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Podcast: Just-In-Time Cafe, Episode 23 – How the Best Hotels Shine With Lean Six Sigma, Featuring Sally Toister - GoLeanSixSigma.com

During this episode’s interview we’ll found out how Sally Toister made Starwood’s Lean Six Sigma Program even better at Marriott Hotels.

We’ll highlight the work of some Indiana college students who used Six Sigma to divert bananas, among other things, from landfills to soup kitchens and we’ll let you in on the launch of a new series about Lean Six Sigma super heroes. Lots going on – grab a mug and come on down to the Just-in-Time Cafe!

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Timeline


Podcast Transcript

Elisabeth Swan: Hi, everyone. I’m Elisabeth Swan.

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m Tracy O’Rourke.

Elisabeth Swan: And we are with GoLeanSixSigma.com and you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast where we bring you fabulous apps, books, and people so you can build your problem-solving muscles.

Tracy O’Rourke: And Elisabeth. We’ve got a brand new menu.

Elisabeth Swan: I know and two podcasts per month now.

Tracy O’Rourke: Do we get to use the fancy dining room now that we’re moving on up?

Elisabeth Swan: No, it’s under renovation.

Tracy O’Rourke: Bummer!

Elisabeth Swan: know. But we can put whip cream in our coffee to celebrate. Meet you in the usual spot.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy O’Rourke: Sounds good. I like the look of the menu, Elisabeth. What are the treats for today?

Elisabeth Swan: Good stuff today, Tracy. Good stuff. First, Lean Six Sigma in the news, college students in Indiana are using Six Sigma to divert bananas from landfills to soup kitchens.

Next, we’ve got a poll for our listeners. And you know what that means, Tracy. Pareto Chart!

Tracy O’Rourke: One of our favorite things.

Elisabeth Swan: One of our favorite things. We’ve also got a new series starting about Lean Six Sigma super heroes. Let’s stay tune for that.

And for Today’s Special, I’ll be interviewing Sally Toister. She has got some great stories about gemba walks, which are process walks. You don’t want to miss that.

Tracy O’Rourke: Way to go, Sally. I can’t wait to hear about her interview. Also, remember to stay tune for this month’s coupon code in order to get a discount on GoLeanSixSigma.com’s online training.

Elisabeth Swan: Up next, it’s Lean Six Sigma in the news.

In the News

Tracy O’Rourke: Diverting bananas from landfills to soup kitchens, I confess I’ve never heard of banana soup, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: No. I’m guessing that’s not a big seller. But this story is a great story, Tracy. Its article comes from The Tribune Star in Terre Haute, Indiana. The author is Jane Santucci. Miss Santucci also writes about environmental issues. So this has got lots of great angles to it.

Diane Evans is a professor of Engineering Management at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. She and her students brought Six Sigma skills to the table literally to study food waste in the cafeteria, in the campus cafeteria.
So if anyone ever complains to me again about collecting data, I’m going to tell the story. These students, they went to the campus cafeteria. They scared leftover food into bags and then they weighed every bag.

They discovered that for every 120 students, they wasted 20 pounds of food. And the root cause which is interesting is that students only had 45 minutes for lunch. They were in a rush. Some of that time they’re spending online. And they put everything on their tray because they don’t know what they’re going to eat.

And the biggest impact which is interesting based on that behavior was to get rid of the trays. They don’t have the room to stack the food so they don’t put the food out there. Isn’t that great?

Tracy O’Rourke: That is.

Elisabeth Swan: So after the students ran an educational campaign and they brought this to an elementary school where students were encouraged to put unopened or unpeeled food like bananas on a food chair table. And that alone diverted 9,000 pieces of food from the landfill to soup kitchens, which is just phenomenal.

And I have to give a big shout-out to Professor Diane Evans and her students for this kind of work. Professor Evans said Six Sigma is so popular at this college that that could be all she taught and classes would all be filled, which is really nice to hear. She said that what employers want to see on their resumes is some kind of Lean Six Sigma experience especially when they have actual project experience.

…what employers want to see on their resumes is some kind of Lean Six Sigma experience especially when they have actual project experience.

