The Waste of Wandering

Co-Authors: Jim Harris, Sr & Jeff Merrihew

Have you ever watched unnoticed, as frontline staff went about the completion of their daily assigned duties? Often what is observed is an un-orchestrated set of movements that seem to be lacking in focus, direction and purpose. As managers and supervisors we are often quick to place blame on staff when these conditions are observed. We become frustrated at the inability to accomplish the tasks assigned in an effective, efficient manner but have we truly given the proper instruction/tools? Were the course/movements clearly defined? Documented? Were they an integral part of the training?

The cleaning industry is mostly task focused; for example instruction is mostly provided to staff on how to properly perform a cleaning method. While the proper performance of tasks is of course important, we leave the delivery of these tasks at the discretion of frontline staff. In many cases staff are shown or walked through their “assigned” space and provided (when available) a list or “schedule” of tasks to perform. This schedule usually list tasks to be performed daily, weekly and monthly with no plan to optimize workflow within the area or the actual days on which the weekly or monthly tasks are to be completed. All decisions relating to the efficient delivery of service are left up to the frontline staff who perform them “the way they think is best” frequently resulting in the waste of wandering.

The place to start in discussing the waste of wandering is to begin with an old adage “work smarter not harder”, the idea being 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 understanding the impact of inefficient movements can have on productivity and service perception.

Often when seeking to increase productivity new equipment is sought when actually great improvements can be found by simply “going and seeing” what is truly happening at the point of service delivery. Time lost due to random movements, back tracking, forgotten equipment, returning to supply areas, poor use of equipment all add up quickly. The impact of each of these items may seem minor taken individually, but when combined and then applied across an organization their impact can be substantial. We can look to other industries to see the importance placed on minimizing such waste; when US auto executives started working with Japanese auto executives one of the things they noted was the stop watches the Japanese used to study productivity went to hundredths of a second. When is the last time you timed a process to a hundredth of a second?

So how do you reduce the waste of wandering? To reduce the waste of wandering we must create an environment that does not promote inefficiency but stimulates improvement.

One proven way is with systematic service delivery, effective training and a commitment to continuous improvement. Manufacturing has taught us that standardization & refinement drive efficiency. In an undisciplined environment where the frontline service provider is making all the decisions no standards exists from which to improve. In this undisciplined condition the frontline staff is determining the path they will follow, when or if tasks will be performed, the order in which tasks will take place etc…. The undisciplined condition allows for a great deal of waste and provides management with few tools for improvement. In stark contrast a cleaning system such as team cleaning that utilizes a structured, documented approach reduces that waste and provides the foundation for improvement. Unlike the undisciplined environment this cleaning system provides information on the most efficient path, when, where and what task will be performed, and the best order in which to perform them. By having this information documented and part of the cleaning system it can be refined and improved. Refinements routing, task order etc… are now manageable. Since routing has now been defined additional possibilities come into play such as the effective use of shared equipment, proper timing to allow other service personnel to perform tasks without delay, or any number of possibilities.

The next time you’re looking for that productivity increase look outside the box; the answer maybe a few simple footsteps away.


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

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