Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Why You Should Stop Inspecting To Fix Problems: Part Two

September 19, 2010

As we learned last month, the more problems you find, the less time is left to do a complete job of regular cleaning, which creates more problems to find, leaving even less time to do the next cycle of cleaning.

This process goes on and on until the cleaning system collapses into a problem-response pattern, where the buyer points out the problems — through inspection or complaints — and the contractor responds.

Does this mean that you should stop fixing problems? No.

First, you could just stop inspecting and hope that no one notices any problems.

Second, recognize that this inspection strategy creates a downward performance spiral until someone — usually the buyer — pays to bring in extra staff to catch up.

The third, and by far the best alternative, is to prevent the problem so that there will be no need to fix the problem.

Inspection Strategy No. 2

This strategy involves finding defects and fixing the system to prevent the problem.

This inspection strategy manages the service delivery system much more effectively.

This is done by collecting enough information to understand where the service delivery system is working and where it is not.

This serves as a mechanism to support fact-based management decision-making to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

In this strategy, the pattern of problems becomes a window into the efficacy of the service delivery system and the processes used.

If the customer complains about the condition of mirrors in restrooms, as an example, the contractor is likely to send someone out to correct this problem.

If the process for cleaning mirrors does not change, it is also likely that there will be problems with mirrors again, perhaps daily.

In a "fix the system" strategy, an inspection process would determine the extent and pattern of problems with all items included within the scope of work.

If a root cause analysis of all items inspected showed that mirrors were unsatisfactory 100 percent of the time, one could conclude that the process for cleaning mirrors was deficient and should be changed.

In this situation, the contractor might form a process improvement team to explore how they might clean mirrors differently.

Using a cause and effect diagram — along with other tools — the contractor could examine a variety of possible causes of mirror problems.

The cause and effect diagram provides information which allows for a structured evaluation of possible causes for performance failure around the materials used, the people doing the work, the process used and the support activities found in the mirror cleaning system.

If, for example, the cleaning process was to use a cloth to dust all horizontal surfaces and then wet that same cloth to wash the mirror, we might conclude that this was not an effective cleaning process for mirrors.

We might then change the process to clean the mirrors first, before getting the cloth full of dust.

We might evaluate the dust cloth or the chemical used as a cause of the mirror problem.

It might be more effective to issue two cloths, for example: One for dusting and one for wet cleaning of mirrors.

We might determine that the cause of the problem was that the cleaning staff was not properly trained in the correct mirror cleaning process.

In this case, training is the best solution.

Finally, we might determine that procurement, training, hiring or other support services were not available, causing the mirror problem.

In this event, management might establish more effective support systems as a strategy to change the cleaning process to prevent mirror problems.

With this inspection strategy, while finding the problem itself has some value, improving the process to prevent the problem is everything.

According to recognized quality gurus, the ability to improve processes, and ultimately the delivery system to prevent problems, is the only acceptable reason to establish an inspection program.

The Conclusion Is Clear

While the most popular inspection strategy is one that creates a list of problems for follow-up and correction, it can become self-defeating.

This inspection strategy creates a crisis-driven, response-oriented management model that usually fails to optimize either cost or performance.

Within the framework of the quality movement, a more effective rationale for inspection is to collect the information needed to establish the root cause of failure.

The real goal is to determine the specific processes that need to be changed to prevent future problems.

The goal is to move from a find-it-and-fix-it inspection strategy, to a find-it-and-prevent-it strategy.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. ( of Hunt Valley, MD. 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.