So this is a great example. It’s so good to see college doing continuous improvement projects that help their communities. It’s a really nice story.

Tracy O’Rourke: Really nice story. I love it. There’s a lot of creativity. And I agree with you, scraping food that has been half eaten and putting it into Ziploc bags, who thought of that? Like how do we measure this? That is super creative. And I really like the problem-solving solutions that they came up with too. I’m guessing that they had to go to gemba, right? Go to the place that this is occurring to say, “Maybe we need to take away the trays?” And that means less people are carrying less things.

So, I really like that solution. And what I love about what Diane is that she is really bringing application, real world application to learning something that many times in colleges are trained or taught by theory only. So bravo, Diane.

Elisabeth Swan: Bravo! Yeah.

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m Tracy O’Rourke and you’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café. We love your feedback. For a limited time, you can win a prize for your review. So please give us one. First prize is free Green Belt Training. Second prize is free
Yellow Belt. And third prize is a Just-In-Time Café Podcast mug so you can have your coffee with us. I’m actually thinking that should be number one. I’m using one of those right now. So go ahead and give us a review on iTunes on our website.

Elisabeth Swan: Up next, we get a poll question for you.

Poll Question

Tracy O’Rourke: I love polls, Elisabeth. What’s this month’s question?

Elisabeth Swan: Me too, Tracy, because we get to make Pareto charts out of them. We’re running a poll and we’d love to get your input. We’ll have results for you in the next month’s podcast and we’ll post them online.

Here’s the question. What is the biggest obstacle to your Lean Six Sigma effort? And your choice of answers are:

  • A. Find a time to do it.
  • B. Finding the right data.
  • C. Getting leadership support.
  • D. Picking the right focus area.

We’re going to post these answers online as well. Please look for the link online.

I’m Elisabeth Swan. You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. In just a minute, we’ll get to my interview with Sally Toister, the Senior Operations Leader at Marriott Hotels. But first, let’s get to the coupon code.

Promos

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, let’s let people know a few things going on right now at GoLeanSixSigma.com.

Tracy O’Rourke: That sounds great because there is a lot going on at GoLeanSixSigma.com. I could barely keep up. Last month, I ran a webinar on how leaders can coach using the A3 tool. I think that there’s a big misconception about what A3s are used for.
And ultimately, it’s a great tool for leaders to coach their people on problem-solving. And I find people don’t get that. They think it’s just something you have to fill out after you’ve done an improvement project. They’re not using it like that. So, learn how to use it the right way if you’re a leader.

This month, you’ve got one coming up about how important it is, Elisabeth, to clarify the purpose of a project so that people understand and want to work with you. And this is, one, is super exciting and new. GoLeanSixSigma.com is launching a Wonder Women of Quality Series. I’m so excited about this.

Each month, we’re going to feature the unsung heroes out there, the women who were either leading process improvement efforts or right on the frontlines of doing it every day. There are lots of infographic and blogs and they’re super fun.

Later this month, you’re going to find out who our first superhero is. Can’t wait to do the unveiling.

Elisabeth Swan: I’ve seen the graphics. They’re hilarious. What is great about this story is how many women that you and I are meeting because of it. This is happening almost daily now.

If they’re someone that you want to see honored, please send her name and information to us. We may have to go to two per month because there are so many great women out there. I already love this series and we have barely started it. I love it.

Tracy O’Rourke: Coming up next is Today’s Special. Elisabeth, give us a little preview of your interview with Sally Toister.

Elisabeth Swan: Sally is overseeing the Lean Six Sigma Program within Starwood and helped transition it to Marriott. She has an ingenious way of training her people and going to the gemba, otherwise known as the workplace, which is the hotel. I love where she takes them and what they find. It’s a great interview. Stay tune.

Today’s Special: Interview with Sally Toister

Elisabeth Swan: Hi there! And welcome to Today’s Special. I’m speaking with Sally Toister. Welcome, Sally.

Sally Toister: Hello.

