The 7 Wastes of Lean in Cleaning (And How to Do Something About Them)

by Matt Besley on 20-3-2018

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The 7 wastes of lean are an integral part of Lean methodology from Toyota, and it applies to the world of cleaning.

Let's start with 2 definitions:

  • Waste is an activity that doesn't deliver any value to the customer. 
  • If a customer is willing to pay for an activity, then it is a 'value adding step'

OK, here's the 7 wastes of lean in cleaning, and how you can eliminate them.

1.  Motion

Motion refers to the unnecessary movement of cleaning staff.  This could mean walking back to the cupboard to get spare toilet rolls from the other side of the site, when you have already been there to do the vacuuming.  Or it could mean sending 2 cleaners to cover different ends of the site.  Remember this could be something small, or something so blindingly obvious, you wonder why you didn't do something about it beforehand!

Step back and have a look at how much time your cleaners are moving around unnecessarily.  Do a time and motion study on how many times your cleaners have to go back to the cleaning cupboard, and review your cleaning schedules.  You could also get your cleaners to use a fitness app on their phones to track the number of steps they do in a shift and constantly find ways to reduce this.

Solutions to reduce the motion waste:

  • Consider using cleaning trolleys - a lot of cleaning kit can be stored on a trolley and means you cut down on unnecessary steps, and reduce a manual handling risk.  Take time to get it right, when thinking about trolleys. Make sure you get one that will suit your exact requirements. There are lots of different options. 

    If you do introduce a trolley system, make sure you train your operatives in exactly how you want the system used, otherwise, if the trolley is not loaded correctly at the start of the clean, the benefit might be lost. 

  • Consider using cleaning totes or a small bucket - it means you can take more around with you.
  • Consider changing around cleaning schedules so cleaners are utilized more effectively 

2.  Inventory

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Quite simply having too much stock.  Sometimes the cleaning cupboard has enough stock that if war broke out, they could still clean for several years afterwards!  Often the legacy of someone who doesn't understand this principle of stock holding (and there are plenty of them around), this can have very negative effect.

More effectively managing your stock means you can use the space better, and you can find things quicker, stock wont go out of date.

Solutions to reduce the inventory waste:

  • Partner with a supplier who you can work with to have regular deliveries with low (or no) minimum order levels.
  • Do regular audits on your sites/cleaning cupboards and move stock around where there are overstocks
  • Introduce 5S - an excellent framework to make your cupboards more efficient

How To Use 5S To Tidy Up Your Cleaners Cupboard

3.  Waiting

This one sounds a bit vague; but it's far reaching.  Basically waiting for someone or something to occur before you can continue.

This could include:

  • Waiting for the right materials to be on site to 
  • Waiting to use a piece of equipment that there is not enough of
  • Waiting for out of peak hours to be able to clean (i.e. evening cleaning).
  • Waiting for instructions on where to clean next.

Solutions to reduce the waiting waste:

  • Ensure you look at your supply chain to get a reliable supply partner and you aren't always waiting for stock
  • Ensuring you have enough equipment to clean effectively
  • Look at team-cleaning - Traditional cleaning involves each cleaner having their own area to clean. Team cleaning is basically where you have a team or teams of persons working in a systematic way around the entire building or area.

    Team image.jpg

    This is a fairly radical approach, however there are big savings to be made in time. This is a much more time efficient way of cleaning a large building. 

    It's like a  line in a factory. You don't get one person doing all the different processes in a production line, you have each person doing the same task over and over again and the next step in the process passing to the next person.

    This would obviously not work for a very small team of cleaners in a very small office, but it does work well in a larger building such as a school or office block. 

    This also saves in the amount of equipment you need for a building. 

4.  Defects 

Every site has a particular cleaning challenge, which means every site needs a particular solution.  Some floors can be particularly problematic, and can really irritate your customer or other team members.  

Solutions to the defects waste:

  • Call in an expert before it is too late (or you are just about to lose a contract)
  • If it is a new cleaning contract, factor in an initial deep clean to show what you expect from the cleaning staff you have taken on.
  • Carry out cleaning audits and staff training to keep everyone up to the standard you expect of them.

5.  Overproduction

You may be a bit confused by this one.  Think about your site and how often each area is cleaned.  Are some areas which have lower footfall/usage cleaned as regularly as your entrance foyer?  Are your cleaners cleaning clean rooms, where there is another room next door which is filthy, but that's how the cleaning schedule is, or that is another cleaners area? This may mean you need a bit of a shake-up!

One of the key principles of lean is the principle of 'pull' rather than 'push'.  Or more simply, going where there is a need, rather than what is on a pre-made schedule.  

Solutions to the overproduction waste:

  • Look at your cleaning schedules and make them more dynamic.  Get your cleaners to use their initiative rather than being too hard and fast, or in a stand-up meeting at the start of the cleaning shift, let everyone know the expectations and priorities for that day.
  • Using checklists to ensure that the essential tasks that a cleaner has to do on a daily basis are completed, but leaves some flexibility.

6.  Transportation

Excess movement in transporting products or people.  This could be an illogically placed cleaning cupboard (when you have a cupboard closer to the area of work that's just full of rubbish).

Solutions to the transportation waste:

  • Consider the layout of where stock is located in your cleaning cupboards, and what stock is located in each cupboard.  Check it still makes sense.
  • Train your cleaners to better plan their trips.

7.  Over Processing

Putting in more effort than is necessary.  Sometimes a process can be mechanized, or made more efficient with equipment.  

Solutions to the over processing waste:

  • Making sure your scrubber drier is the right one for the job, and is in good order.  There are plenty of good scrubber driers stuck at the back of the cupboard out of action.
  • Look at using microfibre flat system for surface cleaning - massively speed up the process of cleaning glass or large flat panels with a flat mop.  See More.

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8.  Human Potential

Oh, did we say 7, well there's an 8th too....

The biggest cost is labour.  It is also the element of your cleaning program where you can make the biggest changes.

Challenge the status quo.

A multi-skilled team can achieve much more than one that has specialists and guru's.  Often it will only be one person that can use a scrubber drier, or one person that does all the polished floor care in a team.  

Solutions for the human potential waste:

  • Cross-train your team.  Get your cleaners to buddy with the long-standing members of your team who have an intimate knowledge of the site and how to clean.  Make sure they don't transfer bad habits though!
  • Have a stand-up meeting (only needs to be about 3 minutes) at the start of each shift so everyone is clear about what is expected of them and what the priorities are.
  • Use an online training platform to ensure your team comply with all the latest regulations

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