On Track and On Time

The power of visual control

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

The major challenge building service contractors (BSCs) face when it comes to retaining accounts and earning a profit is keeping front-line personnel on track and on time as it relates to delivering quality services that have been stated in the service agreement.

Training is essential, but is not the only answer. Following the training period, there must be reminders, guidelines, and plans for the front-line staff assuring correct process, frequency, and execution.

Using Visual Controls

A visual control is any communication device or graphic in the workplace that clearly tells front-line workers, at a glance, how to and when they should carry out their specific duties. This is integral in a system utilizing team specialists.

The best example of a simple visual control is a traffic light. There is no question that red means stop or danger, yellow means proceed with caution, and green means go or continue. Reactions to these signs are typically instant and crystal clear, and relate to an agreed upon standard of which there is no deviation.

When approaching an intersection where no signage or traffic signal is in place, there is great hesitancy and confusion as to how to proceed. In this case, each individual makes an independent decision. Not only are the results chaotic, but until the situation improves, chaos becomes the norm.

Job Assignment Cards

Organizations that have adopted the team specialist concept have found it beneficial to utilize a single page document—such as a job assignment card—that clearly directs daily workflow. Job assignment cards lead the specialists through the assigned space; they show where to start, how to proceed, where to go, what to do, and the allocation of time. Every specialist has their own job card assignment, and today, with software applications developed specifically to support efficient specialist routing, modifications can be made quickly and easily.

Job assignment cards help to:

  • Support and enhance critical operational standards
  • Reduce the amount of time required to train new specialists
  • Create an increased span of control for direct supervision
  • Create positive expectancy for specialists
  • Maintain discipline to meet unique task requirements
  • Present a very professional image to the customer
  • Prevent nonconformance
  • Create pride and team work
  • Reassign work during periods of employee absenteeism
  • Improve workflow efficiency
  • Assure that task frequencies are met as scheduled.

Required Information

The job assignment card will act as a structure to guide the specialists through their daily routine. All front-line personnel need to have a job assignment card.

All necessary information, including the following, should be on one page:

  • Starting point
  • Routing, either room by room or area by area
  • Identification of quadrants for detail rotation
  • Clarity of duties
  • The amount of time necessary to complete tasks
  • Where and when to finish
  • A color-coded floor plan on the back of the card.

The job assignment card is created utilizing integrated, connected software designed for various types of specialists. Any changes in space, specs, tasks, equipment, or production rates will automatically adjust the job. This is most useful during the retuning process in preparation for account renewals.

All of the following factors are necessary to create the job assignment card:

  • Analysis of cleanable square feet: This is usually collected through the sales survey. Accuracy is critical.
  • Cleaning specification design: The target is to build or negotiate a spec that can yield a balanced workflow.
  • Task assignments for specialists: Specialists have limited tasks as they relate to their specific responsibilities.
  • Identification of materials and equipment: These have an impact on productivity and cleaning effectiveness.
  • Production rates: Each specialist position has unique productivity factors that blend through the software application and into the job assignment card.
  • Other staffing requirements: This is determined by all of the previous items.
  • Budget: This will determine all aspects of the job.

The 5S Program

We are seeing more high-performing BSCs incorporate the 5S program, which was introduced in Japan and focuses on eliminating waste that leads to defects in the workplace. This is the foundation of the job assignment card one-page document.

Here are the basic principles of 5S:

  • Sort: Sort through items and keep only what you need while disposing what you don’t need.
  • Straighten (orderliness): Make sure there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  • Shine (cleanliness): The cleaning process often acts as a form of inspection that exposes abnormal and pre-failure conditions that could hurt quality.
  • Standardize: Develop systems and procedures to maintain and monitor the first three S’s.
  • Sustain (self-discipline): Maintain a stabilized workplace as part of the ongoing process of continuous improvement.

The Importance of Visual Controls

Visual controls are critical for BSCs dealing with language barriers, turnover, and the major task of front-line training. The BSC needs to stretch the span of control while increasing productivity and maintaining quality. This is a tall order that can only be accomplished through the application of highly-structured systems utilizing visual aids.



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

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