Elisabeth Swan: Sally is the Senior Operations Leader from Marriott Hotels in the US and Canada. Before that, she held similar position with Starwood Hotels and Resorts for many, many years. Sally is a certified Master Black Belt with more than 20 years of experience specializing in deploying Lean Six Sigma programs that drive topline revenue, improve margins, elevate customer experience which is huge in hospitality obviously, and she’s a leader of sustainable innovative process improvement programs in hospitality service and fulfillment industries.

It’s great to have you at the Café, Sally. Thanks for joining us.

Sally Toister: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m a little jealous. Sally is based in San Diego whereas I’m on Cape Cod. San Diego as you know does not have two and a half days of snow right now, right Sally?

Sally Toister: No. Complete opposite.

Elisabeth Swan: So Sally, I don’t know if I ever asked you this, but how did you get your start in process improvement? What got you going? How did you get the bug?

Sally Toister: I actually one of those rare breeds where I got the bug in college. My degree from Texas A&M is in Production and Operations Management. And so, I was fortunate to have a great counselor that guided me based on what my passions of learning had been, guided me to the field. And then I had a host of professors that actually came from the industry. It’s a new degree at A&M at the time. So a lot of them came from that industry and I feel in love with it from school and then moved on with it from there.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s nice. It’s close to born and breed like you got it early on. You got the bug. So just going into where you are, Marriott recently bought Starwood. But you were present when Starwood was at basically the vanguard of applying Lean Six Sigma to hospitality and it’s kind of a perfect application since I think they had roughly 800 properties and you had the opportunity to just replicate what worked at one hotel into all other like hotels. But that was almost for more than 17 years ago now. What was it like back then?

Sally Toister: Yeah. So, we started the Six Sigma initiatives at Starwood back in 2001. And I joined in the fall of 2005. So it was still in that – just started and I can see growing into next level stages of a program along the journey. And it’s really fascinating for me coming with the Lean Six Sigma background into hotels to see how they were applying it in an environment where really it truly was focused on improving the guest experience but also with that mindset for managing expenses and controlling cost.

And it’s really fascinating for me coming with the Lean Six Sigma background into hotels to see how they were applying it in an environment where really it truly was focused on improving the guest experience but also with that mindset for managing expenses and controlling cost.

And so at the time when I joined in, I was really looking at a change in the evolution of – at the beginning, they had really deployed tons of resources out into the hotels. So there were lots of Black Belt at properties that had 400 rooms and higher, Green Belts everywhere, Master Black Belts across the regions really to get exposure out there and infuse the culture as quickly as possible.

In about 2005, 2006, it was when we had a shift within our own structure of moving to more of an asset-like strategy, new ownership groups were coming into play, a lot more questions were coming around and we’re all in the value of certain positions. And so, we did a restructuring at that time and really zoned in and focused on, OK, how do we look at those projects that are going to have high impact to the organization?

…OK, how do we look at those projects that are going to have high impact to the organization?

And started focused on things like a worker’s comp initiative, which refer to as Be Safe that how can we then deploy that across all of our hotels. Looking more at our global expansion, how do we partner with our global counterparts to replicate these projects that had large impact for the organization all across the hotels?

And that was really kind of shift in 2005 that was happening. And we continued to evolve. These things happened within the industry or within the organization to continuously make sure the tools that we are applying from Lean Six Sigma had relevance to the business and was meeting the business need. And so, we just continued to evolve and grow that as time went on to where we are today and with the merger into Marriott.

Elisabeth Swan: So you just mentioned Be Safe and I know that was huge. Can you describe that a little bit?

Sally Toister: Sure. Be Safe actually is a worker’s compensation-based program that really focused in on mindset and behaviors with the associates. From an accident prevention standpoint, what do we do to help prevent accidents from happening? And then once an accident does happened and that unfortunate case, what is the process in which we respond to it and how do we connect the associates to make sure care is managed properly?

And then on the backend, how do we best manage claims with our partners within the worker’s comp arena? All with that goal of decreasing the time that an associate is out of work and how do we get them to return to work quicker once an accident happened.

Elisabeth Swan: And that had a big impact, isn’t it? I mean you really had huge measurable results.

