do require more people, but the number still needs to be manageable. If the conference room is stuffed like a sardine can, the project is probably too big.

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