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Reducing inspections, improving quality

September 19, 2010
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If you want your cleaning to be of high quality, assign plenty of inspectors, right?

Maybe not.

While proper inspection can catch poor results before they reach your customer, it is not the same as improving the process or system that produces the results.

Manufacturing companies that react to a high rate of product defects by hiring more inspectors often succeed in preventing flawed products from reaching the customer, but may fail to correct the underlying problems in the production system; thus, the level of defects — and associated cost — remains fairly constant.

Inspection pitfalls
Sometimes, inspection can help find flaws in cleaning processes.

However, inspection can also become a crutch and a way to make workers scapegoats for what are inherently system problems.

When you put good people in a bad system, the results are still bad.

This is especially apparent where quality problems are chronic.

In this scenario, the reactive approach (inspection) is far more expensive long-term and less effective because a defective product (poor cleaning) costs just as much — and often more — to initially produce as a non-defective (excellent cleaning) product; and, the cost of inspection and re-work adds even more to the total overhead that must be passed on to the customer.

This means inspection as a quality management and systems analysis tool is costing you money and making you less competitive.

Also, inspection cannot detect problems built into the system.

For example, if workers are supplied and using vacuum filter bags that are inefficient at trapping fine dust, it is not their fault that there is resettled dust on surfaces they dusted before vacuuming or that building occupants are sneezing.

If workers are using a dirty water mopping method as opposed to newer techniques that do not redeposit soil, as another example, you cannot fairly hold them accountable for soil buildup.

Even if a worker is deliberately cutting corners and leaving dirt behind, it is still a problem of the training, management, hiring and workloading system — not inherently the worker.

Achieving quality

Management guru W. Edwards Deming, who taught the Japanese — notably Toyota — to produce quality products through systems thinking, wrote: “Cease dependence on mass inspection. Eliminate the need for mass inspection … by building quality into the product in the first place.”

The goal, according to Deming, was not to eliminate all inspection, but to eliminate the need for mass inspection by creating systems that produce consistent quality from the beginning.

How can this be applied to cleaning?

The foundation of a successful systems approach to work, including cleaning, actually occurred a century ago.

According to consultant Colin Butterfield of Group B Services Ltd., Victoria, British Columbia: “Frederick Winslow Taylor, considered the father of scientific management, 100 years ago proposed that work should always be done by the ‘best method.’ While some of Taylor’s other views, such as dividing the workplace into thinkers and doers, are now seen as too autocratic, the principle of the one best method, or ‘best practice’ is still valid today. Taylor also recognized that breaking down work into clearly defined specialist tasks and training workers to excel in these tasks led to higher efficiency.”

Taylor’s work involved a detailed analysis of each work process, stopwatch in hand, to determine the “one best way” to perform each task.

Proven, specialized service
Specialist or Team Cleaning, properly initiated and managed, is an example of a cleaning system that reduces the need for inspection by building “one best way” methods and quality into the production mechanism of cleaning.

Because the work of specialists is more refined, standardized and consistent, it requires less external inspection.

According to Butterfield, “Since usually only one person is assigned to washrooms and that specialist is trained in best practices, for instance, it is often only necessary to check one or two washrooms to verify the standard, compared with Zone Cleaning where one or two washrooms in each zone need to be checked.

“In buildings (featuring) several zone cleaners, it can be difficult to achieve a uniform service standard,” continues Butterfield. “Inspections must be repeated for each zone to assess the cleaning standard, taking up supervision time in repetitive inspections.”

Since sequenced specialists also have group responsibility for the final product and, therefore, collective interest in quality control, external inspection can also be minimized through internal cross-checks.

For example, since the Vacuum Specialist (VS) follows the Light Duty Specialist (LDS) through the building, the VS can ensure all the trash has been emptied by the LDS.

Cross-training in the specialties — standard procedure in most Team Cleaning operations — facilitates consistently higher quality because each worker becomes knowledgeable and “aware” about each job.

The system also reduces wasted time, redundant work and inspection through “communication” between specialists.

According to consultant Jim Harris Sr. of Concepts IV: “The communication from the Light Duty Specialist to the Vacuum Specialist consists of signals or cues left for the VS. For example, the LDS goes into a conference room, checks it, performs a few light duties, but recognizing the floor is clean, closes the door to indicate to the VS that vacuuming may be omitted. Lights off may also be a sign that an area doesn’t need cleaning.

“The VS (should carry) a note pad and pencil to log any cleaning faults and to inform the LDS at the end of the shift — or before the next shift — of a missed trash can, dusting or other cleaning issue,” Harris adds.

Divide the building, stay focused
Quad scheduling is another aspect of Team Cleaning that ensures little is left to chance, or eventual inspection.

Buildings are divided into quadrants and, on each of the four weekdays, one quad is scheduled for detailing, while more in-depth project work is scheduled on the fifth day of each week.

This enables all detailing, in addition to routine daily cleaning, to be completed weekly and projects monthly.

But, initiating such a cleaning system is not for managers who are faint of heart.

The hardest work in deploying a functional cleaning system, such as Team Cleaning, is that performed by management up front.

It involves a rigorous process of examining the cleaning operation and culture in great detail, then setting the tone, determining best practices, and individually and collectively scheduling and workloading team specialists.

The strength of the approach is refinement and standardization of methods and tools, training specialists to work in an orchestrated system, and fostering worker involvement as system quality control agents.

Quality must be built into the system that produces the product.

By building quality into your operation, you can reduce the need for inspection, improve quality, lower costs, and raise customer satisfaction.


Allen Rathey is president of Boise, ID-based InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc.

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