Sally Toister: We had incredible results. And in fact, it’s one of the showcase projects that had come through through the merger with Marriott. And Marriott couldn’t wrap their hands around how our SPG branded hotels performing so much better than in the Marriott environment around worker’s compensation.

And so, it actually one of the first projects that were implemented with the merger and transition and Be Safe is now rolled out to all of the Marriott Hotels.

Elisabeth Swan: It had to be big sense of pride.

Sally Toister: Yeah, it was wonderful and it was really fascinating looking back when you talk about sustainability of a program. So we did that program back. It was one of the early 2000 projects that rolled out. And we tracked the results but it became so embedded and bagged into our DNA. We didn’t track the results as you would 15 years later on a project. But we did go back and look at the history to say, OK, how well did we sustain this from a worker’s comp claim and accident and severity?
And when we did the exercise to tell the case within the Marriott world, it was fascinating to see for 10 years, our performance had stayed flat with an incredible average on worker’s compensation claims. But for 10 years that well within the control.

Elisabeth Swan: It didn’t move. The needle didn’t move.
Sally Toister: It didn’t move. It did not move for 10 years. It truly showcased the fact that our new processes were bagged into the DNA of the SPG branded hotels.

Elisabeth Swan: I really love that example on a lot of levels because one, it obviously kept people on the job, fewer days off the job due to injury. And also, reduced the cost of worker’s comp. But first and foremost, people were getting injured. It was good for people’s health. It was such a great win.

Sally Toister: Absolutely. And when leaders were coming in to benchmark with the SPG hotels, they actually made a comment that you can feel the culture of safety in our hotels.

…they actually made a comment that you can feel the culture of safety in our hotels.

Elisabeth Swan: Can you give like a one palpable example of like what did you change? What does someone do differently that makes them not get hurt?

Sally Toister: So it was all about bringing awareness to what causes accidents. And so of course, we did Pareto and said, what were the top contributing incidents of accidents for associates? And that’s where we found, it was slip and trips, they were bend and reach issues.

And so, addressing those within the work environment, how can we then educate our associates around what to do and how to overcome those elements that are contributing to slip and trips? So if you’re walking through the kitchen and you see water in the floor, do you keep walking by? No.

But what can you do as an associate? And it was simple things and making sure you have the wet floor signs around – all over the place. So you didn’t have to go and look for it. If you’re in the kitchen and that’s a high spill area, if you see a spill, you can turn around within 5 feet and find a wet floor sign, place it and bring that awareness to the other associates around you to help prevent a slip and trip accident.

So it’s all about educating the associates of actions they could take and how to spot and see potential injury elements. We implemented in housekeeping a stretch program in their morning stand up so that before they even go into the work environment, we’ve had them working and moving their body parts so that they are stretched out before they start going in changing beds and bending and reaching in the bathrooms to clean the spots. So, it’s all about that education and awareness and really making it part of their daily behavior.

So, it’s all about that education and awareness and really making it part of their daily behavior.

Elisabeth Swan: I love that because the reality is in the case of housekeeping, they’re really doing a lot of lifting. And I never thought so hard about that. It’s when you guys switched to having Heavenly Beds and now, you had a lot more pillows, bigger down comforters and I thought, “Oh, that’s heavier.” Like you really have to think about because there are people lifting and like you said, bending, reaching.

And I don’t know if this is true or not, but I heard that when you guys did the green program, initially, the housekeeping put the card in the center of the bed saying, “If you want new sheets, now, make sure you leave this on the bed otherwise put it off to the side.” And then that meant people reached. They were reaching to the center of the bed. And so one of the fixes was just, “Well, put it on the side of the bed. That’s fine.” So I don’t know if that was real or not but I heard it.

Sally Toister: Yeah. No. I wasn’t around during that time but that sounds absolutely in line with a recommendation we would make. It was kind of those simple ahas of why reach to the middle of a king size bed when you can put it on the pillow next to the nightstand and they’ll see it as they’re crawling into bed just as easily as they would see it in the middle and they didn’t have to reach across the bed to do that. That seems very in line with our approach of simplicity to solutions.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And the casual observer would think, “Oh, what’s the big deal? It’s in the center of the bed. It’s on the side of the bed.” But these are repetitive motions. There are people doing this all day long. So I could see where those little things made a huge difference. Those are great. Thank you for those examples.

