March 12, 2015

Where Did I Put That?

What, your standards?

Co-authors: Jim Harris, Sr. and Jeff Merrihew

“Where did I put that? Oh well, I’ll  use this!”

These words are often all too familiar to supervisors and managers in the cleaning industry. Dealing with lost items, wrong products, and misplaced or missing tools are part of our everyday activities.

Think about the time that is lost searching for those misplaced or poorly placed tools and equipment. It is time ill spent providing poor-quality service simply because the correct tool or chemical was missing or not available. But does it have to be this way?

Time to Standardize

The proper selection, storage, and placement of tools and materials are often overlooked or taken for granted. The choices of what to store, in what location, and how those items are arranged are frequently left in the hands of individual staff members. The result is a random placement of tools and materials that causes confusion and disorder. This confusion and disorder serves as a foundation for lost time and poor-quality service. By standardizing process and making the selection, storage, and placement of supplies a fundamental part of the service delivery system, increased efficiencies can be realized. 

To see the value of standardization, we can look at lessons learned from other successful industries. For example, if we look at the manufacturing industry, the importance of selection, storage, and placement quickly becomes apparent. In manufacturing, great care is taken to study and refine the amount of time involved in the performance of individual tasks. The impact of having quick access to the correct materials and tools is shown through the decreases in time required to do the job as well as improvements to build quality.

Imagine if during the process of building an automobile a staff member was tasked with installing a brake caliper as the line moved along. In this situation, rather than being supplied with the proper size air wrench and bolts that are the correct size and strength, they have tracked down a wrench and bolts that are almost the correct size, but not quite.

In this scenario the end result is clear; unfortunately, this plays out daily within the cleaning industry all too often. You've heard it before: "The correct filter for the vacuum is missing. It should be OK for a day or two without it. I can’t find the correct cleaning chemical. No worries, another bottle close in color should work." The impact on time and the effect on service quality are again quite clear.

These examples all show a lack of standardization; so what steps can we take to minimize the lost time and associated poor performance?

Consider Inventory

One place to start is in the proper selection and determination of materials and equipment to be used in high-performance cleaning. This process offers many benefits to the service delivery system, the most important of which is training. By setting clear standards, we are establishing a sound foundation for effective training and improvement.

This refinement leads into the next, and often extremely telling, step of removing materials and equipment from inventory that no longer need to be or should have never been present in the first place. Storage areas often become a wasteland, hindering timely access and effective service delivery. If it’s broken or not part of the system, get rid of it.

Evaluate Your Space

When the unnecessary has been removed, it’s time to find a standardized place for what remains. While selecting storage locations, be mindful of safety concerns and frequency of use. Also take the size and design of storage areas into consideration. Consider the use of storage zones, for example, dividing an area into upper-right, upper-left, middle-left, etc. This will still provide for standardized placement, while addressing the variations in available size and shape.

One of the most important disciplines lacking in the storage of tools and cleaning supplies is the order and cleanliness of equipment and proper labeling of chemicals. As a final step, keep storage areas as clean as the rest of the facility. Also, the insistence of maintaining an organized supply room helps to create a professional attitude for the front line.

Fine Tuning

The process of standardizing how cleaning equipment and tools are selected and stored is not a set-and-forget operation. Better tools, changes in chemicals, and new procedures all impact your system and standards, which require continuous updates and revisions. Feedback also plays an important role in the refinement process. Listen and consider carefully the suggestions and concerns of those that utilize the tools daily.

Now that we’ve had a chance to review how to standardize our supply storage, let’s get out there and see what is lurking in the closet……

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Jim Harris, Sr is founder & CEO of Concepts4 cleaning consultants. He can be reached at Jeff Merrihew is a Senior Consultant & technical advisor with Concepts4 & can be reached at