Fifteen Pillars for Cleaning Productivity

The following article is written by Gary Clipperton. Gary is a Consultant in the cleaning industry, and owner of National ProClean.

Every manager’s dream is to build self-directed work teams that deliver immaculate results in record breaking times. That doesn’t happen overnight. Cleaning managers must instill the necessary diagnostic skills so it’s nearly impossible for failure

There are practical guidelines for engineering, tracking, and redesigning cleaning flow systems. Measuring current productivity (benchmarking), establishing goals (process improvement), and assessing quality tolerances (conformance to standards) are solid places to start. A well-conceived plan must include the required improvements for staff, equipment, supplies, standards, and training systems. It’s critical to secure buy-in for all improvements from staff, upper management, and facility occupants. Unclear communications and lack of support can result in disorganized approaches and disappointing results. Work task instructions must address potential cleaning variables. For example, if you instruct a staff member to take a spray bottle and towel and clean a surface, the instruction does not address the potential variables. Is there a need for debris removal? Will a scraper or scouring pad be required? Is normal dwell time sufficient to loosen the soil? Should the surface be polished dry or treated with a disinfectant? Cleaning instructions should be comprehensive to avert backtracking to the supply closet and to curtail expensive rework.

Here is an overview of the fifteen pillars for productivity enhancement.

1. Reduction of soil migration. Containment requires investigation,
detection, analysis, and prevention. A scouting expedition, resulting in
counter-measures that contain the excess soil, will be worth the effort.

2. Critical analysis of each cleaning task. What would happen if a
particular task was eliminated or the standards or frequencies relaxed?
For example, just because entry areas may require a carpet pre-scrub
prior to extraction, does not mean all areas require a pre-scrub. Critical
analysis should determine how many feet from the door carpets must
be pre-scrubbed. Start dissecting every task.

3. Value engineering. How effective is each step of the task in producing
the desired result? Try to eliminate steps without diminishing quality.
Review non-critical surfaces to determine if an inspection and touch up
could periodically replace a deep cleaning. Value engineering for a
floor stripping operation might reveal that a more thorough squeegee
and wet vac operation could reduce the number of rinses from three to

4. Judging soil intensity. Staff should evaluate all cleaning demands. If
soil loads are light, then a light cleaning procedure will apply, and the
opposite is also true. Since cleaning productivity varies, technicians
must assess light, medium, and heavy cleaning demands. Powerwashing
a desk to remove light dust would be overkill. Workers must
employ intense and rapid eye-movement to search, scan, and inspect
surfaces and determine proper responses.

5. Removal of distractions. Interruptions hinder productivity. The main
thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. Cleaning management
should strive to protect staff from unnecessary interruptions. For
example, you might keep a list of future job assignments and then
share them with a worker just as he or she finishes a lunch or coffee

6. Establishment of sequential workflow. Map out the most direct flow
pattern to clean each department. Different areas often require distinct
flow patterns. Technicians must be trained to think sequentially. If trash
is emptied after vacuuming and a pencil sharpener is then dumped into
the trash can, expect a cloud of wood pulp. Now, the area must be
vacuumed a second time.

7. Employment of forward thinking. Always ask, what will be required
next? Consider all the possibilities, demands, and needs that could
cause delays or backtracking. Use project supply lists to confirm that
all potentially required items are available. If a carpet cleaner forgets
gum remover or rust remover, it may cost a trip back to storage to pick
up supplies. It’s ok for executives to manage by “walking around”, but
it’s not ok for technicians.

8. Streamlined supply access. Organize supply closets to reduce clutter
and achieve orderliness. Eliminate restrictions and reduce supply
search times. Pre-position items to facilitate a quick “grab and run”.
Shortages can be avoided by tracking minimum inventory levels and
lead times.

9. Elimination of backtracking. Train workers to picture in their minds
the required sequences for each cleaning task. For example, suppose
a worker is assigned to collect the needed supplies for stripping and
refinishing a floor. The worker would ask, “What is required to”: a)
Move furniture and prep the area. b) Clean up the floor. c) Apply the
stripper. d) Perform the stripping procedure. e) Remove the stripper
and rinse the floor. f) Apply finish and dry the floor. Technicians should
strive to eliminate the phrase, “Oh, I forgot.” from their conversation.

10. Removal of cleaning restraints. Install safeguards in the cleaning
process to reduce workmanship flaws. Engineer the selection of
cleaning supplies so it is almost impossible to make wrong choices.
Reduce hindrances, bottlenecks, bureaucracy, and excessive
paperwork. Test and evaluate all cleaning procedures for efficiency.

11. Work simplification. Consider performing tasks in parallel. For
example, after emptying the trash can, begin to walk back to return it
while pulling Post-It notes from the inside of the trash liner. Upgrade
the size and efficiency of equipment. Check ISSA’s Cleaning Times for
various sized equipment and calculate potential labor savings. Speed
up non-essential jobs. Implement motion economy principles. Is each
segment of the task, (hold, reach, move, motion, or positioning)
necessary? Train workers to build momentum, reduce rapid start and
stop actions, and improve manual dexterity. Keep movements smooth.

12. Acceleration of skill proficiency. Diagnostic skills should help a
worker identify potential failure points and understand how to correct
them. When extracting carpets, do workers know how to troubleshoot
carpet streaks, correct brown-out and wicking, and monitor recovery
rates? In general, have they mastered the art of self-correcting all
potential deficiencies?

13. Self-inspection checklists. Workers need task assignment and
quality checklists to supervise their own work. Technicians should final
inspect the area just cleaned to eliminate rework or complaints.
Teamwork is required to reduce omissions and strive for zero defects.

14. Enhanced training systems. Begin with training drills, so rapid
decisions and automatic reactions become commonplace. PowerPoint
training slides with photos of your surfaces, procedures, and
equipment can be used to supercharge your training program. Workers
should know how each task interrelates with the other job functions.

15. Improved management skills. Authority must be delegated, so
empowered workers can make appropriate decisions. Regular,
relevant, and timely feedback will head off uncertainty, confusion, and
unclear expectations. Support and encouragement will improve job
satisfaction, while proper recognition and rewards will build worker