Sally Toister: Sure.

Elisabeth Swan: So, mergers and acquisitions always a lot of tumult. And you had this incredibly strong program and I know you’ve had to transition. But it has been – I know from talking to you, it has been incredibly successful. So I just want to hear what made it so successful. How did you maintain this process improvement or what did you have to tweak to keep your process improvement culture so strong and successful?

Sally Toister: So, it really was a natural alignment between Starwood and Marriott with the Lean Six Sigma programs. Marriott for the last 5 or 6 years has – they had implemented Covey’s 4 Disciplines of Execution and really focusing on the wildly important goals and making the commitments on a weekly basis. So, there was already a culture started of focusing on what was wildly important and how do we make daily changes to improve guest experience.

And so, the Lean Six Sigma elements that we had within Starwood blended in nicely with that program because really, where the two programs struggled independently matched perfectly to elevate each other. And so, as an example, 4 Disciplines of Execution, you have a wildly important goal that you focus on and then you make weekly commitments to say, “I’m going to move the needle here.”

There was no structure on, OK, how do we narrow in what we want to work on for that week? It was more of a dart board approach.

And so when they bring in the Lean Six Sigma tools, we’re able to look at some of those basic analytical tools to say, “OK, well here, let’s do a Pareto and we look at the guest experience around arrival and here are our top two problem areas. Let’s make commitments to those top two problem areas or let’s pick one for this week.”

So, it provided more of a structure and a framework to that. So there has been this natural adaption from that standpoint on the Lean Six Sigma.

And then the other program that we offer up which we call Lean Hotel operations, which is our program that we have in place where we have a team of Master Black Belts, Lean Six Sigma experts as well as operational leader experts. They’ve all held positions in the hotels. They conduct deep dive visits into the hotels.

And so, that too was also a natural fit because there was an interest in that. It was a new program and that they’ve used some external consultants for and had success with. But now, they have their own internal program with people who came from hotels and really truly understand hotels.

And so, we’ve conducted a few of those now and had some really early quick wins and the program has taken off quite nicely from the Marriott side there.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s nice. And I know it makes a huge difference for people to come from the hotel side of things. And I’ve seen where different cultures might try to bring in someone who has Lean Six Sigma training but lacks that depth and can’t speak the language and you really need both, and ultimately, great to have them in one person.

Sally Toister: Right. And it definitely is – it is an advantage that we have and that came from the history of the program that we have from Starwood. So a lot of the members of the team have been from the company from near the beginning.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, which is huge. That’s incredible staying power and longevity.

Sally Toister: Yeah.

Elisabeth Swan: So I know you’ve been tweaking how you trained people and it has gotten a little more – I think the phrase that the industry is just go to the gemba or go to the workplace. Can you describe a little bit about how you trained people?

Sally Toister: Sure. Absolutely. And this is something over the last couple of years that we’ve really zoned in on. And first of all was to find what was our goal and our objective on having operational leaders go to Six Sigma training. And one of the core values that we had out of that was we want them to use it, right? We want them to not just have a poor knowledge base and theoretical understanding of Lean Six Sigma.

But how do they practically apply it in their operational roles to really truly make a difference on their operational performance whether that would be financial or looking – capturing some ancillary revenue or improving the guest experience?

And so, we were finding that as they were going through the class, we didn’t really have a high success rate of our attendees using the tools when they returned to the hotels. And we do have an internal certification program. And our internal certification, the way that it certified is actually proof of use of the tools. And so, our certification rate was dropping now below 20%, which was a huge red flag to us that OK, the way in which we’re teaching, we’re not setting them up for success for that core metric of using the tools of Six Sigma.

And so, we really did more of the Flip Learning Approach to OK, instead of just teaching them the theories and giving them a few exercises, how can we put them in the gemba and have them practice the tools in the classroom? And our classes are conducted in our hotels so we’re already there. We’re already at our gemba.

