Why Do Organizations Need Champions?

Continuous Improvement experts always insist Champions are a necessary part of an effective implementation of a performance improvement program. We are all busy, and sometimes an organization struggles to find effective volunteers to champion the types of projects that add real value to the strategic plan. Does it really matter to have qualified, involved Champions? What happens when Champions are either unqualified or disengaged?

Role of a Champion

A great continuous improvement effort begins with an Executive Steering Team that is committed to translating the strategic plan to effective project charters tied to trained teams. So the first critical task for a group of project Champions is to pitch projects that directly link to the strategy, and have data to indicate the projects will drive down costs and increase revenue and profitability.

The second critical task is to help identify the correct talent to perform in the leadership roles of projects. Black Belt and Green Belt candidates must be thoughtfully selected and properly trained. The belt candidates should be chosen for both aptitude and motivation. When an important project is paired with a leader who is curious, logical, and ready for a new challenge, success is guaranteed.

After the project is formed and the leaders are trained, the Champion remains involved by being the primary management resource for the project. The Champion helps to prioritize the activities of the team members, provides support and mentoring to the team, and removes organizational obstacles that may impede the work of the leaders and their teams. The Champion understands the tools and techniques the team is using and can blend them with other strategic issues affecting the corporation. The Champion must ask knowledgeable questions to challenge team assumptions and conclusions, and must ultimately approve and support the remedies the team will implement to improve business processes. This management endorsement is critical to maintaining the project improvements upon the conclusion of the project.

Check out our blog post on how leaders play a role in culture.

Finally, the Champion provides recognition and rewards for the team and the project leaders upon successful completion of their projects. It is the Champion’s role to communicate with executive management and peers about the progress and results associated with the Lean and Six Sigma efforts.

So How Can Champions Harm Projects?

So how can Champions be counterproductive to the Continuous Improvement effort? Here are three traits that will be detrimental to the efforts of the team.

First, there is the uninvolved Champion. If the Champion is difficult to schedule, distracted in meetings and unreliable with action items, it can damage team morale, impede momentum and cause confusion that freezes the team. A team can lose valuable weeks waiting on gate approvals and needed feedback.

A close relative is the unempowered Champion. This Champion has the team’s best interests in mind and is doing their best, but is poorly positioned to knock down the barriers the team is facing. This Champion lacks the authority to mandate an organization take up the prescribed changes and the influence to inspire them to take up the change.

Finally, there is the Champion with an agenda. If the Champion has a pet project to enact, an axe to grind, or has otherwise decided upon the perfect solution prior to the launching of the project, the evidence unearthed by the team will not be given the attention and weight it deserves. When the evidence is ignored, the root cause can be missed, the correct solution may be passed over, and the core problem will remain.

What about Experience?

You will notice I did not list inexperience as a key detriment to a Project Champion. Anyone with proper motivation, training and leadership can be an effective Champion. The Project Champion is critical to the efficacy of a continuous improvement team. A team given a project that is well chosen and well championed will have all the tools they need for their ultimate success.

Become a leader — last chance to join this round of our Lean Six Sigma Black Belt online workshop. To learn more, visit our site here. Reach us at info@juran.com with any questions.

By Michael Stamp, VP of Juran


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