Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Part Two: Defining clean

September 19, 2010
Last month we presented several reasons why it is important to define clean.

Since the initial study, which was discussed in last month’s column, we have repeated a manager/occupant survey of client facilities about a dozen times to validate or disprove earlier findings.

One thing we learned is that the descriptive attributes agreed upon must connect customer expectations and process activities.

Further, we learned that any attributes agreed upon must be easily understood and identified by everyone connected by the cleaning system, including occupants and cleaning staff.

We learned that any attributes adopted must be objectively provable by visible confirmation, which minimizes the subjective “feeling” that something is good or bad.

We learned that rating scales (1-10, or 1-100) do not lend themselves to effective measurement or management.

The definition of “clean” thus becomes an agreement on the attributes or conditions present or absent on items, subject to cleaning.

Another powerful advantage of connecting the attribute to the cleaning process lies in the ability to then do performance diagnostics and analysis, focused on continuous process improvement.

Quality measurement and management is founded on this attribute definition.

In short, we learned that in order to improve quality, you must manage it; in order to manage it, you must measure it; and in order to measure it, you must define it.

Our findings
More than 4,300 respondents, representing hundreds of building and tens of millions of square feet have participated in defining the attributes of “clean.”

These people participated in both client-based, on-site small groups, as well as national online surveys.

What we found, using Pareto analysis, was a clear picture of the attributes associated with each item found in the various types of space in an office environment.

The resulting frequency distribution showed that nine cleaning conditions and one maintenance issue accounted for 94.6 percent of all conditions found by the inspection team.

These conditions were not all the attributes described by the interviewees, or even added by the experienced people who inspected the target buildings.

Nonetheless, the other 79 conditions represented only 5.4 percent of all conditions identified by anyone.

While technically, broken items are not a cleaning system responsibility, reporting them is expected.

In this regard, the ninth attribute might be better described as “reporting maintenance problems.”

The concept of defining and describing the characteristics of a “clean” or “dirty” building was segmented to a room, item within the room and condition of the item, within a room level.

The database collected is extensive, with over 40 conclusions.

These findings seem to establish a valid, objective definition of the attributes that determine clean as defined by building occupants, managers, and cleaners.

Manager vs. occupant definitions
Following our broad study, we conducted several follow-up workshops to examine occupant-manager comparative data.

The Occupant vs. Manager Chart highlights these findings.

The overall sum of increases and decreases varied by a net of about one-tenth of 1 percent, with individual attributes varying by between .04 percent and .01 percent.

There is a high degree of agreement on virtually all attributes.

Building managers seem to exhibit a somewhat higher level of importance for most attributes that would define clean.

Yet, notwithstanding the reliability of this level of participation, these studies are continuing to be cross-validated and three broad-based follow-up studies are scheduled for 2008-09.


Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates, Ltd. of Hunt Valley, MD, www.ealtd.com. He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.