Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Productivity: Is There A Magic Number?

September 19, 2010

Questions:

Is there an industry production standard for …?

Why are production rates often indicated in terms of unobstructed space?

Do you have current information as to how many square feet a worker should be able to clean per hour on average?

Is there a way to show various production rates using backpacks vs. uprights, Team (Gang) Cleaning vs. Zone Cleaning, etc.?

What are the current cleaning costs per square foot for … ?

The Answer

Productivity rates drive costs and pricing for the various jobs encountered.

The faster a job can be completed with

competence, the better the price offered to the customer and the more likely the service provider is to be assigned the work in the first place.

The trap here is two-fold.

The first is in forgetting that work must be done competently.

That means time must be spent to do what must be done for a good outcome.

If the floor must be stripped to remove all old, discolored, soil-embedded finish, then a quick scrub will take less time, but will not do the job well.

If a redo is necessitated by the poor first effort, the work will take even more time and cost still more.

This often occurs when the emphasis on getting the contract supersedes the determination to do only quality work.

Three coats are placed, for example, instead of the five needed for long-term maintenance.

Part of this trap is believing that time for work can be reduced endlessly.

People can move only so fast, even with productive equipment.

You reach a point where time is being used efficiently, the equipment has been precisely matched to the job and there are no further efficiencies left to gain.

The effort to reduce labor time is not endless in the sense that our goal is to reach zero hours to do a job.

There is a point where no more time can be saved unless work is poorly done or skipped entirely.

That should not be acceptable to either the client or the service provider.

The second trap comes in the form of misunderstanding what is involved in taking on a task.

Clearly, many questioners are unfamiliar with the details of the work they are being asked to do.

Not all jobs are going to be profitable to all companies.

Are you geared up to pressure wash a 200,000-square-foot office building, six floors high?

Will you, with one truckmount, offer to clean 100,000 square feet of carpet in one weekend?

Is it reasonable to price out a 20,000-square-foot vinyl composite tile (VCT) refinishing job when you have only a 17-inch rotary and a mop-and-bucket setup?

Taking on work one is unfamiliar with is always unwise and, in some cases, can lead to serious financial loss.

It is unfortunate that this must be constantly pointed out in response to inquiry after inquiry, but it is better to do that than encourage low pricing for poor quality work with the disastrous outcome of business failure looming in the background.

We often refer people to ISSA''s "540 Cleaning Times" booklet or its predecessors as a valuable estimating tool for productivity information.

For it to be of assistance, it is necessary to understand three things.

First is that this is an estimating guide that provides information of a general nature only. The times are not fixed and unmovable.

Second, the various steps for any project must be understood because any job is, in the words of the guide, "the sum of the separate tasks."

Thirdly, "cleaning is a highly labor intensive enterprise" and, even with highly productive equipment, that labor factor can be influenced by a wide variety of external conditions and also by the internal makeup of the worker on any given day at any given facility.

Read the introduction to "540 Cleaning Times" carefully and believe it.

This is why, in most cases, our recommendation is for the questioner to develop times and rates that reflect accurately their individual experience using the tools and techniques they have available to do the work.

Apparent in all of this is the obvious lack of understanding about productivity and how to assess it for accurate job estimating.

However, this should not overshadow the equally obvious desire on the part of so many to learn and build their professionalism.

We, as an industry, should make widespread knowledge of productivity, the factors affecting it and how to price work based soundly on it, easily accessible to any who desire to learn.


The International Custodial Advisors Network Inc. (ICAN) is a non-profit association comprised of industry consultants with a wide range of expertise in building management, indoor environmental and service disciplines. This network provides free janitorial and building maintenance consultation service to the industry through Cleaning Management Institute®.