…how can we put them in the gemba and have them practice the tools in the classroom?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Sally Toister: And so, what we started to do is OK, let’s break down all the activities we do. And instead of doing simulations in the classroom, where can we put them in the environment to learn that? And so two activities that we implemented right away that have had great success, the first was we actually do a live 5S activity while we’re in training. And so, we’ll find smaller spaces like linen closets or in the kitchen we might find storage areas within the kitchen, different areas in banquets, smaller spaces with a target of in the afternoon with 5 to 6 people, let’s do a 5S activity.

And so, the hotel provides us a leader of the area and the hotel actually selects the location. And so instead of teaching through simulation 5S, we actually teach through doing a 5S activity in the hotel.

And then the second tool we do we actually do gemba walks. And so, we do a quick 10-minute teach in the classroom about what a gemba walk is all about and then split out in teams of two and go to different areas within the hotel.

And for our gemba walks, we always start with a lens of the guest. And I’ll use example of room cleanliness is a core metric for us in hotels obviously. And so we say, OK, as a guest, what do I expect and how do I define a clean room? And so, we’ll go on a walk with members in the class and say, OK, I’m a guest that’s checking in to my room. So what do I see as a guest when I walk into a room? Is it clean? If it’s not clean, what do I see that makes it seen not clean? Is it dust? Is it wrinkled linens? Things like that in nature.

And then we physically – we’ll do the walk to see what is contributing to those issues. So as an example, the dust. Do they have the right supplies on the cart? If they don’t have the right supplies on the cart, let’s go walk down to where they stock the carts. How are they stocking the carts? Is there a process opportunity here?

If it’s not in the stocking, is there an opportunity in laundry? So we’ll walk the entire hotel as part of the learning for a gemba walk.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s such a great simple but brilliant like, “Oh! Well, we’re here. We’re right at the gemba so let’s just go there.”

Sally Toister: Exactly.

Elisabeth Swan: Those are great examples. And I remember you cracked me up with taking some of them to the gym.

Sally Toister: Yes.

Elisabeth Swan: Some of them maybe had never even been inside the gym and going, “Wow! These machines don’t even work.” It’s like, “Right!” And there are clients go or guests and they are not appreciating that.

Sally Toister: Exactly. And it’s one of those areas too that the gym, one, we don’t have associates frequently go in there because it’s not a place that we’re going to use. But if a guest goes in there, the last thing you’re thinking – you’re not thinking, “Oh, this treadmill didn’t work. Let me go and make a phone call and let them know.” No. You hop off and go to the next treadmill.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Sally Toister: Or if they’re all full, you’ll leave, right? And now, you’re upset that you didn’t get a workout. So it’s great area for the gym to do. But there are so many opportunities right there.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, it’s such a great example. Thank you for that. And thank you for making it real. It’s so interesting to hear how these things happen. And probably every one of our listeners has been in a hotel so it’s really relatable in terms of, “Oh, great. We learn the stuff.” So thank you for that.

Sally, how can someone – how can our listeners find you or communicate with you if they wanted or if you wanted?

Sally Toister: Sure. So speaking of gemba actually, you can find me on Twitter. I’m @GembaGirl on Twitter and then also on LinkedIn through Sally Toister.

Elisabeth Swan: GembaGirl, you nailed a good Twitter handle. It’s awesome.

Sally Toister: Thanks.

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you so much, Sally. I appreciate you being a guest today in the Just-In-Time Café. You’ve been listening to the Just-IN-Time Café Podcast. My guest today has been Sally Toister of Marriott Hotels. Thank you so much for joining us, everyone, today.

Tune in to our next podcast where Tracy interviews Jeffrey Liker. Dr. Liker brought us the Toyota Way and he just came out with the Toyota Way to Service Excellence. Don’t miss that.

And don’t forget, if you leave us a review, you can win some free online training or our favorite, a Just-In-Time Café mug. Just leave a review on iTunes or on our website and don’t forget to subscribe.

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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.