The Waste of Wandering

Increase productivity with a systematic approach

The Waste of Wandering

Have you ever watched—unnoticed—as frontline staff go about completing their daily assigned duties? Often you’ll observe an unorchestrated set of movements that seem to be lacking in focus, direction, and purpose. As managers and supervisors, we can be quick to place blame on staff when we see this activity. While we may become frustrated with staff’s inability to accomplish the tasks assigned in an effective and efficient manner, have we stopped to consider whether we provided the proper instruction and tools needed to get the job done correctly? Did we clearly define the process, document it, and make it an integral part of worker training?

The cleaning services industry is mostly task-focused. For example, instruction typically provided to staff focuses on how to properly perform a cleaning method. The proper performance of tasks is important, of course, but we leave the delivery of these tasks at the discretion of frontline staff. In many cases, we show or walk staff members through their assigned space and provide a list or schedule of tasks to perform.

This schedule usually lists tasks to be performed daily, weekly, and monthly, but might not outline a plan to optimize workflow within the areas or the actual days on which the weekly or monthly tasks are to be completed. This lack of concrete direction frequently results in what we call the “waste of wandering.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The place to start discussing the waste of wandering is with the old adage: “work smarter, not harder,” where the idea is to find increased productivity by eliminating areas of loss. When we look at the number of movements or steps associated with providing daily services, it begins to become clear how vital it is to understand the impact of inefficient movements on productivity and service.

When organizations look to increase productivity, they often consider implementing new equipment. However, great improvements can be found simply by observing what is truly happening at the point of service delivery. Lost time due to random movements, backtracking, forgotten equipment, returning to supply areas, and poor use of equipment adds up quickly. The impact of each of these items may seem minor taken individually, but when combined and applied across an organization, their impact can be substantial.

Minimizing theWaste of Wandering

So how can you reduce the waste of wandering? The first step is to create an environment that does not promote inefficiency but stimulates improvement.

Manufacturing has taught us that standardization and refinement drive efficiency. However, in an undisciplined environment where the frontline service worker makes decisions as she goes, no standards exist from which to improve.

Undisciplined cleaning practices can result in a great deal of waste and provide management few tools for improvement. Conversely, systematic cleaning practices such as team cleaning utilize structured, documented approaches that can reduce waste and provide the foundation for improvement.

These cleaning systems provide information on the most efficient path; when, where, and what task will be performed; and the optimal order in which to perform the work. When this information is documented and part of the cleaning system, it can be refined and improved over time, making the entire process more manageable.

The next time you’re looking for that productivity increase, look outside the box; the answer could be just a few steps away.

Posted On January 7, 2015

Jim Harris Sr.

Founder and CEO of Concepts4 Cleaning Consultants

Jim Harris Sr. is founder and CEO of Concepts4 cleaning consultants. He can be reached at

Jeff Merrihew

Senior Consultant and Technical advisor with Concepts4

Jeff Merrihew is a senior consultant and technical advisor with Concepts4 and can be reached at

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